On rare occasion one will find something or somewhere that completely lives up to its reputation or stereotype. Take for an example my first visit to a missionary Baptist church in the Bible belt. First of all a congregation of nothing but black people would have qualified as “new” to me at the time, as was the presence of a band, a man screaming from behind a pulpit, and women in large hats jumping around with their arms in the air. I remember sitting in that service thinking, “wow, they weren’t exaggerating!” It was just as I had been told.
So was Dartmouth.
Dartmouth is epitomized by the story of John Ledyard. Ledyard was admitted to Dartmouth in 1772 at the age of 21. He then promptly disappears for two months. Upon his return he led a band of students on a mid-winter camping trip, without the school’s permission. Finally, in 1773, he builds his own dugout canoe and leaves school by paddling said vessel down the Connecticut River to his grandfather’s land near Hartford. Today Ledyard is memorialized on campus by the Dartmouth Outing Club, the school’s largest student club.
My GPS would not recognize “Dartmouth” as a destination so I blindly entered Hanover, thinking some signs would lead me to campus once I got to town. Upon arrival I found that Hanover pretty much is the campus, no signs needed.
A large grass lawn sprawled out before a colonial style building capped with a clock tower. On that grass were a bunch of 20 something’s engaged in all sorts of outdoor activities. There was a barefoot soccer game going on in front of the building’s front steps, two girls who looked to be of foreign extraction tossing a football to each other, and at least two other groups tossing around a Frisbee. Over on one side was a student union with youth lounging about at tables drinking coffee and eating from plastic take out dishes. One of them was strumming a guitar and everyone looked at ease. The pastel and linens I saw at Yale were replaced by khaki shorts, sockless boat shoes, and forest green. Lots of forest green, be it on a hooded sweatshirt, a T-shirt, or a windbreaker, these students had no reservations advertising where they were attending.
Next to this student union stands a large ornamented brick building with a wooden sign out front marking it as the home of the Dartmouth Outing Club. This marker had all the signs of 1930’s National Forest project; made from planks of wood fashioned into a panel, with the club’s logo carved out with the carved grooves painted yellow. This panel was then hung from a wood frame by two hinges on top, letting the sign swing like a gong. I found it amusing and kitsch when compared with the building it stood before.
The building housing student clubs is filled with glass trophy cases housing silver plates and goblets inscribed with this award or that. The wood rails are finely sculpted and the lounge sofas are leather. Ski, debate, and other activities that insinuate these are not country folk getting educated but rather children of substance who enjoy their privilege out of doors.
I also attended an “outdoorsy” school, even having a roommate who spent his weekends wearing hip waders, zapping stream trout with a cattle prod in order to number and tag them for a research project. I belonged to the “mountain club” in a half hearted attempt to be involved but the club was a bit pointless as all at the school engaged in the club’s outdoor activities whether members or not. There was no cache’ for putting a label on something we all did anyway. But we wore fleece jackets and Hi-Tech boots while at Dartmouth I saw embroidered anoraks and the aforementioned boat shoes.
Dartmouth was truly Ivy and truly outdoors. I walked down Hanover’s main street, past the bookstore, and into the Canoe Club, the Outing Club’s official social club that opens itself to the public when meetings are not in session. The restaurant’s walls are covered with vintage ski posters and pendants. A canoe hangs from the ceiling but the tablecloths are in fact, cloth. I sat in a booth facing a young man who was eating with what looked to be his parents. He wore a sport coat, as did his father, along with the obligatory khaki shorts and this time, sockless loafers. Son had disheveled mid length hair while father’s was neatly trimmed and gelled with streaks of grey. Mom had long hair pulled tightly back exposing large, gold, dangly, earrings. She had on a summer dress that looked both casual and expensive. Looking at them interact, they gave off the appearance of an interview in session, rather than a reunion, yet all looked pleased. The youth must have been giving acceptable answers. The food was fantastic.
Those who find themselves on the outside looking in are rarely without opinion on what they see. As such I have often wondered about the home life, background, and future of these little sprigs of ivy, but never has it turned to envy.
Except for what I saw next.
Down the road from the main campus begins a series of sporting facilities; football, baseball, tennis, and the sort. Keep going a bit further, on the outskirts, and you find what I say is their crown jewel; the rugby pitch.
My “outdoorsy” school introduced me to this gentleman’s game and I represented them in my blue and white hooped jersey. Our coach was a friendly Tongan man who’s instructional method consisted of throwing you in a game and visiting you in the hospital afterward, to tell you when the next practice would be. He drew no pay, we had no budget, but we did have a field that was officially our own. Despite this fact we were required to shew the ultimate Frisbee crew from the grass each time we wished to use it. We had no clubhouse or locker room, but coach did teach us all the finer art of changing wardrobe mid field employing the instant privacy of a lava-lava.
I first saw the Dartmouth rugby facility at sunset and felt a stirring within, akin to the one I feel at the end of the movie “Rudy”. The grass was perfectly mowed, perfectly level, and surrounded by hills and trees. One side is banked creating grassy bleachers and placed perfectly aside midfield, is the club house. This building houses locker rooms and showers for both the home team and the opposition, an observation deck from which to view the matches, and a bar within from which victories can be celebrated in style. The team was away competing in the inaugural USA 7’s tournament (which was won by the school whose name is on my degree, but not the one for which I played), so I was reduced to playing peeping Tom as I circled the building looking through windows. How symbolic.
They are coached by a former All-American who once played for the national team. Peering through the glass I could see the remnants of a “chalk-talk” with a white board up front and all the leather armchairs pulled into a semi-circle around it. The room had a fireplace with a relief sculpture above it, an oil portrait on the wall, and a sign reading, “no rugby cleats up stairs”.
Looking through that window from the outside, forming my opinions and judgments, I sighed. If one has privilege or opportunity, here is an example of the proper way to enjoy it. So bravo to a school who celebrates a man who dropped out to adventure through the forest and bravo to the school that treats rugby in a manner befitting those who play it.