I went to college in western Massachusetts, on one of the most beautiful campuses you'll ever see. This time of year is so gorgeous, so exhilarating, there. Fall is the best time of year on Cape Cod, and in many places, but out in western Massachusetts, it's cranked up a notch. It goes to 11.
My alma mater has a clock tower with bells heard on the hour all over campus. Every fall semester, on one day chosen from all the impossibly gorgeous fall days, the bells would toll the seven o'clock morning hour... and then keep ringing, and ringing, and ringing for five minutes. This was the signal for Mountain Day -- a college tradition since 1838. On Mountain Day, classes and meetings of all kinds were called off. The idea was that everyone should spend that day climbing the nearby hills.
Many students really did climb a little mountain on Mountain Day. Others turned off their alarms and got some more sleep before using the day as a reprieve from too-pressing deadlines, maybe giving a nod to the tradition by doing some work outside on the green instead of in the library. Either way, Mountain Day was a gift -- a day of sanctioned hooky (if there can be such a thing), or one more day to finish that paper you should've finished yesterday (as a practical measure, though taking a bit away from the pure joy of things, experienced professors would include Mountain Day deadline contingencies in their syllabus).
Mountain Day is a different calendar day every year, and part of the fun of it was guessing when it would come. On especially lovely days, we'd listen carefully at 7:00, and if the bells stopped at 7, the suspense would continue. Too early and it doesn't seem like enough of a gift -- the pressures of the semester haven't piled up enough. But left too late, we might run out of gorgeous days. Autumn's stunning reds, golds and greens give way to chilly greys and browns all too soon.
I can't remember a year when they didn't find the perfect balance.
Now of course we're all older, with jobs and/or children and whatever other adult obligations make it harder to just ditch everything on short notice and head for the hills with a picnic for the day. But today, at a lovely little college in western Massachusetts, it is Mountain Day, and as they've done for 170 years, students are ditching the books for a few hours and scrambling up a hillside to get a good look at their little corner of the world from up top. Perfect.
Plenty of college traditions haven't stayed with me. I never got into the one involving prancing 'round the Maypole, for example. But declaring a Mountain Day from time to time is good for the soul.