An ancient force led me to abandon my laptop and explore the nearly empty campus of Queen’s University this weekend. There are rhythms to the academic year that have governed the lives of students and staff since the first University was founded. In the fall, undergraduates arrive and the air is filled with nervous optimism. The first midterm exams occur and optimism falls victim to reality. At this point students usually resort to one of two strategies: retreating into their rooms to study – let’s call this strategy “the last resort” – or, more commonly, plunge into a full-hearted embrace of campus activities, which, for legal reasons, I will leave to the reader’s imagination. Coincident with this student orientation and reorientation, faculty smile wistfully, both for their lost youth and their lost parking spots. After several months, a period of calm ensues, presaging the coming storm of exams. Next, exams are written and students, sporting beards and disheveled clothes (this largely applies to the males), wander in and out of exam halls under the careful eyes of invigilators. Then there is a blessed Christmas break, which in Canada leaves a winter wonderland: a clean, white, empty campus.
In January, the returning hoards brace for more study and the sprint to the ultimate reward – spring. Once exams are completed, the campus empties again, returning to its rightful heirs, the aging professorial crew. Once again it is possible for them to run along the lake at 1km/hour, socks to the knee, and not have body image issues. Before I tell you about my recent walk around Queen’s University I thought I should examine the historical record to determine the origins of this tradition. Where did this history of enjoying spring on recently emptied campuses begin?
Being an amateur historian with a disciplined lack of rigour, I quickly came to the conclusion that the tradition likely originated at ancient Oxford University. From there it was easy to find the origins of the spring walkabout. Who would be more likely to perambulate through lovely Oxford than its first foreign student…which leads me to Emo of Friesland.
Who was this wanderer you ask? Well-informed sources, living on the Internet, assure me Emo of Friesland (left) was Oxford’s first overseas student. I am reasonably sure that he enjoyed the spring of 1190 much as I enjoyed the spring of 2013, strolling the bucolic campus grounds and contemplating his distant home (his being Friesland, in
the north of the Netherlands, mine being the Maritimes). I am somewhat uncertain what Emo studied, although I suspect he may have been adept at the medieval precursor of Bingo, ultimately becoming the first prior of the abbey ‘Bloemhof‘ in Wittewierum.
I checked on the weather young Emo would have experienced upon end of term in 1190. I had difficulty coming up with a precise forecast. However, I did note that roughly at the same season and in the same year as Emo’s first end of year break at Oxford, Richard I (Lion heart) was storm-stayed by a great tempest as he sent his fleet from England toward Marseilles, en route to a crusade. So let us say the weather was unfavourable for Emo in the spring of 1190, with apologies to true historians.
Fast forward to 2013 and I was much luckier. The weather was ideal, the skies blue and the temperature a balmy 25C. It was on such a May afternoon that I, like young Emo of Friesland, took a stroll around campus. I thought I would share some of the images of a campus in repose on May 5th 2013. Queen’s awaits the warm breath of summer, which will soon bring it to full bloom. Please click to join the photostream Springtime at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario May 2013 and enjoy some local spring beauty.