There’s no such thing as a passive start to your day at Cornell. Regardless of where you’re commuting from, be it North Campus, West Campus or Collegetown, Ithaca’s brutal topography will have you huffing and puffing. The most notorious example is Libe Slope, a remnant of glacial carving that has carved Cornellian calves for generations. This hulking hill presents a steep chore for all who live on West Campus or anyone who seeks finer dining (a break from Okenshields). Our Slope is an endless source of jokes, dread and general slander. Many sophomores, now forced to live on campus due to the newly instated housing policy, based their housing decision purely on whether or not they wanted to walk up the Slope every morning. Some students even take a comically short bus trip from the bottom to the top of the hill.
Will Hooker ’24, a two-year resident of the Carl Becker House, recalls his habit of packing his bag for an entire day, leaving early in the morning and returning late at night to avoid multiple slope summits. Hooker’s practice reflects a widespread one among West Campus residents, and understandably so.
However, despite the cardiac and muscular challenges it brings, Cornell needs its slope. And I’m not just talking about the Ithabooty. Mental health is a serious issue facing college students nationwide, and our pressure-cooker, Cornell, is no exception. Scheduling appointments with Cornell Health, finding a therapist and seeking out other forms of help are luxuries that most people do not have the time, money or energy to afford. Another practice prescribed to support one’s mental health is exercise. However it can be hard to have time to go to the gym as a student and the traditional advice to take the day off and rest can seem impossible.
The Slope, on the other hand, is an unavoidable routine in self-care. It yanks a slovenly mind from apathy, or a hurting and aching one into equilibrium with the body. At the very least, the climb is a healthy struggle to distract you from unhealthy struggles. From a more scientific perspective, the forced exercise pumps you full of endorphins you didn’t know you needed, or probably even wanted, but now you’re the better for it. After a day of non-stop classes and practices, I’ll sometimes skip the post-dinner carpool ride home from West Campus to North Campus, just for the brief mental cleanse gleaned from the hike. It never seems like an appealing idea beforehand, but I always feel better afterward.
Bodily benefits aside, I believe that the Slope does more for bridging Cornell as a community than any other architectural or natural feature here. The reality of humanity, as history may illustrate, is that we unite best when provided with a common enemy. The Slope is the unanimous enemy we unite around and respect each other for having conquered. Being a heathen on the hill takes a lot of work, after all.
Finally, the beauty of the Slope is that it symbolizes relaxation and joy as much as it symbolizes struggle. A purple sunset on the Slope always feels special despite having watched the last traces of color fade from the sky there many times before. Winter may come, covering Ithaca in slush and whiteness for the many months where our feet will never be dry, sending us shivering into our dorms and apartments.
Yet the Slope draws us back out, its steepness breathing life back into the chill. We rocket down in garbage cans, on storage bin lids or cardboard chunks scavenged from dumpsters. Red-faced with wet clothes and icy hands, we dash up and sled down, our worries forgotten for an afternoon. Spring comes and goes, but when it’s kind, hammocks come out, dotting the yellow grass. You sway in gentle gusts of warm wind, listening to McGraw Tower chime, trying to make out the songs. Then before you know it, the warm sun scorches and classes wind down. The Slope gives a final goodbye before finals, allowing us to make one last memory together with friends before everyone goes their separate ways.
Perhaps the best part of Libe Slope is the privilege to simply sit atop it, quietly gazing into the world below. To sit, and know you belong, knowing that you climbed your own slope, no matter how steep, and made it to Cornell. And here you are, but only for a little while. A proper heathen on the hill never rests for too long, never lingers or wearies. Enjoy the view, because soon, there will be new slopes to summit.
Aurora Weirens is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Northern Light runs alternate Thursdays this semester.