By Jessie Sherman
An evening in late August in Morris, I didn't want to stay in my room. The day's heat still hung in the air determined not to leave the night to itself. I did not feel like joining any of the games being played on the grassy lawns of campus. Nor did the conversations taking place in the lounge draw me in. But I couldn't stay in my room. It felt like someone else's, unfamiliar and uncomfortable. I felt like I was an alien, a guest at best, but certainly not an owner or permanent resident. Ignoring the voices of students getting to know each other, I headed out the front doors of the dorms to my bike. After removing the lock, I mounted my bike and pushed off.
I cruised along 2nd Street, looking at the concrete racing past. The flecks in the road flew by like the stars zooming by at light speed. The wind cooled my skin already heated by the sun and exercise. I pedaled hard as I climb the small hill, before hurtling down the other side towards main street.
Before I got to the main avenue, I turned on a street called California. Wanting to make the ride last, I zigzagged up and down the streets. Heading south, I traveled the full length of town, then crossed to another street and followed its length heading north. The road was rough, cracks intersecting with cracks, occasionally a deep pothole. Winter weather is hard on the roads.
I found myself on main street. Even downtown is comfortable to ride through, traffic being so light. An elderly couple walked hand in hand on the sidewalk near Pomme de Terre Food, the windows of which reflected the heavy golden sunlight. I passed a woman hurriedly fastening her daughter's car seat then climbing into her car. I went by a pharmacy and bookstore, coffee house and antique shop, all painted with the light of a tired day.
Turning onto 5th Street to explore the other side of town, I saw the tail end of a train banging through. As the train rumbled past, the train broke the light of the setting sun, letting only slices through between cars. It was as if someone was turning the lights off and on, off and on, off and on. After the train passed, the warning lights flashed, bell rang, and the gate lifted. My hands vibrated as I rode over the tracks. Weaving through town, up and down streets framed by trees, I felt the wind strengthen. A family having a barbeque in their back yard laughed, adults chatting with cold beers and sodas in hand, children chasing each other from one side of the lawn to the other. The smoke circled up from the grill, spiraling, pressing itself against the glowing sky.
I made a circle, looping back to 5th Street. Turning onto Washington Avenue, I stumbled on a park next to a lake. Lit by the sun, the water was solid gold. Without much thought, I stopped and leaned my bike against a tree. Its leaves rustled gently in the breeze, as birds conspired with one another, sharing songs. The thick grass reached up and tickled my sandaled feet. I sat on top of a picnic table looking out onto the lake. The table bore scars of initials, a record of those that had sat there before me. I wondered what they had been thinking and feeling when they scratched away at the wood. The weeds danced and whispered of loneliness. How beautiful the day is, I thought, how lovely this little town that will be my home of the next few years. The word home sounded strange. Home seemed far away, back at the feet of the mountains, in the arms of my friends and family. This place was not home and, at that point, I was unsure it ever would be.
I sat there a long time. As the sun started to sink, the air became cold. But I didn't leave. The cold was unimportant. I did not notice the buzz and bites of mosquitoes. There was something about that place -- the quiet of the park, the movements of the weeds, the smell of the water -- that comforted me. Although I missed my friends and family, there was something familiar about the park and Morris that eased the loneliness. Which is strange. Bozeman Montana, my hometown, is not a small one. Why should this tiny town on the plains of Minnesota be consoling? Perhaps it was sounds of families in their yards or of the train rumbling past. Perhaps it was the trees leaning in the wind. Or the smell of coffee that hung gently on the air outside the Common Cup. Or perhaps it was the way the light was golden and the shadows long at dusk.
Riding back to campus that evening in the fading light, I was still lonely and still missed home, feelings I continue to experience every once in a while. But my mind felt lighter. I was able to return to my dorm and enjoy the beginnings of relationships and the newness of college life. I was able to start the formation of a new home. Not one to replace the home I already had, but one in addition to it.
During my first few months in Morris, my bike rides around town kept me stable. The rides reminded me of the beauty around me, waiting to be experienced. They helped me to better appreciate my new world. I don't ride much anymore. My excursions into town are usually of a practical or social nature rather than a meditative one. My days are often too full of classes, rehearsal, and friendships to think of loneliness. But when I do feel lonely or when that homesick hollow feeling takes hold of my stomach and chest weighing me down, and a phone call home or a conversation with a friend does not relieve the emotion, I remember the evening sun reflecting off the water of Crystal Lake, and I feel lighter.
Jessie Sherman is a theatre major at the University of Minnesota, Morris and is from Bozeman, Montana.