Flooded Sidewalks

fox woman

By Natalie Donahue

I find myself forgetting what it takes to make my life easier. Until I came across a man shoveling the sidewalk in front of our house, I enjoyed the benefits of a clear path without thinking about how it got that way. As I made my way to class, I began to wonder what campus would look like without snow plows. How long would it take for people’s feet to pound the snow flat? Would anyone organize to shovel the main artery curving out from the caf? It makes me smile to think of people wading through deep snow, legs stepping high like a marching band, their boot prints embroidering the white expanse.

The warm weather a few weeks ago gave me a taste of this hypothetical landscape. Spring’s tease flooded campus, confusing the snow plows that scrape ice off concrete. I watched snowmelt ooze like yolk on a griddle, creating pools that hid the segmented grounds. Sidewalks submerged; I gingerly followed the icy footprints of other students that paralleled the slush. Water seeped through the holes in my boots, chilly and wet. Suddenly, going to class took the same concentration that navigating a wooded area does. I leaped across puddles, arms outstretched to keep balance, eyes searching for a sturdy place to step.

Despite the inconvenience of the flood, Facebook exploded with pictures of the Knox “lakes.” At night, the shallow basins of water in front of CFA shimmered with the reflections of street lamps. One of my friends said, “It looks so cool. … It reminds me of ‘Spirited Away.’” I remember watching this anime with my parents in the theater. The images captivated me: Haku in his dragon form, body whipping the sky; the polluted river spirit, ropes of muck writhing; shadowy figures on a train with no tracks, gliding over ocean. The mysterious world of “Spirited Away” enchanted me. At Knox, role-playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons” attract people for similar reasons. The DM creates a fantastical world for the players to explore. In this imaginary landscape, they can fight anything from giant cucumbers to winged succubus. This game provides an outlet for us to negotiate with powerful forces outside of human control. But after the players have explored new terrains and faced hostile beasts, they return to the reality of Knox College campus. The street lights extend day as they walk back to their dorm rooms to finish a paper or check Facebook.

Not all people live in the cloistered environment we do. Last night, I listened to some fellow members of Garden Club animatedly describe a movie they watched for their anthropology class. The film documented tribal men stalking a giraffe. Giraffes have three-inch thick skin and the hunters spent hours hurtling spears at the creature before it died. I had no idea giraffes could take that amount of damage and still live — they must have at least 50 health points. If the group of Knox students playing “Dungeons and Dragons” reenacted the hunt, they would have to roll dice to see if their attacks prevailed; playing for at least an hour until the fictional giraffe finally collapsed.

I think we create games like D&D because our minds hunger for challenges kin to the tribe’s experience. Fantasy novels, video games and adventure movies seduce us for the same reason. They have the power to transport us to Middle Earth or Narnia, places alive with the wildness our reality once possessed. We pay Disney to entertain us with Neverland, distracting ourselves from the spiritual and psychological damage that comes from living in a controlled environment. But instead of retreating into books, movies or video games, I hope people start using these tools to help us explore different ways we can share power with each other and the biological community. Freak weather events, like the flood on campus, can show us what a less controlled world might look like. Maybe digital media and other forms of creative expression offer an opportunity to explore the myriad ways of letting go, so the real world has more space to burn with life.

Whirlpooling Cardboard

sculpture pic 3

By Natalie Donahue

In the spring, turf guzzles snowmelt and turns emerald. Blades of grass reach for the sky before an army of mowers comes to slice them down. The distinctive smell of mowed lawns permeates the air, an odor resulting from chemical compounds released by grass when animals chew them down. The grass cries for help, letting out a signal to the herbivore’s predators: “Come eat what’s eating me!” it shouts. As the mowers roll across the lawn, the grass’ plea hangs in the air, unanswered.

These mowers require about 885 gallons of diesel a year to keep areas smooth. Most diesel is refined from crude oil, obtained by fracking and drilling the earth. Companies inject the ground with a chemical concoction to force up the oil. These practices pollute ground water, harm wildlife, contribute to climate change and put people’s health at risk. Our John Deere mowers depend on a complex system of extractive technology to function. Without fracking machines and oil refineries, these vehicles could not roar.

What if we only used push mowers to cut the grass? The person maintaining the lawn uses their own legs as the engine, sweat dripping off their forehead. Back aching, they become more selective about which areas to crop short, questioning the law that requires “grass be no more than six inches.” People might find relief in letting plants and animals manage parts of the landscape; now they can cool off, perspiration drying. Their financial expenses become fewer; push mowers have greater autonomy than those that run on diesel.

As an intern with the Office of Sustainability, the opportunity to pursue my questions about landscape management presented itself. I decided to work on a project that explored how place-based art could make visible the conveniences we take for granted. Mark Holmes, a Knox art professor, introduced me to senior Gabe Moreno. He had recently finished a large sculpture made of found cardboard. He arranged the different pieces in spirals that whirlpooled outward. We talked to Jeff Douglas, head of Seymour library, and with his permission, temporarily displayed the piece in the library’s entrance. I feel gratitude to all the people who helped make this possible: to Gabe for sharing his creation, to Mark for introducing us and to Jeff for being generous with the library’s space.

Next to the sculpture, Gabe typed up a statement about his artwork, describing how he created it and what it shows about the place he lives. Printed on a sign beside the piece, he wrote, “My personal scavenging speaks to Galesburg and its particular systems of delivery and consumption. Cardboard as a ubiquitous, universal object, also speaks to a global condition of seemingly insignificant events from daily moments accruing over massive scales.” Gabe’s sculpture revealed our place, embedded in a pattern of over-consumption. It reminded us about the costs and consequences of our system, which tries to maintain a dictatorship over the living environment. It takes human labor and fossil fuels to keep the yard tame. Tractors straighten the countryside into rows of soy and corn, while we speed to Knox on ribbons of concrete. I hope student art like Gabe’s work continues to awaken us to reality and it excites me to think about seeing more sculptures integrated throughout campus.

Jeff Biggers: Regenerating Knox’s Enthusiasm

On Monday, Feb. 24, journalist, historian and activist Jeff Biggers visited the Knox Campus. In the intimacy of the Alumni Room, Jeff Biggers told his story. Cyclical, spiraling, emotional, he told the audience about his son’s visual impairment and his recent diving into medical literature and regenerative medicine. Drawing connections, he explained how he grew up in the coal mining culture of southern Illinois, where his family has resided for nine generations, over 200 years. He spun the story of human rights, of the lies of natural gas, of our local heroes in Illinois. By far, my favorite aspect of this lecture was the resounding localness of it.

We, here, can change this world. We, here, now, are the catalysts for this change.

Yelling, he demanded I stand up and yell with him. “I WILL ABOLISH THE SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAM AT KNOX,” I shouted. “WE WILL BECOME A REGENERATIVE CAMPUS.”
We will no longer simply lessen our impact.
We will create a closed-loop system.
Our products will become our reactants — our waste will be reused and again consumed.
We will regenerate.

By Danika Hill

Below are two articles he emailed me, about regeneration:

And two articles written by Jeff Biggers himself:

Knox Squirrels

By Miranda James

It is news to few that there are lots and lots of squirrels on the Knox campus. If you’re anything like me, you may have wondered about the squirrels, and more recently, how they are still out there digging in the snow in below-zero weather. Don’t they hibernate? Is this normal squirrel behavior?

I did a little research, and found out some helpful facts about our furry pseudo-mascots. The squirrels we have here are fox squirrels, also known as Eastern fox squirrels or Bryant’s fox squirrel. Some of the subspecies are endangered, mostly because of habitat destruction. They like open spaces with few, widely-spaced trees, preferably with large, mature trees that they can nest in. (Sounds like Knox is perfect.) Fox squirrels make two types of homes — leaf nests for warmer times and tree dens made in hollow cavities or tree forks for colder months and raising young. They eat pretty much everything, from fruits and seeds to birds, insects and carrion. In other words, they will eat meat. Also, they sometimes eat certain fungi. To help them survive during times like our recent freeze, they eat more than they need to before winter to store up a layer of body fat. Plus they dig up those food caches they have been burying all last year. They do not migrate at all, and in fact increase foraging activity during the winter. When the weather gets truly terrible, they will stay in their tree dens to wait it out.

Still, far from being a hibernating time, January is actually one of the fox squirrel’s two breeding seasons (the other is in June). The average litter size is three, and the babies will open their eyes when they are about four to five weeks old. Squirrels generally live about six years.

Like many Knox students, fox squirrels are playful and talkative, with a large vocabulary of clucks and whines. Unlike many Knox students, squirrels sleep at night.

Keystone Pipeline, cont.

By Danika Hill, Co-president

This past weekend, I attended the Geological Society of America‘s 125th Annual Conference. Although geology isn’t my favorite subject, I still found many of the lectures and discussion sessions absolutely fascinating. What many people don’t realize is how closely linked the field of geology is to oil and mining. The fossil fuel relies on geologists and related specialists. My breakfast was paid by Exxon-Mobil, my lunch by Chevron and Anadarko Pertroleum Corporation. As an environmentalist, this was conflicting. I completely disagree with our reliance on these fuel sources, but I respect the brilliance and genius that went into the construction of these tools and ideas for extraction. I made friends who planned entirely on entering the oil industry, simply to make money.

By far, the most interesting lecture session I attended revolved around the topic “Oil Production, Economic Growth, and Climate Change.” It was surprisingly economic, sprinkled with science facts. The lineup included renowned scientists that I recognized even as an undergraduate: J. David Hughes, James Murray and Jim Hansen.

Essentially, they agreed that oil production has peaked in the United States and is currently on the decline. World oil production has plateaued at approximately 75 million barrels a day since 2005. Most reported facts regarding to-be-found sources of oil are exaggerated, and furthermore, very little of what is advertised on national media comes from peer-reviewed scientific sources. Even including shale sources (or “tight oil,” as the geology community calls it), the world has a limited source of these resources. The cost for extracting shale oil exceeds the profit, and the volume of crude oil accessible and remaining is minimal. James Murray called our current situation a “slow-motion train wreck.”

This relates back to the Keystone Pipeline extension, which Carrie Stephen wrote about earlier on this blog. Continuing to depend on these energy-intensive, resource-wasting extraction techniques digs ourselves deeper into our desperate dependence on such energy sources. America must learn to rely on other forms of energy, for it might not be long before our entire transportation, energy and economic system crashes from a lack of resource input.

post photo

A picture of our letter to Obama, soon to be mailed.


Ready for a Change,

Further Reading:

Mindful Meat Monday

By Callie Smith (acsmith@knox.edu), Class of 2015

Meatless Monday

On Monday, Oct. 7, KARES joined forces with the Hard Knox café to join the worldwide Meatless Monday initiative — a day where no meat was served in the cafeteria or the Oak Room. Though KARES did this event once last year, this was the first time we attempted it this year. Furthermore, this year, we would like to have a Meatless Monday a total of 3 times (once per term). Though some students did not enjoy Meatless Monday, only 20% of the more than 200 students surveyed were against having Meatless Monday. 37% of students surveyed think Meatless Monday should happen more often than it currently does. 31% said having it once a term is fine, and the remaining 12% said that they did not have strong opinions either way on the subject.

Why Meatless?

There are so many good reasons to go meatless even for just one day a week (Monday) or one day a term, here at Knox or anywhere. Unless you raise and slaughter your own meat, you’re contributing to a very resource-intensive system whenever you eat meat. In the United States, animals are raised for slaughter in one location, fed food from another location, and slaughtered on yet another site. Transportation for these is usually across state lines, as most CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations, also known as “factory farms”) are located out West, whereas food comes from the Midwest and slaughterhouses are located chiefly in the Midwest and on the East Coast. All of that transporting comes at a price: fossil fuel emissions.

Most of the corn and soybeans we grow in the United States doesn’t go to feed people —  it goes to feed livestock. Raising these crops requires a great deal of space, water and chemical inputs such as fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides. Together, these costs add up: space and water push natural ecosystems further out of the picture, and chemical inputs pollute the surrounding lands and waters.

It’s important not to forget the ethics side of the issue. As Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Animals raised for meat in factory farms are treated as inanimate objects — they are not allowed to go outside or move. They are often neglected and abused to the point where they would die anyway from a lack of care. Even if the animal is doomed to end up on someone’s dinner plate, shouldn’t we treat it with respect and care while it is alive? In slaughterhouses, the situation for animals doesn’t get any better. Death is often prolonged and excruciatingly painful. The photos and videos that exist of these animals suffering are truly horrific, and are not suitable for the faint of heart.

In Summary:

Despite a vocal minority that stands in opposition to Meatless Monday because it seemingly interferes with their right to choose what they eat (as if the school dining plan doesn’t do this on a daily basis anyways), a majority of the student body either tolerates or enjoys Meatless Monday. It’s not about becoming a vegan or a vegetarian; it’s not even about the ethics behind eating animals. It’s chiefly about the sustainability of our natural resources, and also the ethics of how we keep our animals.

In the future, we hope to spread the ethics of a Mindful Meat Monday. Dietary choices needn’t be all or nothing, but an increase in awareness and the intention when eating will do an incredible good.

Keystone XL Pipeline

To start off, we are KARES—Knox Advocates for Recycling and Environmental Sustainability. Once upon a time, we started off as a club that brought recycling to Knox. Now that it’s here and a part of the system, we take on new avenues of environmentalism, a movement that goes in more directions than can be counted. It concerns consumption, energy, climate change, biodiversity, social justice, food, materialism and so much more. And as far as we are concerned, anything goes, as long as it is sustainable.

Keystone XL Pipeline: This weekend, we held our first event of the year. On Saturday, there were over 200 events in the U.S., Canada and other parts of the world sponsored by 350.org, all working to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from coming to fruition. For those of you that don’t know, there already is a pipeline that transports crude oil from tar sands in Alberta to Illinois and Oklahoma. This plan would extend the pipeline to cover almost 1,700 miles so that the oil could be transported to refineries on the Gulf Coast. This provides a means to increase crude oil extraction from tar sands as well as increase oil refining. Approval currently rests with the White House, though the decision has been delayed for some time now(1).

Environmental Impact: Many say that this kind of oil creates even more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude oil(2). The process of turning bitumen, the resource extracted from the tar sands, into actual crude oil is highly energy and water intensive. Increasing flow to Texas refineries would mean an increase in emissions both at the point of extraction in Canada and at the point of production in Texas. Further resource extraction of crude oil will also cause increased destruction of boreal forests (as in more than has already happened), which provide habitats and breeding grounds for several different species(3). Destruction of forests, which act as a carbon sink, would release even more greenhouse gases into the air(4). The mining involved in extraction also has impacts on aboriginal peoples, reducing water supplies and creating exposure to toxins. Potential leaks in the pipeline itself could threaten water supplies and soil health throughout communities and agricultural land in Canada and the U.S.(5)

Want to get involved? On Saturday, KARES joined the movement by calling representatives to voice our opinions on the environmental degradation that the pipeline does and could cause. This week, we will continue the fight by tabling in Seymour. For those that want to join, we will have a petition calling for President Obama to draw the line and reject the Keystone XL Pipeline.


1. Keystone XL Pipeline: Just the Facts (National Journal)
2. Keystone XL Pipeline Protestors To Obama: ‘No Planet Drama’ (Huffington Post)
3. Stop Dirty Fuels: Tar Sands (NRDC)
4. Forest Carbon (Canadian Forest Service)
5. Stop Dirty Fuels: Tar Sands (NRDC)