Usually it's something that strikes me as soon as I press my nose to the glass of the car window to see the still, ancient water of the Connecticut River gazing expectantly up at me, or as I heave my suitcase from the underbelly of the bus, my feet firmly on New Hampshire ground after whatever endless time away. This time, it took a day, perhaps a night or two; it wasn't the same sudden rush, the same feeling of instant and boundless freedom, it was slow, careful, dawning; something that only strikes you as different after it has settled in completely, like waking up to new snow. Perhaps it was because last term was so tumultuous that I was unwilling to let myself be immediately overwhelmed by that I'm-at-Dartmouth-now feeling, or perhaps Dartmouth simply wasn't as overwhelming anymore.
But after waking up in my new room, two days after moving in, I knew that it wasn't that I had lost faith in Dartmouth, or that it wasn't as incredible a place as I thought it was - it was home. Not the new home that you move into, still alight with the thrill of the neighborhood, the decorating, the creating-a-space, but the old home, the home that has become familiar, navigable, one which seems incomplete without you and you incomplete without it. I wasn't thrilled to be back at Dartmouth because it is no longer new to me (although of course every day little revelations present themselves), I was relieved to be back at Dartmouth because its place in my life has shifted - although I belong to Dartmouth, it has begun to belong to me, too.
The shift is not so simple, though - what about my home 'back home'? Where does it fall in this dynamic, given that it held its ground solely for the fact that Dartmouth was still fresh, revelatory, astonishing? Home was comfortable, warm and worn, there at the end-of-the-day; Dartmouth was out-there, beyond, waiting for my return, a deviation from reality, a treat, a reward. Now, after spending time in Maryland over winter break, I realized that it was not 'back home' that would always be there, for 'back home' is something we outgrow, something that remains the same as we grow up; it is home-cooked meals, newly-washed sheets, reruns on TV, time with family; it is a series of traditions that persists, and in its persistence serves to reflect our unrelenting difference. I realized that it was not 'back home' to which I could always return, it was Dartmouth.
Dartmouth is, in its own way, ageless - its traditions existed long before us, and will continue long after we let go its ivory hands for the last time. We are a part of it for four years, for a series of fleeting forays, and yet our time is unique; our time is our own. Dartmouth is waking up to new snow, it is going outside and running through it, making tracks and angels and men, all the while knowing another snowfall is bound to come.