Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Sacred Space

We love the Michigan State University campus. It is really a park, a "campus park." Our favorite spot on campus is what was once referred to as the "oak opening," and now is lovingly called the "sacred space." It is the spot where the university began, and no buildings exist, and hopefully never will. It is from this place that the name of this blog is derived.

The picture above and information below come from the wonderful book MSU Campus Buildings, Places, Spaces by Linda O. Stanford and C. Kurt Dewhurst.

While strolling amidst trees and buildings of the West Circle Drive area, it becomes apparent that this quiet yet often traversed section of campus is special. As West Circle Drive curves it delineates an open "sacred space," in which no buildings should ever be built; this area is anchored on the east by Linton Hall, and on the west by Cowles house. The northern anchor is the MSU Union and the southern anchors are the MSU Museum and Beaumont Tower.

When pedestrians head south from the MSU Union toward Beaumont Tower, they are enveloped by tree canopies that form a picturesque umbrella, and are visually invited to ascend the knoll where the tower stands. From here, they can survey a random arrangement of oaks, conifers, other deciduous trees, and lawns that are now landscaped, but that still recall the selection of this "oak opening" as the place where Michigan State began.

This oak opening, a break in the densely forested area, was a desirable location because it required less clearing than many other possible sites, and fortunately it possessed natural beauty. The novelist, James Fenimore Coooper, described a Michigan forest in his 1848 book, The Oak Openings, as if it were this site. "The trees with very few exceptions were what is called the burr oak, and the spaces between them, always irregular, and often of singular beauty, have obtained the name of 'openings'; the two terms combined giving their applellation to this particular species of native forest, under the name of "Oak Openings."

On the periphery of the oak opening, College Hall was erected in 1856, and collapsed in 1918-its wooden framework weakened with age. A decade later, Beaumont Tower arose on the same site. It commemorates the site of College Hall, the first campus building devoted to scientific agriculture, and in its verticality, the tower symbolizes future scholastic achievement.This blog is about "openings," in this case viewed as opportunities, and explorations in this rapidly changing and always entertaining life. It will also have some history, some discoveries, some pictures, some thoughts, some ideas, and hopefully some wisdom. Come along for the ride, and feel free to comment on anything at anytime.
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1 comment:

  1. A beautiful, well done job, my friend! This area is really so nice. I remember walking it often, pausing to enjoy its coolness in the summer, its beauity in the fall. Thanks also for the backgound/history lesson too! vr