When I first learned about Conn's Arboretum, well before I became a student here, I thought, "OK, trees."
As someone with a tremendous fear of bees and a general dislike for a significant portion of things one might find in nature, exploring a forest didn't strike me as fun. Since becoming a student, however, I have become more comfortable with the idea of spending time in the Arboretum. After all, it's kind of hard to avoid: the 750-acre Arbo encompasses the entire campus and expands for acres in each direction — nearly a mile to the north — as a natural land preserve.
Entering the wilderness proved to be a slow process, like dipping your toe in a cold pool to test it out. The first time I went inside the natural land preserve-portion of the Arboretum, I saw a giant bee and ran away. The next time I went in a little further. I made it to a little gazebo, where I sat with some friends for a while. The next time, I didn't venture any farther, but I did stay longer to do some landscape drawing.
Then came Arbofest, our annual student-organized bluegrass and country music festival. I knew it was kind of a big deal, and I knew there would be food and music. The food was really the selling point, plus it was a stunningly beautiful day. I had to go.
So, I made my way into the Arboretum, going deeper into it than I ever had before. There was indeed music and food, as well as a giant crowd of students lounging on the grass. The bands were playing right in front of the water, and it was actually very lovely ... despite some close calls with bees.
Near the end of the festival, one of my friends asked if I wanted to take a walk with her. I agreed, and we walked along a path that led us deeper into the Natural Plant Collection (the area of the Arboretum most frequented by students and the community, just across Williams Street from campus.) To my surprise, it was actually a very cool walk. Hidden in the Arboretum are all sorts of paths, gazebos and benches, along with a cabin, Buck Lodge. I found myself wanting to explore deeper when my friend was ready to turn back.
I've also heard there are cliffs and a small waterfall hidden somewhere back there. So, that's something to look into for a future trip. In retrospect, I sort of wish that I had realized how interesting the Arboretum is before, since it's starting to get chillier now. I'll resume my exploration in the spring.
Lesson learned, though: the Arboretum is not just a bunch of trees.