watercolor graphic of campus scene with animals and canoe

Finding Comfort in the Void

Henry W. Herbold ’21

When I returned to St. Lawrence in August 2020 for the fall semester of my senior year, the school I was coming back to was much different than what I’d remembered leaving in the spring. The school rightfully took many precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19, and while I knew changes were necessary for the safety of everyone, it was still frustrating not being able to do the normal things that I’d come to know and love during my first three years at St. Lawrence.

The first few weeks were the hardest. Travel restrictions disallowed going to Lake Placid or Vermont to ski, and many of the Adirondack hikes were also off limits. I missed Java, the music club where I’ve made many great memories. I missed my friends who weren’t on campus, and I missed in-person classes. 

I felt very cooped up and claustrophobic in my double room but forced myself to find new, safe hobbies and places to replace the pre-COVID ones that were so familiar. Unfortunately, the pickings seemed slim. Be it books, board games, or my “family-unit” friends, I tried to find comfort in anything and everything I had access to. Still, I felt that something else was needed to keep myself from going crazy. Where could I go to get some space? Where could I find some solace? The answer to these questions ended up being right in my backyard: the St. Lawrence University golf course.

I’m very aware that a golf course isn’t the sexiest-sounding place in the world. I don’t play golf, and it certainly didn’t arouse any sentiment in me before this year. However, as the weather in the North Country got colder (and colder), what once seemed like a place for big divots, Michelob Ultras, and thrown Callaway clubs, transformed in the dead of winter to become a vast void of consolation and deliverance. 

My four years at St. Lawrence have taken me on trips through the Adirondacks, on hikes in the Italian Dolomites and swims in the Mediterranean Sea, but I never felt closer with nature than out there on the golf course, alone, at night, in the snow. It became my place of comfort, the spot where I’ve done most of my thinking and reflecting over the last several months of my senior year.

My routine was this: I walked out of my town house and toward the golf course. I had walked there enough that my own footprints marked a clear path. I don’t own any snowshoes or snow pants, but boots and blue jeans were good enough for me. 

I almost always went at night. The moonlight reflecting off the snow made it easy to see. As the sounds of ticking clocks and television screens faded into heavy winds and crunching footsteps, my cheeks flushed red and icicles formed on my beard and on the inside of my nose—sensations I learned to embrace. 

Each time, I would go a different route and try to get as lost as I possibly could. Regardless of where my footsteps led, I always ended up feeling better when I returned to my townhouse than when I left it. Everything was very open out there. There was something about a blank field of snow that made the world seem limitless, and I found it to be more possessing than just about any other landscape I had experienced. 

When the snow melted near the end of April, it was a bittersweet feeling. I had come to know and love the abyss that is the St. Lawrence golf course in its wintry, whitest form. But as spring advanced, I saw that the muddy landscape, in both its natural and social forms, was beginning to heal and prepare for spring growth as I was ready to heal and prepare for my next adventure.

I will always cherish my walks on the St. Lawrence golf course, but the snow melting was not just a sign of the end of a season nor the end of my career at St. Lawrence, but a sign of new and better things to come.