A Nature Lover’s Journey in Cambridge

How MIT changed my perspective on little things
DEC 2019
Sugandha
S.
Brain and Cognitive Sciences

Are you a nature lover? I sure am, and I only realized how important it was to me when I moved to Cambridge after being admitted to the PhD program in the MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Sciences department. I felt nature deprived for quite some time before experiencing a shift in my perspective.

Before coming here, I was in Waterloo, Ontario where I lived in a beautiful neighbourhood that had numerous trees. I often went for a walk with my mom in the evenings and admired the wonderful colours on the trees in the fall, and even the beautiful snowy white trees in the winter. There were also lovely running trails near my house where I would occasionally go for a run. One of the trails ended beside a lake and I used to sit there after my run to watch the sunset. I still remember this one time when I took my mom there for a picnic on mothers day. It was just amazing to sit under these huge trees by the lake where we could soak in the natural beauty.


Pictures of the neighbourhood in Waterloo, Ontario where I lived before coming to Cambridge.
Top left: fall colours, top right: snow decorating the trees in winter months, bottom left:
Columbia lake on the trail near my home, bottom right: magnificent green trees in the nearby area.

However, all of this changed when I moved to Cambridge. I was living off campus in Porter Square, and taking the T (subway) everyday to MIT. There was a 10 min walk between my home and the T-station and I used to look for trees around the area while walking. I very quickly realized that there weren’t as many trees in the area. Even the ones that were there were small ones that didn’t satisfy my craving.

This motivated me to explore the surrounding areas for trails where I could go for running, and my search bore fruit. I found the ‘Fresh Pond Reservation Area’ which was pretty close to where I lived. It had a nice pond with a long trail surrounding it where people usually went for running or walking in the evenings. This was just what I needed. I’d go there in the evenings to watch the sunset over the pond, after my run. However, this still wasn't quite enough for me...

In the coming Spring semester, I enrolled in this unconventional course offered by the MIT media lab called ‘Principles of awareness’. This course made a big difference in how I perceived things to an extent that I had not imagined. One of the homeworks for this course was to notice one new thing everyday, and as I started doing that, I began appreciating the beauty in the little things around me. I was rotating in a lab at Harvard at the time, and I would walk from my house to Harvard every morning and back in the evening. I noticed how my perspective changed by noticing those little flowers, tree barks, and different types of stones on the walkways. It’s fascinating that just being aware of my surroundings could help me enjoy and appreciate the beauty around me so much more, and brought about a complete change of mindset. I began to feel that the city of Cambridge had a lot more in store for me. Little did I realize that the surrounding cities of Cambridge also had a lot to offer and were calling me to explore them.


The little things in my surroundings that brought joy to me once I started noticing them.
Top left: hopeful plants trying to make their way out (outside Harvard Northwest Science Building); top right: vibrant flowers along Sydney street (university park commons); bottom left: tiny bright flowers on hubbard ave near Porter square; bottom right: snow sculptures in Central square.

At the end of the Spring semester, my family visited me and I went on a trip with them touring the east coast. Apart from the inescapable New York, we also went to New Hampshire, Newport and Cape Cod. I had an amazing time in all three of these places. They are all just around 2-hour drive from Cambridge and are filled with natural beauty! In New Hampshire, we went to the vast White Mountain National Forests. They provide venues for picnicking, hiking, camping and enjoying views filled with mountains and vibrant trees. The cliff walk in Newport and the beach dips in Cape Cod were also amazing and made me realize that there were so many places around Cambridge that I could just drive to if I wanted to spend more time in nature.

When I returned from this trip, my love for the ocean had grown, and this drew me to the Charles river. I ended up going for regular runs by the Charles (right in front of MIT’s main building), and I loved it. Last time I went for a run by the Charles, I crossed over the bridge to try running on the Boston side. I found that I enjoyed running on the Boston side much more mostly due to its well maintained walkways, the park and the esplanade. After my run, I’d sit there and watch the sunset over the river (sunset views from the Boston side are beautiful!). That’s how I decided that I needed to move and live somewhere closer to the river for my second year.


A view of the sunset over Charles River from the Boston side of the river.

Fast forward a few months, I am now getting ready to move into Tang Hall –– one of MIT’s on-campus residences that faces the Charles river. I am looking forward to living closer to the river for the next year. I have also been appointed as a sports chair of Tang Hall, and am excited for the numerous runs that I will be going for by the Charles throughout the year! I can already imagine myself walking out at 2 am in the morning to take a walk by the Charles while admiring the well lit Boston skyline. Thankfully, I have also realized that this part of the city is much greener than Porter square. Sure enough, I am not the only one who likes to be outdoors. MIT has a group of people called the MIT Outing Club, who organize outdoor trips and make it very easy for students to carpool and travel together. I am looking forward to joining them on one of their camping trips to the White Mountains this year!