The Fountain in the Fall

October 31, 2021
Richard Ma

On certain cloudless days in the fall, the sun seems brighter than usual, magnified by the fledgling cold. The apple crisp air and white sun are radiant on my face, refreshing and stunning like a freshwater stream.

I always love how campus feels when you first step into it again. After a couple quiet hours of studying in the library, the outside feels new again. At Princeton, it’s tempting to move from one classroom to the next, one study spot to the next, run from class to club meeting to meal. But in those elusive standstill moments, home truly comes alive.

Today as I left Stokes Library, something tempted me toward the Fountain of Freedom. Located on its own pavilion, the fountain is one of Princeton’s iconic landmarks. On one side are rows of autumn-burnished trees, behind which meet the clean modern angles of the Louis A. Simpson International Building and the proud brickwork of the Julis Romo Rabinowitz Building.

The fountain’s other side is buttressed by the curving pillars of Robertson Hall, home to the School of Public and International Affairs. It’s a majestic sight in its own right, but the fountain, though dwarfed in size by its surrounding landmarks, is the real spirit of the place. For much of the school year, the water runs, curling out gently in parabolic paths and rippling gently in the reflecting pool around it. Its serenity, especially when stepping out of class, is truly something to behold.

Today, the fountain was especially beautiful. In the sunlight, I could see the true extent of the fountain’s mist, which in places clouded outward, and in others fell more fiercely like a rainstorm. From my approach, the fountain was so dark it looked flat, its form encased in whitewater.

The pavilion in the mid-afternoon was relatively busy. I noticed another student with a sketchbook on her lap, and milling around were small pairs of conversations.

The fountain’s colors became clear on its other side when my eyes were no longer blinded by the sun. Although the trees behind it had begun to shed, the fountain was still oxidized green, its tips appearing a translucent turquoise, like an icicle.

As my eyes adjusted, I saw an arching rainbow wavering in the flickering water – at times nearly invisible, the next second vibrant and whole.