Hamilton College made #12

My friend and college classmate Laura posted a message on my Facebook wall over the weekend, where she alerted me that the website bestcollegevalues.org chose their 50 most beautiful colleges in autumn – and of those fifty colleges, our alma mater, Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., made it all the way to #12.  Yeah, apparently we have a better leaf distribution than Colgate or Tufts or Mount Holyoke, and we’re just behind Yale and Cornell and Notre Dame in terms of appealing foliage.

And it made me think.  It made me think once again about how I ended up at a prestigious “Little Ivy” school after bouncing around twelve different elementary and secondary schools.  How there were moments where I felt about as out of place as a Trekkie in a Walking Dead convention, where I was so totally out of my element and how I somehow, some way, found enough inner strength and determination to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing.

For those of you who’ve never seen the Hamilton campus, let me tell you that the college has amazing architecture that reflects the school’s 200+ years of operation.  From the white-steepled Chapel to its vintage dormitories, to the breathtaking and meditative Root Glen, the campus does have its visual treasures.

And every so often, when I can, I find a way to drive back to Oneida County and recapture its beauty whenever I can.

Hamilton College Root Glen - DSC_2785
Walkway on the Hamilton College Root Glen. Nikon D70 camera, original kit lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Maybe it was because the college was far enough away from my toxic home life – a chance to understand that I didn’t have to take the abuse and berating from my family and could find time to focus on myself.

Maybe it was because I could find new friends in new social strata, new opportunities to look for and receive support from fellow underclassmen who may have also traveled their personal journeys of rediscovery and enlightenment.

It goes without saying that in my original attempt to experiment with expired film way back in 2011, I chose Hamilton’s iconographic architecture for my experiment.

Hamilton College Chapel, Clinton, N.Y.
Hamilton College Chapel front view
Shot with efke 50 film in Nikon F100 camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.


Hamilton College Chapel tower, Clinton, N.Y. - Shot on 60-year-old Kodak 120 B&W stock
Shot with 60+ year old expired Kodak film in Rolleiflex Automat MX camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I remember that photo experiment like it was yesterday.  Going to the campus, focusing on the tower of the Chapel.  Taking two pictures and trying to make the vintage film produce something.  Anything.  The vintage photo later ended up in a Popular Photography field guide book, and Chuck was happy.

I’ve used Hamilton College in the past to experiment with film stock, to experiment with photographic techniques.  And nearly 30 years after I left campus with a diploma and a wooden cane, the college still somehow encourages me to return.   To recharge my emotional batteries, so to speak.

Hamilton College Chapel, Polar Panorama
Hamilton College Chapel in Polar Panorama. Nikon D700 camera, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Maybe that’s what’s kept me going all these years.  Maybe that’s what’s reminded me that I can never give up, even when it seems like the weight of the world is crushing my shoulders.

Hamilton College Root Glen, from the creekbase
Hamilton College Root Glen from the creekbase. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens, Hoya ND400 filter. Photo by Chuck Miller.

It’s hard to stay motivated every single day.  We all battle our own depressive demons who are determined to destroy our dreams and our desires, who damningly delay, detour and dash with destructive domination.

I can’t let that happen to me.  I can’t let the pains of my past put chains on my future.  49th Resolution, two and a half years later.

So I travel to Oneida County.  I drive to the campus.  I get the photos I want, the shots I need, the imagery I desire.  I’ve used my digital gear, I’ve used my film cameras.  I’ve shot with Kodachrome and efke and Svema and store-bought 35mm film, and I’ve always achieved the types of pictures that, after I’ve seen them, I say, “Good.  I took this.  This makes me happy.”

I can certainly say this.  Hamilton College may be only the twelfth most beautiful campus in the United States as soon as the leaves fall…

But there are moments when the campus is beautiful 365 days a year.

I just have to keep finding those moments.

Because those moments are out there.  They’re the moments that will help save my soul and give my emotions peace and tranquility.