I graduated from Williams 25 years ago and now look for any excuse to travel back to Williamstown. My trips back to northwestern Massachusetts take some effort and planning – at least one connecting flight to Albany from Columbus, Ohio, and a rental car. As I drive on Route 7 into Massachusetts, I’m not only transported geographically but also emotionally. Cell phone service is dropped and satellite signals are lost, but the views and the sky are incredible. I know it sounds cliché, but the feeling is euphoric – or ephoric. The place has a strong pull on me. The friendships I made at Williams still matter a great deal, too, and I’ve forged new Williams friendships since graduation. No matter where I’ve lived or traveled, Ephs pop up in interesting places.
However, there’s still something special about Williamstown in particular, and whenever I’m back on campus, there are a few mandatory to-dos that I urge you to take advantage of while you’re still a student.
Hiking Pine Cobble is one. The panoramic views at the top of the boulders of Pine Cobble are exhilarating. Mountain Day didn’t exist back in the ’80s, and embarrassingly, I never made the trek up the Pine Cobble trail while I was a student. Visiting Hopkins Forest is another. You can really get lost on those trails, traversing streams and ambling through the ferns and under the tree canopies. I never ventured into Hopkins Forest when I was a student either, and I’m not sure why. It’s easy to get to and undoubtedly worth an hour of two of your time.
You’re only at Williams for four short years, and you’ll most likely leave the Purple Valley once you graduate, so taking the time to appreciate your surroundings is so incredibly important. I know it can be hard to find the time when you have hours of work and practices and other activities, but finding a few hours to go on a sunrise hike or wander around Hopkins Forest with a group of friends can really enhance your Williams experience. Looking back, you’ll be glad you did while you had the chance.
In addition to Pine Cobble and Hopkins Forest, I always make a stop at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. On my last trip to Williamstown, it was the final day for the Winslow Homer show. Many of the most significant paintings in the exhibit are part of the Clark’s permanent collection, and I have my favorites. Fortunately, unlike Pine Cobble and Hopkins, I got myself to the Clark quite a bit when I was a student. Many of those Homers, Sargents and Turners bring me back again and again. I urge you to take advantage of the abundance of remarkable art both at the Clark, the Williams College Museum of Art and MASS MoCA. Who knows if you will have such easy access to art in your future life, so visiting these museums is well worth the time away from your regular routines.
My daughter is currently a student at Williams, and her experience will be different from mine but equally impactful. I have lots of advice I’d like to give her, but for the most part, I try not to. However, the advice that I will share is this: Engage fully with the people around you – your classmates, coaches, advisors and professors – but also make sure you explore the area surrounding your idyllic campus. Your Williams experience will only be made all the more memorable by taking advantage of the resources surrounding you, and there is no better time to appreciate these resources than while you are a student. Don’t wait until you are an alum to relish the physical beauty and culture that is there for you.
Katie Chatas ’88 is the parent of Sophie Chatas ’16, opinions editor. She lives in Columbus, Ohio.