A Wanderer's Guide to Texas State University
There is a better way to experience one of Texas’ most beautiful college campuses: the winding path of the wanderer.
The beginning of each semester is marked by an influx of new students, faculty and staff all trying to find their way at Texas State. Many Bobcats, new and old, limit their on-campus foot travel to swift beelines from academic building to parking lot, creating comfortable ruts linking pockets of climate control. These ruts limit their exposure to the weather, but also to the diverse attractions of Texas State’s San Marcos Campus. There is a better way to experience one of Texas’ most beautiful college campuses: the winding path of the wanderer.
Dr. Susan Signe Morrison, Texas State professor of English, who is widely known for her research on medieval literature, recently turned her attention to the relationship between writing and an even more fundamental human activity: walking. Morrison credits students’ fascination with J.R.R. Tolkien, among others, for helping to keep her medieval literature classes fully enrolled, so it seems appropriate that Tolkien’s most famous quotation, a line from his poem “All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter,” is fully in keeping with her new focus: “Not all those who wander are lost.”
Dr. Susan Morrison explores the relationship between experiences of environmental immersion, unhurried human locomotion and reading poetry.
Morrison’s love of both literature and wandering began in early childhood. With her parents and brothers, she spent her seventh summer walking the 130-mile route through the English countryside known as Pilgrim’s Way, from Winchester to Canterbury.
The trip was inspired by her parents’ love of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and gave Morrison countless indelible memories, from an insect rescue to a lost raincoat to a magical taxi. In total, Morrison has made the Pilgrim’s Way trek four times, including with her own seven-year-old daughter, Sarah.
Morrison draws on these experiences in two recent publications: a personal essay on the Canterbury trips, published last year in M/C Journal, and her most recent article, “Slow Pilgrimage Ecopoetics,” published in Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment. In these pieces, Morrison explores the relationship between experiences of environmental immersion, unhurried human locomotion and reading poetry.
Morrison explains that just as a reader slows down to read good poetry, “Slowness is an inherent part of walking,” which allows you to “be attentive to what’s around you and develop place awareness.”
A slow pace often reveals moments of remarkable serendipity. For example, when Morrison read W.G. Sebald’s pilgrimage novel The Rings of Saturn, she was struck by a reference to a character named Mr. Squirrel. It brought back a childhood memory, confirmed by her mother’s notes, that during one stay in England her family repeatedly hired a taxi driver, in the same region of Suffolk, also named Mr. Squirrel, presumably a relation of the man who inspired the character. Slowness, in walking and reading, allows us to be mindful enough to make connections.
Slowness, in walking and reading, allows us to be mindful enough to make connections.
Morrison laments people’s tendency to walk with their eyes glued to their phones because, “Through walking, paying attention, being mindful, you develop a sense of the more-than-human actors around us, and not only how we’re affecting them but how they’re affecting us.”
Morrison’s own experience at Texas State changed radically when she realized the campus was a beautiful place to wander. Now her routine includes campus walks. “I’ve only been doing it for eight years,” she says, “but I’ve taught here for 26 years. We’re surrounded by nature all the time, but we usually don’t pay attention to it. Most of us are just like ‘Oh, I have to grade,’ which you do have to do, but it’s important to take nature walks too.”
The Guided Walks
Whether you’re new to Texas State or returning, these three walks will help you get to know the diversity of natural wonders on the San Marcos Campus, from three different perspectives: the Lowland Route, Garden Route and Highland Route.
Feel free to stray from the path described.
Done right, according to Morrison, pilgrimages are not just slow but dynamic: neither fully fixed nor fully fluid. They have defined start and end points, but allow for improvisational exploration off the beaten path.
Each of these walks can be completed in a half-hour, but will be more enjoyable if you take your time to really wander
The Lowland Route
Begin by circling the Theatre Center, making note of the dragonflies resting on cattails bordering the pond and glistening droplets of water propelled by the fountains.
When you reach the southeast side of the building, veer away from the parking lot and take the path running parallel to University Drive. This area is one of Morrison’s favorite parts of campus, “I like walking from Flowers Hall down to the Jowers Center through the wetlands area. You can see egrets and turtles. It’s changed my whole perspective of my job.”
The ponds in this area date back to 1893, remnants of the oldest Federal Fish hatchery west of the Mississippi. Check the tall reeds and gnarled tree roots framing the ponds’ banks to find lazy bullfrogs and maybe a shy water snake. Consider a detour back and forth across the ponds’ four bridges.
“I like walking from Flowers Hall down to the Jowers Center through the wetlands area. You can see egrets and turtles. It’s changed my whole perspective of my job.”
Don’t forget to look up; this part of campus is home to a diverse array of birds, including hawks, yellow-crowned night-herons, and Egyptian geese. Returning to the path, follow the dirt trail to an area of lush grass by wilder-looking ponds, where you might find a tiny green Carolina anole lizard climbing the brush. From here you can catch a glimpse of ‘Bikini Hill’ in Sewell park across the street.
Continue down a path that suggests a distant memory of tire tracks, and you’ll arrive at the square ponds. Even the pond scum is beautiful here, dotted with tiny buttercup-like flowers growing up from the algae.
Make your way to the stairs that take you up to the Freeman Aquatic Biology building. If you need a quick blast of climate control, duck inside to check out the local ecosystem-inspired artwork, or just wind your way around to the backside of the building where you’ll find stairs leading down to a stream.
Sit there and soak your feet, a classic pilgrim’s reward for a hard day’s walk.
The Garden Route
Start at the orange picnic table on Pleasant Street, between the Medina and Agriculture buildings, to explore Agricultural Sciences’ educational gardens, full of helpfully labeled plants. The gardens range from the more conventionally named Zen and Butterfly gardens to the more unusual Cowboy Garden and Dark Crystal Garden.
Begin by walking up the half-paved driveway, past planters made of brightly painted old tires, between a garden shed and a reservoir covered in murals. Peek uphill for a view of Old Main, flower gardens, and a sculpture, but turn left and proceed down the stairs.
Keep an eye out for butterflies and cheeky squirrels.
You’ll pass a sparkly area of ground cover made of broken safety glass, as well as palm trees and a metal and mosaic sculpture. As you pass the bamboo fence, you’ll see a large windchime to your right. If there’s no wind, stop to give it a little push.
The gardens range from the more conventionally named Zen and Butterfly gardens to the more unusual Cowboy Garden and Dark Crystal Garden.
Continue downward to the Little Free Library, where you can leave a book and take a book. Turn right, and pause to write a message on the large public chalkboard. One quotation written there recently is a perfect wanderer’s motto, courtesy of painter Bob Ross: “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”
If you continue past the chalkboard, you’ll find brightly painted picnic tables and another muraled reservoir, but eventually you’ll want to continue downhill from the Little Free Library and curve around the Agriculture Pavilion to find a set of stairs heading up. Hanging above the path you’ll see a fused-glass art piece, and to its right you’ll find the termination of your route: hammocks hung under a shady, vine-covered awning.
Relax in a hammock. You’ve earned it.
The Highland Route
Begin at the Texas State Galleries in the Joann Cole Mitte building, where you can nourish yourself with food for the soul before you begin your trek. When you leave, take the outside stairs down and follow a path lined with elevated agave plants.
On your right, take note of the sculpture made of large glass, stone, and metal beads hidden in a clump of pink-flowered desert willow trees, as you continue along the path out to Sessom Road.
Turn left and follow Sessom, past the Rec Center and Soccer Complex, until you reach the Ivey-Moore House. In front of it, you’ll see a champion Chinese pistache tree listed on the Texas Forest Service’s Big Tree Registry. If you brought a frisbee, take advantage of the disc golf course that ends by the Ivey-Moore House.
The cemetery is a perfect place to wander aimlessly, enjoying the romantic Spanish moss and the songbirds trilling in the pink-blossomed crepe myrtle trees.
Follow the disc golf course in reverse order, down Holland Street, and then left again through the area alongside Ranch Road 12. Although the course continues down to the Recycling Center and beyond, for this trek you’ll carefully cross Ranch Road 12 and enter the iron gates of the San Marcos City Cemetery.
The cemetery is a perfect place to wander aimlessly, enjoying the romantic Spanish moss and the songbirds trilling in the pink-blossomed crepe myrtle trees. You’re sure to see many deer, and if you’re lucky you may spot the resident peacock or a gray fox.
If pure aimlessness isn’t your style, make it a scavenger hunt with the goal of finding: (1) at least three 19th-century graves, (2) at least three graves that don’t list the decedent’s actual name (e.g., “Baby” or “Mrs. John Smith.”) and (3) the grave of Judge William Matthew Burnett. Burnett’s tombstone is engraved with a poem, the first stanza of which reads: “Back in ’32 in our nation’s worst days/ Burnett became judge in the County of Hays/ and the judge would still tell how he modestly felt/ ‘Two men saved the country – me and Roosevelt.’” As poetry it may not be up to Morrison’s standards, but it is certainly the cemetery’s most amusing grave.
Conclude your trek by returning to the flagpole near the entrance, where you can gaze out at a near-panoramic view of the west end of the San Marcos Campus.
Regardless of which trek you make, bring a book. Morrison’s work explores how ecopoetry “intimately entwines with the landscape … and becomes part of it,” and, likewise, how both the literature and landscape become a part of the pilgrim.
In this “dynamic relationship,” the reader is affected by a text (getting goosebumps, or emotional catharsis), just as the pilgrim is affected by the environment (developing blisters, or excitement at seeing a rare bird), just as the environment is affected by the pilgrim (compacting dirt into a path by walking on it, for example).
As the literature and landscape of Texas State change you in ways you may not expect, you, too, will change Texas State.
Welcome, fellow wanderer. ⭑