Ever walk around Norton before? I did the other day. And not down Pharmacy Row, either.
It sounds like a weird thing to do, since the majority of the people who live at Wheaton describe Norton as a terrible, terrible place to live as an undergraduate. Let’s be real—it’s hardly a Northampton or a Hanover. We don’t have a pretty street lined with cafes and shops. We have an all-night CVS and a few good places to grab some wings if you’re willing to sit around for a long (long) time.
So, why did I do it? I had a bad week. A really bad week, actually—one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It happens. I needed to leave, so one night, I slipped out of my suite and I walked down a side road into the darkness. I kept walking until my fatigue outweighed my curiosity.
Here’s what I found.
I saw homes of various size, some quaint and covered in hundreds of tiny golden Christmas bulbs, some colonial with wax candles flickering gently in every window, and others massive with Romanesque pillars and pristine front lawns that seem to stretch for acres. I noticed a lot of trees—big, formidable pines—that wall the side roads in, only interrupted by the occasional wheat field surrounded by mossy stone walls. I saw smoke ascending through chimneys and fog from my own breath.
I noticed a distinct lack of light and noise pollution, and it was breathtaking. Without the glow of Wheaton’s street lamps or headlights (I didn’t see a single car until I looped back to 140), I saw a bright, panoramic night sky for the first time in months. The moon was so visible that it lit the road I walked on. The lack of sound, meanwhile, left me as the single loudest thing in my proximity. I heard the distant coo of owls, crickets and toads chirping near the reservoir, and rabbits scurrying through the woods as fallen leaves crinkled underneath their feet. I smelled the dewy earthiness of wet trees and burning wood. And for the first time in a long time, I felt alone. I heard myself think, and it was comforting.
So no, I didn’t find Northampton or Hanover. I can confirm that there isn’t a secret college town hidden in the woods of Norton. The opposite, actually: there’s a lot of nothing, if stores and hipster dives and bistros are your “something”. I found a lot of nature and a lot of solitude. If that’s not your thing, it’s cool, and I say that without even the slightest hint of condescension. Still, we’re trained to explore the world around us at Wheaton. Our lead story this week is about the possibility of studying across the globe and exploring the world around us. Those trips can be life-changing in an altruistic sense (which is certainly laudable), but they can also be incredibly transformative personal experiences. It’s funny, then, that many of us leave Norton without actually seeing or exploring it. I don’t know if it’ll change your life, but you should see our home while you can.