It is (finally) springtime in Cambridge. The trees are blooming, the tulips are lifting up their elegant heads to the sun, the azaleas and hydrangeas are flowering. And the tourist groups are out in force.
Working at Harvard, especially during the warmer months, means engaging with (sometimes dodging) people whose purpose for being on campus is quite different from mine. Harvard is where I spend my workdays: it is the backdrop for my meetings, projects, lunch breaks, my work-related frustrations and triumphs. It is a living, breathing, complex community, comprising several thousand students and employees. But it is also world famous and storied, and certain parts of it are very public, even iconic.
I love some of the public spaces at Harvard, such as the Yard (above), edged with red-brick buildings and dotted with colorful chairs in the summertime. The wide south porch of Memorial Church, which is my favorite place to eat a picnic lunch. The grand, columned facade of Widener Library, iconic in both design and purpose. The towering exterior of Memorial Hall (below), which evokes nothing so much as Hogwarts.
All these images are “very Harvard” – part of the history and mythology of this place, but also integral to its everyday working life.
But one unexpected gift of working at Harvard is the chance to see and explore its hidden corners. I’ve worked in three offices here now, and visited eight of the University’s schools (and many different buildings) for interviews, meetings and events. I spent an entire semester making weekly visits to the Harvard Art Museums last year. And while the view from my current sixth-floor workspace includes several of those famous spires, I have discovered a few hidden corners I adore.
The sunken garden on Appian Way, where I spent many lunch breaks when I worked in the building next door. The exhibition room at Houghton Library, where treasures from the archives are on display to the public (but it’s dim, quiet and rarely crowded). The corner of Boylston Hall, next to Widener, which catches the most gorgeous afternoon light. The passageway between Larsen Hall and Christ Church Cambridge, where crocuses and forsythia bloom in the spring.
After three years, this is, unquestionably, my neighborhood. I still have much more to discover: Harvard is a big, complicated, multilayered place. But the physical space, the ground of the Square, grows more and more familiar to me. It no longer feels like a code I can’t crack, a walled garden I can’t open. I have my routines, my rhythms, my favorite spots for work and play. I watch the seasons change, delighting in spring flowers, autumn leaves and even the occasional snowstorm.
Many of the nooks and crannies I love are technically public: they are available to anyone who is willing to explore and pay attention. But some of them feel like hidden treasure, like delightful secrets that are all mine. They are perhaps less awe-inspiring than the grand public spaces, but they hold their own tranquil beauty. They are part of the life of this place, as much as the postcard-worthy columns and towers. And they are part of my Harvard: my particular experience of this place I love so well.
Commencement is next week, and I will delight in the public pomp and circumstance, as I do every year: the banners, the caps and gowns, the Latin oration, the glorious swirl of excitement and new beginnings. But after the dust has settled and the folding chairs have been put away, you can find me hiding out in these quiet corners: relishing the approach of summer, dodging the tourist traffic, and trying – always trying – to pay attention to the beauty around every bend.