‘Out and About’: Better lake than never

Feb. 27, 2023, 10:58 p.m.

Join Sam as he explores the final frontier: the outside world. Or at least, a portion of it.

It’s week 7, and I’m sitting at my desk. My 60-minute post-ECON 1 midterm break is approaching its eighth hour as “Blackbird” by The Beatles graces my ears. All the while I lean back in my chair, reflecting on how doing nothing is truly the hardest work in the world.

Welcome, my friends, to “Out and About.” My name is Sam, but I’ll call you Betty, and Betty, you can call me Al. I’m a freshman, and due to certain unforeseeable circumstances and a predilection for a set routine, I’ve come to the realization that I am 2000 miles away from my hometown of St. Louis, MO-Money MO-Problems but have barely explored my new “home.”

So this is how it’s going to be for the next few weeks. I’m going to go out and do things. Meet new people, try new things, sing karaoke, finally eat at Ramen Nagi, break into Apple headquarters and ask for a pear, convince the City of San Francisco to rename the Golden Gate Bridge to “The Rusted Red Pontoon.” You name it, I’ll try it … after consultation with my lawyers, financial managers and primary audience (all of whom happen to be my mother). And then, I’ll write about it, hopefully giving you 1500 words of pure literary excellence that make you want to slap a beret on your shiny head, go out and find a new experience, all while asking people, “Is this where the swingin’ lovers go?” Meanwhile, I can know that I discovered something new, cool and completely interesting. Shall we begin?

Until 23 minutes ago I hadn’t seen the newly filled, newly sparkling, newly remodeled Lake Lagunita. Last time I was there it was for a summer camp, where we ate s’mores by the campfire and I learned firsthand that the smell of smoke on clothing is as strong as the scent of fish in an unclaimed suitcase by an American Airlines baggage claim (I have smelt things … many things … EVERYTHING). Telling people about my failure to visit the Lake usually resulted in them shouting “How?” “Why the hell not” and “But you live in GovCo! Literally, it’s, Right, THERE!” but still, I never went. Yet when you realize that your deadline for your first article is coming up tomorrow and have as many words for it as Leonardo DiCaprio has had age-appropriate relationships, you get desperate, and that is why I finally went to Lake Lagunita.

The plan was simple: get to the backside of Lagunita, climb the hill, go to the Lake, look at the water, come up with some aquatic-related puns (I have pond-erd many! Sorry, they just flow out of me), then call it a day. I didn’t think that the lake would be much of anything, especially since it’s been so many weeks since those horrible storms.

When I climbed the hill, I was genuinely speechless. Speechless, I tell you! SPEECHLESS! How could such a thing happen? Like, I talk. A lot. Too much. And I lived less than 20 minutes from the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. This wasn’t supposed to happen. You were supposed to have read 15 lake puns by now! The aquatic satire was supposed to be flooding you with torrents of verbal grandiosity!

Yet, speechless I was. No, I did not do the full walk around the Lake, but as the sun shined its last of the day and wind did its best to freeze my face into an eternal squint, I admired the beauty of it all. I really love Stanford’s campus, and while walking it can be a bit of a pain, there’s always something hidden around a corner: some cool building, tree or even statue. But it can sometimes feel narrow and enclosed, full of buildings squashed close together that are often as complementary as they are incongruous with their surroundings.

But the Lake is open: there is nothing preventing you from seeing the other side, no building or activity going on that changes your plans or takes your attention away from the steps in front of you. It’s hills, it’s rocks, it’s a Dish, it’s a Lake: it’s the perfect place to sit around and take a slow breath. 

The last time I felt this ability to hit pause on my life was at Windhover, just a wee ways down the road from the Lake. At this “contemplative center,” devoted to self care and spiritual reinvigoration, you can almost feel the stress relax its stranglehold on your brain, letting you stretch and feel the blood move through your veins once more. I had previously thought that Windhover was the only place on campus where you could hit pause on your life. Now, it’s one of two. 

Alright, now for the fun stuff: what can you see? Well, beyond the birds, the bees and the water, not much. On the hills you can see beer cans and red solo cups, ghosts of parties past that remind us all of college students’ love for a good-ol’-fashioned lake party. A watermelon was trying its damndest to return to the shore after decades of war at Troy, but mighty Poseidon was having fun making it go bouncy-bouncy across the Lake’s ripples. My favorite small detail was the change in the tone of the signs around the lake. They go from “Danger Keep Out: Do Not Enter Water; no drinking, swimming, or recreational activities” to “For your safety, please refrain from swimming or recreational activities on the water. Thank you.” 

A sign that says "For your safety, please refrain from swimming or recreational activities on the water. Thank you."
The Sign O’ The Times (Photo courtesy of Sam Lustgarten)

The second sign felt like a last, desperate act of politeness, like a King looking at the victorious rebels pointing their swords at him, changing his demeanor from “Oh no you are NOT going to lay a finger on my divinely appointed buttocks!” to “So, about my years of autocratic and dictatorial rule … could we, like, totally treat that as water under the bridge and allow me to continue operating as a constitutional monarch pretty please? By the way, you look great today: I love how your scars make you look terrifying — I mean, SO handsome!”

I will leave you with this final reflection. While climbing the steps to return to my dorm from the Lake (again, it was Right There!), I noticed how much GovCo looked worn down: the paint on the buildings was faded, the trees were dead and the dorms looked empty. I looked behind me again and noticed for the first time that while the Lake and “Beware the Water” signs were new, everything else was old: the path was broken, the houses were similarly tired.

Perhaps there is a metaphor here. Personally, I see it as hopeful: yes, there is a lot at Stanford that needs to be replaced and improved, but the culture and drive of the institution still hum on to make something magical. Meanwhile, others may find it as more negative, another symbol of how people get distracted by newness rather than focus on problems lying patiently below the surface. As for which is more convincing, I will leave that with you.

But whether it’s your first or hundred and first time, Lagunita is a beautiful place to explore, unwind and reflect on whatever you want. Enjoy it, because it might wash away as suddenly as it appeared … did you get it? Uh, uh? Good one, right? No? Yeah, alright, I know where the door is.

Contact Sam at thegrind 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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