The Best... Bench

As enrollment rises and construction projects keep pace, the University of Oregon campus is increasingly filled with the roar of Caterpillar bulldozers and the bumping and bustling of sneaker-to-sneaker traffic. For a study-worn student, refuge can be harder to find than an OSU Beavers T-shirt. But in a little-known haven, set off by a grove of ancient trees, a bench awaits that offers an on-campus escape.

The bench can be found in the alternating shadows of Villard and Lawrence Halls, settled against the fern and rhododendron border of north campus. A carpet of soft grass extends out in front and squirrels bound across it like gazelles on a plain. Tall trees block nearby buildings from view and evoke a sense of cradled seclusion.

Participants in a 1999 sustainability conference created the bench and its unusual natural design. The smoothly contoured sitting surface is made of an earthy mix of cement and tiny pebbles with bits of hay. A bamboo lean-to, like the product of some Amazonian carpenter, shields those seeking shelter from both the hot summer sun and the Oregon rain. With its easy aesthetics and organic construction, the bench is functional art; twenty-seven hand-painted tiles are embedded in the seatback, splashing vivid color onto the bench’s neutral mocha. One tile depicts a smiling face, something I can’t help but mirror whenever I retreat there.

The bench invites weary visitors into the wild that waits in the heart of campus. It is a quick transport from the University’s busy blocks to a quiet corner of the forest. Birds chirp cheerily in the evergreen canopy above the bench, while the sounds of Franklin Boulevard drift in from behind, a sweetly muffled midday lullaby that brings on a drowsiness I’ve slipped into on several occasions.

By Dillon Pilorget