If you felt disappointed upon your initial arrival to Swarthmore this fall because you witnessed far fewer Parrish Beach hangouts than the admissions literature had advertised, you’re probably right to feel this way. I don’t have any data on the matter, but anecdotal evidence has led me to believe that all of those pictures of smiling, sun-kissed Swatties playing frisbee featured in the college’s brochures were exclusively taken in the second half of spring semester. Whatever fun could’ve been had outside during the pleasant weather of early fall went ignored at the time in favor of working diligently and waiting for sweater weather. By this time of year, however, students are so ready to leave their McCabe carrels and absorb some vitamin D that the Beach populates the instant it’s nice enough out. Fortunately, this quarter of the school year marks the oh-so-lovely Return of the Outdoors to our social calendars.
The temperature on campus is slowly but surely rising: no longer does going outside feel like an icy, masochistic hell-errand (I’m from Miami, ok? I have a low tolerance for the cold), demanding the exhausting tasks of bundling up and stepping nervously around black ice patches. Though the chilly overcast weather has not given up its hold (why did I still need to put my coat on this morning?), intermittent bouts of sun have given hints of what’s to come: (mostly) guilt-free days of sunbathing, Crum exploring, day drinking, and fooling tour groups into thinking this happens all year round.
As the weather warms, the amount of social space on Swarthmore’s campus necessarily expands. The chairs return to the Beach, Mertz Swamp dries up, and the trees bud enough flowers that they become shady again. Sharples patio once more becomes a viable dining location and our scattered park benches become useful again. In addition to this renewed abundance of possible physical space for quick conversations and pick up games and parties, the sun also has the much appreciated effect of convincing Swatties to use that space with enthusiasm. Grateful for the opportunity to wear sandals and sunglasses, people actually go outside. The slackliners and frisbee-tossers and townie tweens on bikes return to the landscape. Students can be seen doing readings on Parrish porch, the more ambitious ones straining their eyes against the sun to use their laptops outside before the battery runs out. Those who smoke happily repopulate the dorm courtyards after a long winter of convincing themselves it’s easier to shove a towel under the door and pray for the best than to step out into the cold. Professors walk their happy dogs around the lawn.
Though Swarthmore’s workload is hella gruelling all year long, the return of warmer weather persuades me that my already-late papers are somehow far less important than an impromptu cat nap in an adirondack chair. In the winter, doing hours of work in McCabe feels more natural and necessary; the gray dreariness of the outside world seems to mimic my homework slog. But in the spring, writing papers indoors feels like a deep campus-wide injustice. How am I supposed to struggle inside when there are so many trees to sit under? During this last fourth of the year, I get less work done, but feel happier and more self-righteous about it. I need to rejuvenate before I hunker down for finals! It’s self-care, duh!
The sunny skies and happy activity of the spring outdoors is an emotional panacea, both calming and uplifting. The New Year, New Me mentality that seems so difficult in January’s below-freezing temperatures can take new form in this latter half of the semester: New Spring, New Me, a mindset that takes its cue from the blooming magnolias to start fresh and start sweet. Last spring, I sloughed off my coat and snowboots and emerged a social butterfly. I made new friends, kissed a lot of cute people, hung out in Philly and New York City, began my career as a Phoenix writer, went to Worthstock, Spring Fling and barbecues. There is a seasonal energy in the spring that seems to animate Swatties’ long-dormant social life.
The spring demands that we take advantage of the beautiful, sprawling, arboretum-attended land we have access to for our own selfish college-kid needs! Beach volleyball! LARPs! Sunbathing! Day parties (Darties?)! Importantly, because this is a college campus nearing the end of the school year, these spring goings-on are often accompanied by alcohol. By some springtime magic, drinking during the day transforms from a cause for concern into a completely sanctioned activity. If last year’s event is anything to go by, a good portion of campus will be wildly cross-faded by noon at Worthstock. Could anything so bold occur at Swarthmore during fall or winter? No! This is the power of spring!
Though the second half of spring marks the winding down of a hectic academic year, the weather suggests an alternative: new beginnings, warmth, growth, activity. For the duration of the school year, the humming and buzzing of Parrish Beach that arrives so suddenly and enthusiastically can serve as the inspiration for our social life, an impetus to relax, to smile at passersby, to finally toss around that football you brought to school from home, to sit in the Amphitheater, to enjoy being here with everyone, outside of our dorms and the libraries and Sharples, before classes end and everyone parts ways for the summer.