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Four Years at the Mount

Fall has officially begun! To get into the fall spirit as we await the befitting weather, our Four Years at the Mount writers tell us about their favorite activities from romping in piles of leaves to charity events in the area.

Favorite Fall Activities

October 2016

Stop And Smell The Leaves

Angela Tongohan.
MSM Class of 2020

I was standing by the side of the road. Around me stood wide oak trees as tall as buildings. The tired houses of my neighborhood uniformly lined the street, each sitting a few feet behind a small square of dull yellow grass. The crisp air shocked my skin, leaving it red and rosy. The sky was a bright light blue. It could have been summer, except the leaves of the trees were deep hues of red and orange. They hung as a beautiful mixture of electrifyingly, bright shades: leaves as red as tomatoes, oranges as intense as fire, yellows as brilliant as the sun.

Fall was such a beautiful season. The colors brought so much life to my surroundings that it was ironic how it traditionally and symbolically warned of death. The leaves were dying, one-by-one, slowly drifting their ways from the strong branches to the solid, cold ground. Every so often, the wind would blow especially hard and throw a handful of leaves across the street. The wind was different in the fall. It blew stronger and faster and swept my hair across my face and around my head. If during the spring it was a sigh, during the fall it was a pant. The smells were also very different. It was more woody and maple-y, as though someone had taken a box full of pine cones and dumped it on my head.

Of course, as a child I never thought of fall like that. I didnít think of death and cold crispness. It was never about strong winds or overwhelming smells. For me, fall was altogether happy. It was the season of pumpkin patches and jack-o-lanterns, hot cocoa and sweet potatoes, Halloween and birthdays. It was the season before snow and after sun. It was the in-between season. The season of rest and rejuvenation. Everything seemed to be calmer during the fall, slower, even, at times. It was the only time of the year that my mother would slow down in the middle of our morning drive to school and say to me, "Wow, isnít the world beautiful?"

And I would always nod my head and say, "Yes. Yes it is."

I grew up an only child in a small family. Despite the common misconception that being an only child is the most ideal situation, when I was younger, I found myself constantly yearning for someone to play with. There was a particular fall when I had just moved into a new house. All my friends no longer lived near me, so it was nearly impossible to schedule a play date. I had been sitting around all day with no one but my mother to keep me company. Iím not suggesting that time with my mother was unpleasant, it was simply boring.

After a few loud sighs and slight whining, my mother looked up from her book and suggested that I go outside. With another grumble and a few stomps, I made my way to the backyard. The backyard was a desert of dry grass and intense loneliness. A plastic bag bounced across the yard like tumbleweed. The dry, dead leaves were scooped up into a pile in the very middle of the yard. I trudged my way towards it.

Angrily, I gave it a small kick. A tiny mushroom of dead leaves exploded into the air. Distracted, I did it again. Another explosion. I accidently stepped on a leaf. A loud crunch shot through the empty air. I stepped on another leaf. Another crunch. Soon I was taking large steps around the rim of the pile of leaves. Crunch, crunch, crunch. I giggled to myself. Then I had the most spectacular idea. I pushed the leaves that had been separated from the pile back into place. I took a few steps back. I was about to experience a liberation that millions of children have certainly experienced before me. It was a grand occasion. With a deep breath, I broke into a run and jumped.

The leaves burst into the air and slowly came fluttering down like a million red, orange, and yellow umbrellas. I sat in the center watching the leaves twirl and spin in the air, dancing around as though they were talented ballerinas. I laughed.

To the displeasure of my mother, I was found destroying leaf-piles every year after that. Fall may signal the time for change and the end of life, but it also portrays liberation and renewal. It is the time that, yes, things end, but things also begin. Leaves, I find, are like people. They live out their lives doing what they are meant to do, and when they have finished serving their purpose, they slowly drift away. Every leaf is different, and some leaves are meant to stay longer than others. But in the same way, every leaf is important and beautiful. Fall is a time to appreciate life and all that it offers you. We, as people, are always in a rush to get something done or to be somewhere else that we donít realize that things are continuously changing whether we stop to enjoy it or not. Maybe, just maybe, fall is the time to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, the leaves.

Read other articles by Angela Tongohan


Special Olympics Fall Fest

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSM Class of 2019

"Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt"

-Special Olympics oath

I am convinced that Emmitsburg was designed for the autumn season. The Mount in particular comes alive in the fall: football game watching fuels student comradery, pumpkin spice and cinnamon find their way in almost every cafeteria meal, and the campus seems increasingly picturesque with each coming day. Although it would be hard wrought to rattle off all of the spectacular fall pastimes available in Emmitsburg, there is one fall tradition hosted at Mount St. Maryís that is a cut above the rest Ė the Special Olympicsí Fall Sports Festival.

The annual Fall Sports Festival is an anticipated event for nearly 300 Special Olympics athletes. Athletes compete in sports including tennis, power lifting, flag football, long distance running, and cycling and will have opportunities to qualify for the national team. This fall, Mount St. Maryís will host the annual event for the 29th year. The festival will take place on October 22 at Mount St. Maryís University athletic complex and Ft. Ritchie Community Center.

A strong showing of over 200 Mount community volunteers are anticipated for this yearís event. The Mountís Office of Social Justice plays an integral role in orchestrating the event.

Ian Van Anden, the Director of the Mountís Office of Social Justice, described the positive experience that the Fall Fest provides for both the Special Olympics athletes and the Emmitsburg community.

"This has been a program that the Mount has hosted for 29 years now, and the Office of Social Justice has been a proud and committed part of that relationship," he stated. "With over 250 students serving each of the last two years, this is the largest single day of service at Mount St. Maryís University. This day is a tremendous opportunity for the Mount to host over 300 athletes along with their families, friends, and fans."

The Fall Sports Festival has played a formative role in Mount studentsí experiences as well. John OíConnor, a junior at Mount St. Maryís, is an avid athlete and proponent of the Special Olympics organization. Since volunteering at the Fall Sports Festival as a freshman, OíConnor has become a CORE leader within the Office of Social Justice and the co-president of Best Buds, an organization that serves individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Like many other Mount St. Maryís students, the Fall Sports Fest has become a capstone event for OíConnor.

"I think this definitely is my favorite fall activity because everyone is together at this event. Weíre serving together, weíre volunteering together, weíre celebrating together. And [we] get to celebrate the joys of the athletes competing. You also get to celebrate being with them and being with each other," OíConnor says.

Opening Ceremonies will kick off the day 9 a.m. As in years past, the atmosphere will be electric. Athletes traditionally process in, waving their county flags, and the entire audience rises to their feet. The stadium erupts in music, cheering, and announcements. Participating athletes recite the Special Olympics oath and the games begin shortly after.

As an athlete myself, I am continually inspired by the talent, dedication, authentic sportsmanship, and infectious joy displayed by the Special Olympics athletes. The Fall Sports Festival is one of the best events of the entire year.

Clear your calendars for the Fall Sports Fest this month! This annual opportunity is not one to pass up. Pumpkin carvings, apple orchards, and leaf raking can wait another day-- but the Fall Sports Fest at the Mount is sure to become your favorite autumn tradition. For more information regarding the event and potential volunteer opportunities, visit the Special Olympics website for the Maryland Chapter at www.somd.org or contact the Office of Social Justice at Mount St. Maryís University.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.


Falling for autumn

Sarah Muir
Class of 2018

It is the time and the season that I love above all others, fall! Otherwise known as sweater weather and the time of the year where you can scarcely turn around without seeing or smelling some kind of pumpkin spice whatchamacallit. The breeze carries with it a crisp newness, the oppressing humidity from summertime is swept aside, and the world can breathe again. Autumn on campus has always been my favorite, especially watching the leaves on the trees turn the whole mountain crimson and gold. Granted, my morning commute becomes darker and colder this time of year, and I struggle to leave the warm cocoon of my bed in the morning, but that does not dampen my love of the season.

During the month of October, I have two of my favorite events. The first is my birthday, during which the appearance of the almost completely processed Carvel ice-cream cake is mandatory. The second is, of course, Halloween. Unfortunately, I am too old to traipse around, begging for candy and, between school and work, I havenít the time to sit in a sincere pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Luckily, one is never too old to dress up in costume (I am thinking of going as a flapper this year). In the spirit of the season, I also take extra special time to curl up with some apple cider to a nice B-list horror flick or two (B-list because they are predictable and not as scary).

Another crucial element of this month is my annual reading of A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. For some reason, my brain has associated this novel with this season, so now I cannot let the month pass by without re-visiting the Faustian tale. In the morning, weather permitting, I find myself sitting under the trees in Peace Plaza, reading as everyoneís favorite, iconic, stubby-tailed squirrel readies himself for winter.

This year however, there will be a slight change to my usual October schedule, because during the blessed week of fall break, I am going with my family to New Orleans! We will be staying in the French Quarter, which is a beautiful place in a beautiful city. I have only been here once before for about three days, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to have time to explore a little more. The food, of course, will be another upside to my trip to the Big Easy. What I remember of my last visit was impromptu parades, sidewalk jazz musicians, and walking nervously in and out of a Voodoo shop. I have been dreaming of Gumbo, beignets, and the Central Grocery ever since I found out we were going. I am looking forward to spending time with my family and experiencing what the French Quarter has to offer.

I have talked about my most favorite things I do throughout this season, but now it is time I turn towards the most important. During the mornings when I am on campus, when it is not dreadfully busy, I try to make my way up to the Grotto (each time horribly underestimating the stairs). The Grotto is one of the main reasons why I choose Mount St. Mary's University. As I have mentioned in previous articles, my Catholic faith has always been, and will always be, very important to me. It has been a part of my life forever and without it, I would not be me. What I value most highly about the Grotto is that it is a place that provides an escape from the loud and chaotic world. The Grotto is a place of sanctuary, a small silent space in the middle of a troubling world. I think that in today's world we all need a place like that, for in the words of the immortal William Wordsworth, "the world is too much with us." Everywhere you turn, there is some new and vibrant problem that needs to be solved, but the Grotto is proof that there are still pockets of peace left on earth.

It is a shame I do not go up there more often, but life is like a spoiled toddler and has a habit of drawing my attention away from quiet solitude. It has always been my humble opinion that autumn is the last flash of Natureís brilliance as it retreats from the descending chill. So let us pause in carving pumpkins and raise our glasses of apple cider to fall!

Read other articles by Sarah Muir


The Peace of Fall

Leanne Leary
MSM Class of 2017

There is, never has been, and never will be anything quite like the Grotto of Lourdes at Mount St. Maryís during the start of fall. From the truly inimitable atmosphere to the beauty of the surrounding nature, the Grotto is, by far, my favorite place to be in the fall. My first time ever visiting the Grotto was during autumn, and Iím not sure if it is the sentiment and memory that makes it my favorite to this day or if it the swarm of colors, mountain scenery, bearable temperatures, and natural peace and quiet. Regardless, it is my favorite, and according to the internet, it is also number two of 18 things to do in Emmitsburg! (Iím not sure what is number one, but it must be cool.)

Walking up the stairs to get to the Grotto from the Mountís campus is, admittedly, exhausting. Running these stairs for a workout is close to torture, but the bitterness in my head after every other step disappears immediately upon reaching the top. In an attempt to avoid the clichť expression, "the view is breathtaking," I will simply call it a work of art, and a natural one at that. Whether you drive in and park or brave the stairs, your efforts will be rewarded as soon as the visitorsí center and bell tower are visible, and this is just the beginning. Turn around, and youíll get a view of campus and Emmitsburg that is delicately coated with fall colors of auburn, birch, and crimson orange. The sign that you will read declares, "We are half in the sky; the height of our situation is almost incredible." This is Saint Elizabeth Ann Setonís description of the site; again, this is just the beginning.

Before visiting the Grotto, whether it is your first or 50th time, there are some things you should know. Its rich history certainly adds to its beauty as it is over a century old and is one of the oldest American replicas of the shrine in Lourdes, France. The shrine in Lourdes is home to the first, and the year-long series of Marian apparitions in Lourdes, France in 1858. The first apparition was reported by a fourteen year old peasant girl, Bernadette Soubrirous, who is now a canonized saint. Her description of the woman with whom she spoke on that day matched 17 other descriptions throughout that calendar year. These visions, or conversations, were deemed Marian apparitions, a church was built at the Grotto of Lourdes, and the natural beauty of the site has been preserved ever since. However, it was not a seamless road to becoming the pilgrimage site that it is today. When the apparitions became more regular, and "miracles" that later proved to be hoaxes were revealed, the Grotto gained more and more attention. This attention included concern from the Church and confusion from the government that led to the site actually being shut down and fenced off. Over the next several years the controversy continued until the site was eventually reopened. Now, between four and six million visitors travel to the Grotto every year.

Our own Grotto, here in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is a replica of the one in Lourdes. This replica was established in 1875, not even 20 years after the first apparition. Similar to Lourdes, the Grotto here is devoted to Mary and attracts hundreds of thousands of annual visitors.

Each of these visitors start in front of the bell tower, and then begin the trek to the Grotto itself. Once you have turned your back to the view earlier deemed incredible, you will walk a clearly dictated path that will take you past the glass chapel, to the Grotto cave, where you may either stop or continue to the cavalry scene. This part, I will leave for you to explore. This part of my Grotto visits has always been the most personal, offering the most time for reflection and the most conducive environment to doing so, especially in the midst of the peace of fall.

My first Grotto visit, aside from the candle-lit ceremony during freshmen orientation, was during October of the same year. Before I knew the significance of the site, cared much about the religious history or relevance, or even knew where everything was located, I walked up to the Grotto as if I didnít belong. I knew that I wasnít getting the whole picture, but that didnít matter much. What made me uncomfortable was how comfortable everyone around me was. I wondered why I couldnít also feel at home here, and I continued my walk up the stone path. I breeched the entrance to the shrine, passes the sign that requests silence, and found somewhere to sit on the wooden benches usually used for services. I wasnít too far from the shrine, but I certainly wasnít too close. I sat for almost 20 minutes before moving, simply watching people pass through. It was a Saturday, and happened to be a tour day. At least a hundred people, not from the area, started walking up and I, admittedly, panicked. I donít know what Iím doing here! So, naturally, I sat there until they had all left. All in all, without pausing along the path, at the fountain, approaching the shrine, or walking to the scene of the cavalry, I spent nearly two hours sitting at the grotto. I had coffee, but Iím not sure I needed it. The experience was serene, to say the least, and although I wish I had done a better job at dedicating time to this place over the last three years, my experiences only got better as the months went on. It did, however, take months until I stopped sitting in the middle of the third bench up on the right, and moved forward, but this was necessary. I learned quickly that the only reason I was uncomfortable was because I was forcing myself to be. Soon, I picked up a pamphlet, walked into the visitorsí center, and learned about where I had spent so much time sitting. In learning all of this, I learned that the natural peace surrounding the Grotto is one so unique, and so truly exceptional, that I could not waste the four years I would spend in such close proximity. Although I will hopefully have time to spend here year-round, the sentiment of fall, my first visit, and the over-abundance of beauty in this particular time of year make it, by far, my favorite fall activity and although it is only the second most exciting thing to do in Emmitsburg, as deemed by Travelocity, Iím certain it could be one of your favorites, too.

Read other articles by Leanne Leary

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