Originally uploaded by Cam B..
One of the best things about being a college student is that you have permission to loiter. On campus, you can sit for hours in coffee shops, wander the stacks of the library with no apparent purpose, perusing whatever volume catches your eye. Or you can find a green spot and simply sit on the earth. There, in the green patch you've claimed as your own, you can take out a sketchbook or a writing pad and reinvent the world or you can be still and allow it to pass through you as it is--in all its serenity and tumult. You can loiter with friends or you can do it in perfect solitude.
When I was a student, I was a world class loiterer. In fact, it was my undeclared, major. I loitered in all the ways and places listed above. But my favorite place to pass the time was in the horse barn. I spent so many hours marvelling over the grace and power of the animals that they came to know me.
When I entered, Flintlock, the haughty stallion I most admired always turned his back. I imagined him saying, "Oh, it's only her again."
And the pale horse who always came to greet me would have been forced to explain my strange, human behavior. "Leave her alone. She's working toward a degree in the fine art of loitering."
It's something animals understand well.
Sometime, toward the end of my time at the University, I felt myself growing impatient for the grit and challenge of life off-campus. It was, I suppose, a healthy impulse, a preparation for the change ahead.
And most of the time, I rather enjoy life in the so-called real world. The only problem is that it offers little opportunity to use my "degree". In my town, loiterers are frowned upon. Those who walk the streets for hours with no purpose, stop to sit on public grasses, or even spend too much time in the town library are suspected of being indigent, drug-addled, dangerous. To be fair, sometimes they are.
This week, however, has been an exceptional one for my inner-loiterer. On Tuesday night, I spent seven hours in a local cafe talking to a writer friend who was visiting from Canada. Time passed, the waitresses changed shift, and we continued to talk.
We had entered the place in bright sunshine, the streets filled with tourists eating ice-cream; and by the time, we left those same streets had become transformed into a dark and lonely place.
The following day I visited a small college town a couple of hours away. It is one of the most affluent, educated communities on the East coast, a place where there was no fear of loiterers. In fact, lingering and contemplating is encouraged by the design and attitudes of the town. Local employees took their lunch on the grass. No one looked askance when I found a tree, and set up camp with my lemonade and my notebook. There were comfortable chairs and footstools in every corner of the magnificent library.
Like Goldilocks, I tried every one. In one corner, I found some excellent books about Japan. In another, I lost a couple hours to the poetry collection. (When I discovered two volumes by Paul Zweig, I immediately reached for them, thinking of Dave who introduced me to him.) Then I went outside took in the bright colors of the world. No one seemed to question what I was doing. Loitering was the task of the day, and it was a day well spent.
Of course, we can't spend all our days wandering and thinking and reading poetry. Books would not be written; crops would wither in the fields; the gas bill would never be paid. And in the end, like a college student on the verge of graduation, we hunger for the demands and challenges of work--whatever that word entails for us. But if we never loiter, if we construct our towns from designs and attitudes that subtly or not so subtly prevent or condemn it, we lose something essential. Something that even horses innately understand.