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2015 Essay Contest Winners

Archived Winners: 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2004 |

1st: I Was Better Here

by Lacey Dykgraaf

“I was better here”

The movie scene
Of saying goodbye
Is a cliché
That I lived through
Tears drop onto his shoulders
As I press my body into his
A whispered sentiment in his ear
“thank you for being my favorite”
I pull back to look at his wide smile
Red hair he checked religiously in my window
As he taught me dance moves
And told me about the musical he had written
In between planning grand gestures for loved ones
He is someone who does things
He looks back at me
“I know”
I don’t know what I was expecting
For him to tell me I meant as much to him
As he meant to me
I stumble down the stairs
The vodka of the night pulls at my thoughts
My suitcase is already loaded into the taxi
I was better here
I was different
“You’ll be alright”
I look at the blue eyes
That I’ve watched for so many hours
Soon to be five thousand miles apart
I want to shake my head
Not because he’s wrong
But because he doesn’t understand
I won’t be as happy
Because these were the best four months
The English countryside became my new dream
London became my new holiday
I started over everything
Only this time I was better
I was living the life I read about in novels
But every book has to end
I press a palm to my tears as I wave goodbye
To my favorite story

2nd: "The Art of Friluftsliv, a New Philosophy for Climate Change"

by Sarah Mason

The art of friluftsliv, a new philosophy for climate change

"Climate change is just a symptom of much wider problems concerning the way we relate with each other and with nature."

According to a speaker at the Ecological Challenges Oslo 2014 Conference in September, climate change exists because of human's nature misuse and sociological tendencies.

A community in Norway is doing something about it.

Situated in Hurdal, is Norway's first ever eco-village. The community is now nearly 200 people strong and prides itself on integrating an enriching social environment with a resource-intensive lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprints.

The truth is, this connection with nature is nothing new to Norwegians.

Spirit of climate change

Psychologists say that when it comes to climate there almost couldn't be a more perfect problem for the human brain to want to avoid. Climate change is abstract and because of this the human psyche is more attracted to the idea of ignoring environmental threats than it is to coming to terms with them.

But what if it is fundamentally within all of us to address climate change?

Friluftsliv is a Norwegian word that literally translates to "free air life" and describes Norwegian's cultural enchantment with nature. It is a spirt that lives within all of us, not just Norwegians, and encourages people to explore nature and to also respect it. A give and take sort of philosophy.

"Friluftsliv is apart of Norwegian identity," said Merete Hovdenak, a Konservator at Galleri Wiirth who studied friluftsliv during her master's program. "It's how we live. We don't go to a cafe to meet up, we go outdoors to the mountains or sea to get away from all the stress of the city. It's easier to clear your head when you are out in beautiful nature."

Although it doesn't easily translate and its connotations go far beyond any English approximation, friluftsliv is an ethos applicable to anyone. It is possible that through friluftsliv the human race as a whole can rally around curbing climate change.

Adopting friluftsliv and implementing it into daily life like most Norwegians have would not only reap mental health benefits, but would also contribute to the well-being of the environment.

Take the eco-village in Hurdal for example.

Friluftsliv, a way of life

"For a Norwegian its hard to understand that environmental threats exist because many of us treat our surroundings with such a high level of respect," Hovdenak said. "We are so close to nature and make sure not to harm it by picking flowers or littering because we want to be able to use it and enjoy it in the future."

The idea of creating an eco-village originated more than 20 years ago, but it was not until 2002 that project Hurdal got its start.

With more than 30 environmentally friendly homes constructed in the last 12 years, the community is flourishing. The eco-village seeks to provide more sustainable living in rural areas and promotes innovative solutions in response to climate change, pollution, resource scarcity and social problems that our environment and society are facing today.

The goal for those living in the eco-village is to practice the alternative to an individualistic, materialistic and consumer oriented lifestyle. Instead they seek a low-consumption, sociocultural way of life.

"The village values a holistic lifestyle," said Kristin Seim Buflod, Hurdal eco-village's design educator. "We combine many aspects like growing your own food, interacting with neighbors and sustainable housing to give village members the whole package."

The homes in the eco-village are solar energy.(?) Several greenhouses, gardens and an organic farmer produce fruits, vegetables, herbs and berries that are cultivated in the village's
160 acres of approved fertile soil. The produce is sold at the village's market and through the
kitchen garden farm shop on the premises of the village. In the future, the eco-village hopes to have a wood farm bakery and a village cafe to provide its residents with even more healthy and sustainable food products.

The campus is also designed to minimize transportation needs and everything is within a I 0 minute bike ride. The residential areas are pedestrianized, making it easy to get around by foot. Many of the villagers do not own a car and rely solely on their body to transport them- leading to even more time spent in nature.

In terms ofthe way people interact with each other, the village values volunteer projects and interest groups that facilitate social engagement within the community. Horticulture group, pets group, kayaking group and yoga/medication group are just several examples of the organized gatherings in the village. At the same level that the village values sustainably and low carbon footprints, it also seeks to reconnect people with each other.

"The social aspect is very important in the village," Seim Buflod said. "There is a good social environment and because of it there are good neighborhoods. The idea is that people care more about each other when they feel included and it carries over to the way they view and treat the environment. Sociologically, they have found that this way of living is what makes humans

happiest. We are a "herd" species and in such an environment, you get nurturing for many aspects of your life."

"It's a lot of work to maintain this type of sustainable lifestyle, but it's well worth it," Seim Buflod said. "It's a way to get down our carbon footprints and reduce overall carbon emissions. The idea has to spread in order to really see a noticeable difference in the environment, but the villagers are definitely preoccupied with their relationship with nature and really focus on giving back to her."

Nature, like art must be preserved

Just as one appreciates a piece of art, one can appreciate nature by engaging friluftsliv.

A stroll in the park under big green trees, a brisk climb in the mountains, a sleep under the stars - they all offer an experience.

"It is of vital importance for people to connect with nature and be with nature," Seim Buflod said. "It's personal as to what it is you like, similar to art, but its so important to engage your mental energy with something that renews your mind."

Getting out into nature can also be humbling experience for some.

Immersing oneself in the wilderness and enjoying the simplicity nature is a reminder of how important it is to respect the Earth and not damage it by exploiting its natural resources.

"Out in the wilderness you see how little you need to have everything," said Petter Thorsen, who runs Wild Norway, a company that offers wilderness camping trips and survival courses year round. "There is value in silence."

Also similar to art, friluftsliv, the passion to care for and be in nature is passed down from generation to generation in Norwegian families.

"A lifelong passion for nature is in instilled in Norwegians as children," Hovdenak said. "We really try to immerse them in nature beginning at a young age so they truly come to appreciate it and care for it like other generations have."

Guardians of nature, if you will. That is how the Norwegians see their relationship with their habitats.

"We live from nature and if we destroy it we are destroying our possibility to live. We only have one earth- if we destroy it we have done something very wrong to the universe. This is why it is so important to teach younger generations how valuable nature and our environment is."

3rd: Identity Crisis: Unifying a Culturally Maimed Morocco

by Joey Paysinger

Identity Crisis: Unifying a Culturally Maimed Morocco

I traveled through Morocco by bus, face smashed against a half fogged window. I saw a lot of that rough country; maybe too much. I saw decay made solid: Tangier, culturally maimed, falling down. I saw Rabat, bright and pulsing, alive with commerce and a sense of purpose; what a city can be. Rabat has public transport; there's a contemporary art museum. When I was there, I felt safe, I felt at ease; I felt like I was in a place connected to the rest of the world. In Tangier, the atmosphere is dark. I’m sure it gets hot there, but I don’t think that city ever escapes the cloud of grime and chaos that cast it in shadow. The mountain city of Chefchaouen, on the other hand: it’s a tourist trap, albeit a gorgeous one. Go there to buy weed and get lost in a maze of blue keepsakes. And Fez: a market with a city tacked on. I liked it there; I got lost and liked it. Fez is a good summation of Morocco’s struggle for identity. An ancient market overgrown with people; enough so to warrant a new city: a French one—a colonial one—one whose main boulevard looks like a rough draft of the Champs-Elysées. But it works. The two sides of the sprawl balance each other to form a template of what Morocco can be: culturally mangled, but living.

The old medina in Fez is a rat’s nest set in stone—UNESCO bait. You can walk all day and not see all of it. I can remember smelling five different men selling camel meat and to this day I couldn’t tell you where to find them. That’s the fun part; walking for an hour can get you just as lost as walking for five. The medina in Fez is pure and unfiltered Morocco; it is a constant, blaring, unfailing high note of bartering and the death throes of unlucky roosters. I couldn’t stand it and wanted to drown in it all at the exact same time. And then, afterward, I walked five blocks south and got McDonalds. It’s perfect: from the top floor of a mall in the new city you can see the crumbling mosques of the old one. Fez juggles heritage and modernity to create a culture that is distinct from other parts of Morocco in that it is successful. Chefchaouen, far up there in the Rif Mountains, could learn a thing or two.

No matter where you're coming from, the bus ride to Chefchaouen is brutal. It's long and windy and you’ll drive past many towns that aren’t even worth mentioning by a chatty tour guide. This journey, in all its dullness, is representative of the very one-dimensional nature of the blue city you inevitably arrive at. If you got lost in Fez, you’ll get lost here too. Not because Chefchaouen is very big or very confusing, but because the whole of it is bathed in a light blue so constant and without interruption, it looks as if a cluster of Smurfs burst their slimy blueness onto every available surface. Chefchaouen is one-dimensional, monotone; and not even a pleasant monotone like one you can fall asleep to; a monotone like the noise an EKG machine makes when someone flatlines. Know that I liked Chefchaouen; I liked it a lot. It was unique in a quaint way and the people there could not have been nicer; I had tea at a woman’s house and never before had I been offered or eaten more cookies. But, alas, Chefchaouen is doomed to never be a capital of the country it exists within, but instead persist as a place tourists go to stay in nice hotels and buy junk; it is culture commodified. Despite all this, Chefchaouen unashamedly identifies with its role as a place sightseers go; it embraces it. Amongst all the things Chefchaouen does not have going for it, it has that. Tangier, well, doesn’t.

My point of entry into Morocco was the same as most people's. I got off the boat in Tangier and, after about an hour’s time, wanted to get back on. Don’t go there if you can avoid it; especially if you’re a woman (or homosexual, have engaged in premarital sex, consumed alcohol, et cetera). In Tangier, men sit in cafés likes hawks, all looking outward at passersby: at me, at my friends; they ooze predation. Though they’re likely harmless, you can never quite tell; men like lions raised in captivity. While they're a staple of it, these men do not define Tangier; the nondescript and crumbling buildings, the aimless hustle and bustle, those do. Never once in Tangier did I see anyone really do anything. The people there walked quickly and without concern for the peril of their city's streets, but that was it. Tangier is remarkable as an oddity; it has no feeling or character, no personality. New York has a skyline and an attitude, London has Big Ben; Tangier has chaos and fast ferries, nothing good. It exists as a place to park boats and stamp passports; it’s a hub, a shell of a city. I saw it but didn’t look twice. I got out of there, and, eventually, found myself in Rabat, the most westernized city in the north of Morocco.

Before visiting Rabat, I had seen enough of Morocco. I came to the capital knowing what a city can fail at, can exist without being. Rabat doesn’t have to have a functional and comprehensive rail line running through its center; it does not need a Nike store. But it has those things. It has engaged in the practice of excess. It has found itself in surplus; it is a modern city that exists beyond tourism and trinkets. I walked the streets of Rabat undetected; no one cared that I looked out of place: tall, blonde, and cynical. Maybe Rabat was so appealing because I was fully immersed within it; I stayed with a local family in an apartment downtown. They were nice; we ate bowls of mushed beans and they spoke French at me. In Rabat I saw what it was like to be Moroccan; no longer was I tourist in a tourist town, I was a local living in big city, a whole city; a city with a purpose and a past—balance. Like Fez, Rabat has managed to find a happy medium between confusing alleyways packed with loud men hawking olives and broad boulevards with lots of parking. The amalgamation of cultures in Rabat and Fez create a viable identity, a successful one; one that can, and should, prevail over the blue streets of Chefchaouen and the distressed facades of Tangier. There is hope for a unifying culture to be found in Morocco, it just depends where you look.