I can’t remember most of my first visit to the University of Richmond. But I do remember the gaping soggy hole that was the Westhampton lake in the summer of 2011. I knew it was a lake, but there’s just something about seeing that crater that kept me from really intellectualizing the whole body-of-water on campus thing.
I didn’t come back to the University again until revisit day in April of 2012, and then I got the full effect a lake on campus gives a doe-eyed and slightly overwhelmed high school senior trying to decide where to spend the next four years of her life. You see, I like scenery. The aesthetics of a school were an important factor to me. And that mirror of water reflecting a blue sky and the brick architecture of the Tyler Haynes commons left quite an impression. While obviously not the only reason I came, it definitely played a part.
I spent many of my first nights here sitting on the banks of that lake, listening to the ducks and hoping to find friends and a community I could call home. It’s only now that I realize the significance of those thoughts. I wasn’t yet aware that I was already a part of a community. Even a small college feels rather anonymous if you went to a high school with less than one hundred people in each class. So, as I sat on the benches by the lake, I felt the weight of anonymity with a fair amount of anxiety. Little did I know I was sitting by the very thing that connect us all.
The most significant thing I took from the last three Earth Lodge classes for me was the quote by geographer John Wesley Powell, that a watershed is “”that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.” As a strong believer in the supremacy of logic, this narrates perfectly the comfort that the lake gave me, even in my ignorance to it’s true significance.
Sitting outside and listening to nature made me feel the comfort of being part of something, even if I couldn’t put a name to it yet. I grew into the community without realizing what it really meant and how it existed. I made friends and no longer needed the comfort of a quiet meditation by the lake. But I still go from time to time.
In the past year, I would wonder in passing where all the spilled alcohol, abandoned solo cups and discarded cigarettes end up, thinking idly that it must be the lake, but that thought has never truly taken root. Until recently. Suddenly I find myself looking in horror into the murky depths of the lake as I spy yellow bikes and trash. It’s suddenly like perhaps the very thing most collegians here take for granted is the thing they should most want to preserve. The Westhampton lake links the campus together, literally the center of our University of Richmond community. A community is a terrible thing to waste.