Ellis: Moving Forward, Looking Back

by Lindsay Ellis | 6/13/15 5:45am

My mom visited me halfway through my junior summer, and we brought books and magazines down to the Connecticut River for the afternoon. I fell asleep looking at the lazy current, clouds collecting above, and I woke up dazed, drained. The air was thick and groggy. Thunder rolled in soon after, about a half an hour before we were to drive to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge for dinner. The car’s wheels skidded across the highway several times, and I gripped the car door and my mom’s hand, trying to see through a wet dashboard from the back seat. I couldn’t — and I held my breath — but we made it in time to slather butter on hot bread as the last drops fell. When the sun came up the next morning, the air felt cleaner. I felt like I could think more slowly, carefully.

Rain falls hard during Hanover summers, and there were moments — moments like that one — when I loved it, even when the drops cooled the New England heat by a dozen degrees. I loved the little wakes that would trail from my bike wheels on the way to and from my dorm, and I loved listening to the rhythm of raindrops outside Robinson Hall as we put an issue of the paper to bed. I would spend the first two minutes of many class periods wiping flecks of dirt off my feet because I refused to swap flip flops for sneakers. I remember the thunderstorm that called off a farmer’s market one Wednesday. Another hit while I read in Baker Lobby, my knees tucked into a baggy hooded sweatshirt.

This spring, the Saturday before the last day of classes, the skies opened and rain poured. I went over to a friend’s room that night. She opened the window to cool gusts of wind, and I felt droplets of water against the back of my neck as I settled into her couch. We leaned into smaller circles of conversation as the rain got louder. Soon, the group inside had to shout over music and a pounding of water against the streets. In the hum, I fell silent, listening to my friends against the symphony outside: an ocean hitting grass, the slosh of tires through puddles, a rumble of thunder and the whoops that followed.

It was the second big storm of the term. The first had knocked out electricity for most of campus, sheets of water throwing tree branches on sidewalks, and I had stayed inside, watching the overhead lights in my off-campus house flicker. That Saturday night, though, I left my friends as they played cards and danced, and I stood on the dorm’s front stoop for a bit, remembering the drive to Moosilauke Ravine Lodge with my mom last summer. I remembered how tightly I closed my eyes before the avalanche faded to droplets, wanting the ride and the rain to last forever. And then, of course, I thought back to my first ever trip to the Lodge, when flair-bedazzled upperclassmen told us that wind and rain had knocked power out, leading us to long dinner tables in the absolute darkness. We felt our way up uneven wide stairs, hands gripping half circles of dark wood that lined the staircase. We trusted that we’d find a place setting, trusted that the unfamiliar would soon seem safe. My smile spread so big, so goofy, that I was thankful that we sat in darkness.

That Saturday, outside my friend’s dorm, I wondered how many more rolls of thunder I’d hear before graduation. As water soaked through my tank top, I realized I was hoping for few, not many — I had enough memories of Hanover rainstorms.

That moment was the first time I felt like it was okay that I would soon graduate, that I had seen my share. Four years, two summers, six consecutive terms in Hanover, and I felt — almost — satisfied. Even as I felt a familiar tug to the bottom of my stomach, I was ready. After the rain, we can breathe a little deeper. I hope that’s how I’ll feel when I walk down from the Commencement stage, diploma in hand.

I graduate from Dartmouth today but left The Dartmouth in January, when we passed leadership of the newspaper to the Class of 2016. In the months before the transition, I found myself rereading my first articles, examining notes from early weeks’ storyboards, retelling stories in our weekly directorate meetings. Each memory brought back a reminder of what it felt like to break through, to thrive, to struggle. Back in December, I was not ready to graduate from the paper, and I saw that most clearly in my obsession with reexamining the past. I worried about how it would feel to leave the Dartmouth institution that most formed me, fears that took the shape of long emails with tips to the incoming editors with stories about my mistakes and successes.

But over the six months away from the paper, I’ve enjoyed thinking more deeply about academics, about the future, about the people whom I love. I’ve spent more time at Dirt Cowboy reading at wobbly round tables and more time at FoCo, piling up plates as a quick bite turned into a three-hour meal. It’s not that I forgot what it was like to put out a paper every day, but I let new routines form a new Dartmouth for me.

There’s a part of me that hates our tendency to indulge in the past at Dartmouth, but there’s another, bigger, part that revels in the ritual. I drove to the Lodge during senior week through occasional spits of rain on my dashboard. The sky had threatened to storm for hours, and again, I could only think of the drive with my mom. Soon, a group of us sat at a wooden table and shared stories from the term between bites of maple bread. On the car ride home we blasted music from middle school and sophomore fall and senior winter and yelled the long-memorized lyrics until our throats hurt.

I’ve learned that these layers of memories can weave into celebrations in their own right. And that’s what I hope to bring with me after I graduate. I want to throw myself into my first jobs and new cities and friends, but I want to remember what came before. I won’t be happy if I don’t carry with me the choices and moments that helped me define my character, but I won’t grow if I don’t continue to appreciate the new things that I see and feel.

Next year, the first time I get caught in the rain, I am sure I will remember the sweet mud smell that lines the steep path off of Ravine Lodge Road. But I want to compare that scent to the new mulch one that surrounds me in my next home, take note of what differences I notice and why. When I find that balance, the meaning of these past four years will truly resonate.

Lindsay Ellis is the former editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth.