Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Idylic Landscape of Childhood

Strange as it sounds, I kind of grew up on the UC Berkley campus. When I was little my dad was a student there and my family pretty much used the sprawling wooded Cal campus as our own personal playground. We had picnics there, we rolled down grassy hillsides, and played a game called Ralph the Dog which involved my chasing my father with a stick (in retrospect I can't believe I got away with that last one, though, come to think of it, watching this same man indulge the every whim of his granddaughter, maybe I can after all). 

And then when I was a teenager in our suburban town a few miles north, the very coolest thing my friends and I could do was to walk to the Bart station, take the train to the downtown Berkeley stop, and wander up through the campus to Telegraph Avenue with its cafes and record stores and pizza places.

All of which meant that, the other day when I went to visit the Berkley Art Museum, I naturally walked there from Bart up through the campus, tracking a route that my feet and my subconscious mind knew perfectly well, though I realized I probably hadn't laid eyes on, or even thought about, the place in over a decade.

And it turned out that around every bend in the path there was some delightful and beautiful surprise. Something I remembered on the deepest possible level. And perhaps most special of all, every single memory was warm and glowing and good. 

And I realized that, oddly enough, this university campus is my secret happy place. A landscape I have loads and loads of memories of, and every single one of them is happy. I mean, come on, really, how many places can any of us say that about? Not too many.

I was a smart kid and I recall a certain amount of pressure being brought to bear upon me by my high school teachers to try and get into Cal. At the time I didn't want to for my own murky teenage reasons. And now I find I'm so glad that I didn't. For surely in four years of college sooner or later I'd have been miserable on that campus, as all college students inevitably are at some point, and the elysium of my childhood would have been dispelled forever. Whereas instead it still forever and always remains glowing away in the autumn sunlight just across the bay.

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