Most nights, I take a long walk around campus. It’s good for my insomnia, my body, and quite likely my soul. There’s something ritualistic about walking alone after dark, when nobody is around to see you and bind you to social conventions. You become self-conscious; not in a negative, socially comparing way, but in an explorative, fruitful state of reflection and relaxation. For me, walking allows me unparalleled access to my basic, uninhibited inner monologue.
Sometimes the inner monologue is painful, of course. But, at least in my experience, walking at night gives me the space and time to work through the pain and find peace with those thoughts in a way that no other activity can. The quiet, the anonymity of the darkness, and the movement puts me in a fluid state of mind that allows me to question and challenge negative thoughts, while the sheer bigness of night–the balls of fire burning thousands of lightyears away–puts everything into its cosmic perspective.
I think the key to achieving this state of pensive relaxation is aloneness–not loneliness, which is a feeling, but aloneness, which is physical isolation from other people. So, at the risk of sacrificing my own solitary places, here’s a list of my top three walking destinations for a nighttime stroll.
***Note: I can’t guarantee that any of these places are 100% safe at night. As a small, young-looking female, I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere I’ve been, and Stanford’s campus is pretty well-lighted throughout. Nonetheless, venture out at your own risk, and please don’t sue me if you get mugged or, more likely, trip and break your arm on one of these routes.***
The Energy Facility: If you live on West Campus, you may be familiar with the energy facility that sits next to the Educational Farm, just north of the Equestrian Center and golf course. If you walk a little ways south on Campus Drive from Santa Teresa, you’ll see a street that runs parallel to the tennis courts and Educational Farm. Walk down that street until you see the fencing for the Energy Facility. There’s a little cul-de-sac there between the power lines and the golf course, with a picnic bench sitting next to the golf course fence.
It’s not beautiful in the conventional, Yosemite Half-Dome sense of the word, but there’s something eerily aesthetic about industrialization at night. I imagine the power lines and energy machinery as the skeletal, apocalyptic remains of humanity that an extraterrestrial explorer might happen upon millennia after our species goes extinct. A little depressing, perhaps, but aren’t beautiful things always poignant?
A friendly heads-up: there are security cameras surrounding the facility; if you’re going to engage in delinquent behaviors, this probably isn’t your place.
The Cactus Garden: This is my all-time favorite place to go alone after dark. The Arboretum isn’t lighted, so it’s a bit creepy in there after 7 PM, but more than a dozen nighttime trips have left me unscathed. The cactus garden is stunning during the daytime, the many shades and shapes of cacti growing together into a desert mural of sorts. At night, you can’t see any of the color or geometry of the garden; it’s simply a mound of greyish shadows. There is a bench on the southwest corner of the garden in between two trees, facing a spindly, leafless bush that casts black stripes across the dark blue of the sky. Other than the occasional car lights cutting through the trees, the cactus garden is entirely isolated and quiet. As a bonus, you can take the long way home and say goodnight to the Stanfords at the Mausoleum, only a few dozen yards away.
Town and Country: If you’re in need of a grocery run, this is a two-for-one route to reflect on your life and restock your dorm room pantry. Trader Joe’s and CVS stay open until 9 and 10 PM respectively, so make sure to arrive a bit before then if you want to shop (bring a reusable bag for the environment and/or for a self-esteem boost). I typically walk the route past Encina Hall on the right, then the Alumni Center on the left, and past the Visitor Center and the football stadium.
This walk isn’t quiet and solitary–there are always cars driving by–but you’re unlikely to pass many other pedestrians. I always enjoy watching the car lights zip by from the sidewalk, imagining where everyone is rushing off to. I like to think watching cars has a sort of angsty, 1980’s coming-of-age film quality to it. Or maybe I’m just overly sentimental; but regardless, it’s a nice walk after dark, and you’ve got Trader Joe’s snacks waiting at the finish line.
Happy walking, and maybe I’ll see a few of you out there.
Contact Avery Rogers at averyr ‘at’ stanford.edu.