What would we define as “natural” on Davidson College’s campus? Some students chose the cross-country trail as the most natural place on campus, for it appears untouched, wild, and uncultivated. But even the cross-country trail contains a manmade path through the trees, a bridge at the bottom of a large hill, and signs to designate direction and distance. Some students also chose the college arboretum, but even the trees are tagged and scattered strategically around campus.
When I hear the word “natural,” I think of English country gardens, frontiers rolling with mountains and grasslands, and tropical forests prospering with growth and green. Though beautiful, I would not call Davidson College a “natural” place, for it has been too modified and planned to be so. For example, the “Annual Report of the Faculty to the Trustees” gives us a look into Davidson College in June 1869. The report states,
The Trustees will observe for themselves how much has been done for the improvement of the Campus during the past year. This has been done… by the interest of the students displayed in planting shade trees, and in improving by their personal labor, the parts adjacent to their Halls. It is proposed to make the Campus in its contents represent in time the forest growth of the State, and, if possible, the general botany of the region.
According to the report, students themselves planted the trees and the arboretum appears to be in its propositional phase in 1869. The College proposed that Davidson reflect the tree varieties present in the state of North Carolina, therefore resulting in the importation of tress to various locations around campus. Even the maps of campus in the nineteenth century up until the present day show the planned drawings of trees on the grounds, strategically placed in front of Chambers, the library, and dormitories. Davidson’s careful interference with nature contrasts the photos and maps that depict a more forested campus.
The map that showed the plans for the first Chambers building that would house both classrooms and living spaces also represented a massive interference with nature Davidson intended to develop. Placing such a large structure in the middle of carefully organized landscape demonstrates man’s triumph over nature in this small town in North Carolina woodlands. This central location on the campus could not be called “natural,” not to mention the well-manicured grass and shrubbery that Davidson upholds to such a high aesthetic standard.
Davidson College campus is beautiful, and certainly contains aspects of seemingly natural characteristics. The tampering of college staff and students, however, tampers with the definition of “natural” by intruding upon one of its essential foundations. For something to be deemed truly “natural,” its present and previous state must rely on its lack of human interference and intrusion. The cross-country trail and the arboretum allow the college to maintain the serene presence of nature and add an aesthetic factor to its campus, but I would not go so far as to call it a “natural” campus by definition.