The Death of Spontaneity – W.S.


When President Falk emailed the student body at 6:06 am on Friday that Mountain Day, was, indeed, upon us, it would be a stretch to say many students were particularly surprised. The week leading up to Mountain Day was characterized by endless discussion of the rather healthy odds that Friday would be the day; most of us knew that the weather would be nice and, barring unforeseen climatic disaster, Mountain Day would occur.

It was not always this way. In the late 1800s, Mountain Day was a spontaneous affair announced by the ringing of the bells in the morning (Williams College Archives). I like to recount the image promised to us by Williams tour guides as high school juniors and seniors–students awaking on a random Friday morning in October with the grim expectation of ordinary classes, only to experience the sudden, unexpected joy of a day far more entertainingly spent in the mountains. Mountain Day Roulette (if they played it back then) meant taking real risk, rather than partying with the certainty that homework could be ignored.

But Mountain Day today lacks nearly all the timeless characteristics of the unexpected Snow Day, an event about which all New Englanders and other residents of colder climes harbor fond childhood memories. Weather forecasts might have, from time to time, provided a hint of when snow would surely prevent school the next day or not, but very often our hopeful, younger selves had no idea whether the roads would be treacherous enough to cause the day of classes to be cancelled. Eagerly waking and pressing one’s face to the window to see countless inches of white powder is an idealized–but once every so often very real and thrilling–experience, which might be paralleled to waking to the sound of the Thompson Chapel church bells years ago.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. This past Mountain Day was a pretty kick-ass opportunity to enjoy nature and breathtaking fall colors, eat delicious doughnuts, and come closer as a community. It was a chance to relax, take a break from work, spend time with friends, and sleep. And what incredible weather! The fact that it was not “spontaneous” did not detract from the important parts of the day.

The sentimental part of me, though, wishes Mountain Days were not constrained by doughnut deliveries and other logistical restrictions. I like to imagine a world in which President Falk awakens before sunrise, makes his decision, and then drives to a local bakery to pick up the necessary thousands of doughnuts and dozens of gallons of apple cider. It would be a welcome break from college lives full of deadlines and plans.

So here’s my humble proposition. This year, let’s have two Mountain Days. Sometime this spring, church bells should ring out and classes should be cancelled. Students should stumble out of their rooms bleary-eyed, confused, and excited. We should trek to Stoney Ledge or simply step outside and breathe in the outdoors. After all, we only get a handful of opportunities to enjoy our beautiful surroundings as a college community during our times at Williams. And as a great man once said, it really is no small advantage for us to be situated at the base of Purple Mountains—why not allow ourselves to focus on answering their call instead of manufacturing our own?

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