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Fall 2002
Volume 39, No. 1
Issue Home

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www.pomona.edu

PCMOnline Editor: Sarah Dolinar

 

Eden in Bright Sunlight

As Pomona’s physical and symbolic center, Marston Quadrangle is many things to many people.

“Every college viewbook tries to look like Eden—in bright sunlight, kids lying out to study under trees,” a friend of mine once said. “What’s funny is, here, we actually do it.”

At the end of February, a few brown leaves are still feathering to the ground, but—make no mistake—summer’s begun. During these first days of the season that is winter everywhere else, Marston Quad succumbs to its familiar warm-weather pandemic. All over the lawn, students sprawl with books and blankets, as if just waiting for the photographers.

In a very real way, this enchanted garden is the heart of Pomona’s campus. With its color, foliage and open space, Marston Quad may be precisely what Pomona’s founders had in mind for their “college in a garden.”

As you stroll down Stover Walk and look up at the enormous live oaks lining the path, it’s hard not to feel a sense of history here. In 1908, architect Myron Hunt’s preliminary plans for the Quad aimed to capture the beauty of nature within the refined structure of the classical style. His landscape designs incorporated axes, vistas, proportion and symmetry, to evoke “a serene environment in which to promote discussion and learning.” Today, in both academic and recreational spheres, Marston Quad is the unifying center of our diversified community. During the course of a day, the Quad will be different things to different people.

In the first hours of daylight, time seems suspended in a peaceful mist. The whole area is deserted, save a black and white dog paraded around the perimeter and a sprightly power-walker strutting a vigorous cadence. At this time of the morning, the Quad shows no signs of the crowds of students who have come to know it as their personal backyard. In an hour or two, the first herd of them will traipse through, cutting diagonals across the wet grass, already late for class.

Around 10:30, an English class comes out to perform scenes from a Shakespeare play. Students laugh at their overdramatized verse and impromptu blocking. They share in a sense of delight at having successfully transformed Marston’s west side into a fairly convincing Forest of Arden.

A little before noon, an artist comes to set up a folding chair under a tree. She sits, cradling a large, white sketchbook in her lap and gazing patiently, peacefully, at the landscape before her. After a few minutes, she proceeds to describe it in charcoal.

The main lawns are populated by a multitude of sycamores pointing out of the ground at sharp angles, as if their peeling white trunks simply refuse to grow straight. On the west end, an imposing redwood has been christened “Franklin’s Tower” by the proud few who have been crazy enough to climb it. On the east end, there is another sycamore that has earned a special reputation for being a perfect photo backdrop for weddings and alumni gatherings. Its massive branches that bend and unfold along the ground tempt one to sit, climb or crawl to a favorite perch, shaded by thick foliage.

As the big front lawn of Bridges Auditorium, Marston Quad is also enjoyed by people outside of the college community. After attending a matinée performance, swarms of schoolchildren stream out all over the Quad’s east end. They run and laugh, fascinated in their new mystical playground. When the schoolbuses come it seems hard to leave.

Perhaps the quad emits some contagious spirit on these first summery days. Maybe it’s the sun’s warmth, the blue sky, or the lush green of the grass that seems to beckon bare feet. Whatever it is, by late afternoon a rowdy bunch of boys seem to have given in. They kick off their Birkenstocks to mark end zones for ultimate Frisbee and play on into the early evening.

The quad is known for inspiring free-spirited frolic, even occasionally at inappropriate times. Years ago, it is rumored, graduation ceremonies were chased out of this magnificent space and into the stuffy confines of Bridges Auditorium by a few daring streakers. Even today, it’s not too hard to find students who proudly volunteer stories of running naked through the sprinklers at two in the morning. “And it was just as refreshing and debaucherous as we’d imagined!” one of these once told me.

Maybe all of this only serves to show that the wildness of youth cannot be tamed. Or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s the myth of the garden—innocence reclaimed. Maybe it’s a sense that the real heart of Pomona is right here where everyone can feel it, some prevailing spirit that harmonizes the diverse personalities of the community—athletes, sunbathers, martial artists, even streakers.

Evening comes. A small group of townspeople dressed in T-shirts and sweatpants slide through the slow stately motions of t’ai chi. Joggers and dog-walkers move through the gathering dusk, among the trees and the shrubs and the fading flowers. The sky lights up vast and purple, glowing over the Carnegie Building. It’s hard not to stop and stare.

Night falls in the garden.

—Caroline Potter ’04