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Something nice is nestled in between Foellinger and the Undergraduate Library. On an elevated brick circle rests a little round flower garden with some kind of soft grass bush in the center. I don’t know the species of flower, nor bush. I couldn’t classify the butterflies that dance between the flora or recite the taxonomic name of the bumblebees that clumsily but purposefully float around them on hot days. For some time, I couldn’t identify what feeling this little island of life in a sea of brick and bustle filled me with either. Curiosity is in the running, inspired by the strange tendrilous plant in the center and furthered by some unknown slim and honey-colored bee. Awe, certainly. I can’t imagine a person alive who isn’t somehow struck by the electric blue or burning orange hues of a butterfly settling onto the equally delicate petals of a tiny purple flower. There’s some definitive sense of rightness and justice that surrounds the oasis as well, some sense of natural order that exists outside of the complexities of humanity yet somehow compliments our rhythm. I think the integral of these feelings over time would work out to be something like home for me. It pulls memories of the backyard goings-on of hummingbirds and finches and the evening chorus of insects in late summer when everything is soaked in the golden light that peeks through the branches of my neighbor’s tree. It’s a little slice of peace right in the middle of campus surrounded on all sides by the stress and confusion and rigor that everyone knows so well. I’ve visited this spot a few times as fall drifts down onto us, usually on hot days when the bees are at their busiest. I like to soak in the sun for a couple minutes and just notice the nature in between my classes. It might not raise my grade in chemistry or help employers notice me, but this little brick circle and the microcosm of a manicured ecosystem that lives on it makes a small but meaningful difference in my life. It’s easy to forget what it means to be a part of the natural world, to forget where our food comes from or where the waste products produced with our clothing end up, but it’s also easy to enjoy a flower garden. Just seeing, feeling, and appreciating nature on a semi-regular basis has made me just a little bit more conscious of it in my daily life. I hope you get the chance to enjoy it while the flowers are still in bloom.


-JUSTIN VOZZOBears Ears is much more than the ex-tractive corporate interests want us to think. This place has been sacred to the people living here for thousands of years, and upon seeing its grandeur it becomes evident why. Unfortunately, this has become a place under siege. In 2017, a contentious move by the Trump administration shrank the protected areas to under one sixth of its original size, and the legality of this action continues to be disputed. Bears Ears fits into a larger battle over public lands in the American West, one that could change how these areas are preserved (or not) far into the future. It is critical that we continue to show support for these places if we hope of any future for them. -3-

Planting Seeds: An Interview with MJ Altman - Margaret Golden -


The Green Observer has come a long way since its humble beginning about twelve years ago. Its seed was first planted by a journalism and sociology student named MJ Altman. Today, instead of writing about local environmental news, Altman writes about global sustainability for the United Nations. As the Senior Communications Officer of the UN Foundation, she covers issues ranging from climate change to world hunger and everything in between. Altman has also worked at Time Magazine and served on the communi-cations staff of the National Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and the UN World Food Pro-gramme. Altman returned to UIUC this fall to present one of the lecture in the University YMCA’s Friday Forum


LEFT: Spring break in the Smokies. On our first day of backpacking we began hiking alongside a river surrounded by vegetation so lush it seemed tropical. As we ascended the flora changed around us, culminating in a shadowy, moss covered old growth forest. This photo is from the start of that transition. CENTER TOP: Big Bend is one of my favorite places on Earth. One year over winter break my friends and I made a trip out there, and I was excited to show them one of the jewels of my home state. We were about to start on a backpacking trip that would last several days, and while we were eager to hit the trail we couldn’t rush past some of the amazing views that greet you before you even leave the road. CENTER MIDDLE: After a pretty grueling day of steep hiking we made camp at the top of the South Rim of Big Bend. We were exhausted, but couldn’t miss the chance to watch the sunrise the next morning. Cold desert nights and some wind made it a chilly morning, but the four of us wrapped up in our sleeping bags to admire the coming of a new day.


-SEVERIN ODLANDCENTER BOTTOM: After finishing our multi-day backpacking trip around the Inner Mountain Loop in Big Bend we treated ourselves to relaxing in some hot springs and driving out to a remote car camping site on the bank of the Rio Grande. As the sun set, my friend David took a moment for himself to stand on the shore that divides one country from the next. One of the many things I took away from that trip is that all of our differences as countries really just come down to about 15 feet of water. RIGHT: Morning fog on the rim of Ngorongoro crater. The steep crater walls line the basin like a mountain ring, and every morning the cool air brings a thick blanket of fog spilling over the top. I took the opportunity to try and capture a quiet and misty moment before the rising sun baked off the fog and the wildlife began to awaken.





The night sky glitters as light twists and turns like ribbons around oceans of black velvet. My face stands out in the darkness, glowing and warmed not by orange fire but by the cool, subtle combustion of time and distance as they indifferently pass me by, gliding along my skin and shimmering away, teasing my eyes to follow but never allowing me to meet them again. Despite these fleeting glimpses, these feelings of incomprehensibility, my body more than my brain understands the pull of underlying currents, inevitable riptides which drag my consciousness out into the sky to flow between the stars and the sense of permanence that they inspire. I allow myself to drift in these places that I don’t belong until, unpredictably, everything comes cascading down again, flowing into the confusion around where the sky ends and the earth begins, pooling and rippling across the landscape. Constellations crystallize into sand and salt, colonizing the pans with a crust that gleams like ice and encases the dark river beneath as it plunges deep into its Paleolithic past. Here, ancient hands press upward from beneath, cracked from age and wear, spidering outward in the mud toward the horizons. Legacies of their contours are flaked across the ground, protruding through the earth, softly whispering memories of ringing stones and the rumbles of absent beasts. Distance is crushed back to familiarity in the space between hammer and anvil as my hands naturally slide across bulbs and blades, feeling the balance and comfort produced by recognizable forms. Momentarily it feels like the flow is leveed, like nothing has changed since days were governed by the pangs of Holocene hunger. Of course this is an illusion, continuously it seeps forward from the shimmering mirage in the distance out into the winding grass, sending Korhaans into the air, their bulging throats croaking against the dark gray sky. It calls me back to the feeling of my boot heel dragging through the earth, leaving marks of my presence on the unending streambed, and the sound of my breath as it metallically resonates through the night air toward something unrecognizable driven by fences and fodder. Here I can’t help but linger, lamenting things that I never knew I lost until my footprints were placed next to three-toed giants. They promenade and float on the haze just beyond placement as long, dark filaments waft in the absence of wind and the freedom of flightlessness, surveying their surroundings on a plane above mine with unblinking eyes and an understanding of space that eludes me. Gizzards grind and feet shuffle through talcum, casting the sweet smell of wild jasmine out into the dark stillness as a response to my intrusion. It is here that I finally understand the unhalting nature of this place, flowing around me with sediment donated by ancient bodies, moulding ratite relicts, rasping the smooth bark of the baobab and eddying through broken limestone as it hollows out caverns painted by the past. Eventually the path fades away and my body remains in the sandy soil, contorted, twisted around taproots as the current is squeezed upward, constricted by 2000 years of wooden progression. It fans outward into finger-like tendrils, silhouetted in the faint glimmer of the moonless sky until it melts away, back into the inky abyss, beyond the ambition of understanding, blissfully unaware of the infinite distances which continue to persist between even the closest of things.



Beep-beep! Beep-beep! Grudgingly, I crawl out of bed to put an end to the sonic screeching that stems from my cell phone. What my half-shut, exhausted eyes can see is blurry and unfocused. The sunlight squeezing through the tightly shut blinds tell me that it is time to start another day. Starting with the first decision: Glasses or contact lenses? How would I like to view the world today? In spite of my daily consideration, the choice is simple. I instinctually place each jelly-like concave lens over my eyes; the frigid solution coating each lens awakens them in a way my alarm couldn’t. Tossing away the lens’ blister packs, I am already out the door and satisfied with my dec sion. Peering into the local cafe, I can read every delicious item listed on the menu because my glasses frames aren’t obstructing my vision. Walking through the cloud of condensation formed by my exhaled breath, I can clearly see my surroundings because my contact lenses aren’t fogging up. How could anyone prefer glasses over contacts? I started to wonder just how many people I walked by made the decision this morning. According to the American Optometric Association, approximately 45 million Americans wear either soft or hard contact lenses. That’s 90 million lenses roaming around every day! But don’t forget the rest of the year supply many contact wearers have at home. Every year, the United States generates a revenue between $4 to $4.7 billion from contact lenses. Where are such personalized necessities made? How are they disposed of? What is the journey of a contact lens? The concept of corrective lenses was introduced by Leonardo da Vinci in the 16th century while experimenting with water’s refractive ability. Da Vinci’s initial concept developed as technology did, being pushed along by the ideas of Sir John Herschel and Dr. Adolf Fick in the 19th century. Disposable lenses didn’t enter mass production until the end of the 20th century. Contacts start life as a variety of separate chemicals — sodium polyacrylate, tetrasodium EDTA, propylene glycol, etc. — that are synthesized into a hydrogel at biochemistry companies like Sigma-Aldrich.


These companies then distribute this water-absorbing polymer to manufacturers that efficiently mold hydrogel into millions of personalized lenses. Multiple protective layers of packaging are mandatory to simply house a single delicate lens while it embarks on a lengthy road trip from manufacturers to massive warehouses before finally arriving at eye clinics, ready to serve blurry-sighted consumers across the nation. Some lenses led exciting lives, helping a diver vividly view the colors of the Great Barrier Reef; others merely enabled an employee to read tiny labels while monotonously sorting packages in the post office. In the blink of an eye, a pair of lenses has reached the end of its lifetime. As we, the consumers, are already wearing our next pair, our previous lenses lie fractured and forgotten in every crevice of the municipal landfill — peeking out from underneath carcino-genic Styrofoam cups, squished between soggy panels of cardboard, and cemented to the shards of glass that didn’t make it to the recycling. A latent threat, contact lenses not only become a choking hazard for small creatures but also deteriorate and seep into the soil, potentially tainting ground-water. While no significant environmental effects have been identified as a result of the lens’ primary chemical components, vitro tests (commonly thought of as “test tube experiments”) on mammalian cells have revealed that some cells underwent mutation. Its waste is amplified by more than a hundredfold when considering the packaging of a single pair of contacts: the blister pack of a single lens, the topfoil, the bottle of solution, the box holding the solution, the box each monthly set comes in, the box that holds the year supply of monthly boxes… While most of this packaging is recyclable, it becomes overwhelming to fathom the magnitude of waste produced from a tiny product that makes our daily lives just a little simpler. Contact lenses are just one miniscule example of a pillar of consumerism: purchase the easier, cheaper, disposable solution. Should I wash my dishes or just grab a paper plate? Should I go through the trouble of getting my laptop fixed or just buy a new one? Without realizing the harm that this mentality inflicts, we continue to choose the easier solutions every day. Our landfills are primarily overflowing with objects that could’ve been recycled. Municipal audits in US landfills across the country identified that 70 to 80 percent of all waste that rests in a landfill could have been re-cycled or composted. Unknown to the public, our lenses can be recycled by Terracycle, a company that specializes in recycling “hard-to-recycle” materials. Contacts and blister packs can be melted into plastic that can be remolded to make other products (such as razors, toothbrushes, and wind-shields). It’s time to take the initiative to utilize companies that can reprocess our nontraditional recyclables. An inevitably growing world will yield increasingly more products, waste, and landfills; but with it, innovative solutions to mitigate th measure and effects of waste. As consumers, it is our responsibility to choose to view the world through a different lens, a lens that will help us recognize the waste affiliated with our products and see what the worl will look like if we are conscious of every item we purchase and dispose of. How would you like to see the world today?



Michael Pollan, pop science’s favorite son, recently released the No.1 New York Times bestseller How to Change Your Mind, a book all about how his experiences with and research into hallucinogens have elucidated their usefulness in terms of treating mental illness and the human spirit. Amongst other things, he cites recent studies that found psilocybin — the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms — to be an effective remedy for elusive conditions like treatment-resistant depression, existential distress, and addiction as evidence that these mind bending drugs should be taken seriously as psychopharmacological tools. Along with a host of other popular publications, his dissemination of the imminent utility of hallucinogens marks a significant cultural shift. These drugs, once denounced for associations with countercultural moral vacancy, are re-emerging in popular culture as medically useful in a field where innovation comes once in a blue moon. Though this is an exciting development in Western medicine, there is a rich human history of hallucinogenic drug use that is rarely acknowledged by mainstream media. Understanding this history may grant insight into the significance of transcendent experiences and the ailments that we’re trying to address through them. What’s more is that we may become sensitive to the cultures who maintain a relationship with what we label psychedelics so that we may preserve their traditions. The healing effects of hallucinogens are mediated mainly by the profound experiences that they elicit. Perhaps the most prominent use of psilocybin in clinical trials involved giving the drug to 29 terminally-ill cancer patients in a psychiatric setting at New York University. The prospect of dying brings with it an array of tangible and intangible baggage. One of the greatest difficulties is existential distress, a condition characterized by a lack of meaning, diminishing sense of self, loss of connectedness with others, and profound sense of hopelessness. It’s an affliction that has psychological, spiritual, and social implications ineffectively waned by orthodox psychotherapies or medications. For the participants of the NYU study, tripping on psilocybin went well beyond alleviating these symptoms. After a single dose in a controlled setting, patients unanimously experienced rapid relief from anxiety and depressive symptoms associated with existential distress. All of them describe the trial as an incredibly mystical experience. Psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine — a scientist at the forefront of psilocybin research — believes that it is the quality of these spiritual experiences that predict positive outcomes. Indeed, a researcher of the NYU study relates the idea that the experience of dissociating the self from the body under the influence of hallucinogens facilitates the development of “...a new perspective and profound acceptance” of death. Approaching these findings with sober skepticism is necessary, of course. But there is a long human history of seeking transcendent experience. For many cultures these experiences were thought to be necessary for the health of the individual and the community.


Joseph Campbell, late author and professor of literature, has an appreciation for the transformative power of facing the unknown. He contributed the influential idea that myth, theater, and ceremony are often meant to be incorporated into or communicate the great importance of rites of passage. Put simply, a rite of passage is an initiation that a culture bestows on individuals to bolster success in transitional phases of life. Rites of passage come in many shapes and forms, but there is a common spiritual thread that runs through most. In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell says, “The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth.” These limitations are often anxieties surrounding the unknowable consequences of transformation. Limitations can manifest attachments to the known, previous way of being and are detrimental to the self and those around them. Selfishness, pride, and greed are some examples. Transcending beyond infantile attachment often involves intense moments of spiritual transformation analogous to those described in the NYU psilocybin trials. For many pre-colonial cultures, rites of passage were woven into the infrastructure of the community. Rites of passage often involve hallucinogenic medicine in the form of entheogens. These are plants that induce altered states of consciousness often as a means of healing. Peyote, ayahuasca, and yakoana are examples. They’re not taken on a whim; ritual ceremony revolves around their consumption. Each ceremony has its own idiosyncrasies, but the goals can be somewhat generalized to achieving higher consciousness, soul healing, and self understanding. It should be stated that these rituals were and are held in high regard and practiced regularly. In the developed West — apart from religious folk that seek mystical experiences — these types of experiences are not necessarily endorsed to the same degree. There are vague notions of finding oneself and seeking truth but not much guidance as to what these things mean unless you’re lucky. Perhaps this provides an explanation for the source of the existential distress that psilocybin helps to heal. Regular people in America are deprived of transcendent experiences as they are not expected or encouraged to partake in them. As a result, they’re unable to properly cope with certain transitions that we’re all destined for, whether it be leaving adolescence or leaving this earth all together. On the other hand, cultures with entheogenic rites of passage were aware of the importance of these experiences and so incorporated them and normalized them as part of community life. Hallucinogens are not the cure all, but their imminence in the field of mental health indicate an appetite — maybe even a need — for astral visions.





“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.� -Edward Abbey-


Margaret Golden

Sanctuaries of Silence by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee and Adam Loften

Zack Fishman

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Matthew Martinez The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Abbi Pstrzoch

Noa Simo

A Bug’s by: Disney / Animation

One Final Paragraph of Advice by Edward Abbey


ah on

s Life : / Pixar n Studios

Emily Chen

Erik Joan Hernandez The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Nico Vassilakis Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

A Running List of how President Trump is Changing Environmental Policy by National Geographic

Ayda Asadnejad The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Ana Mendoza Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser




I grew up eating meat almost every night of the week, and my habits have only strengthened over time. Unfortunately, most meat consumption is unsustainable under current methods of production, and overfishing is a serious concern in Illinois’ waterways. However, there is a solution crawling around in rivers all over the state that allows for an ecologically sustainable protein source: the Rusty Crawfish. I grew up catching them, and it has brought a different kind of closeness with the natural world that reconnects me with where my food comes from. Rusty Crawfish are driving out native species to the point where almost only rusties are found in many regions of Illinois, and aquatic plant beds that are critical habitats for other river freshwater species are being destroyed. Fortunately, there is no seasonal or daily limit on crawfish taken from Illinois lakes, ponds and waterways. The only legal requirement is to have a fishing license and to follow the trap parameter guidelines. Commonly known as crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs, and “OH-MY-GODWHAT-IS-PINCHING-ME”s, they’re commonly eaten all over the world and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Many Americans eat only the meat in the tail and claws, but it’s common in Louisiana as well as Vietnam or China to pull the upper carapace off and suck all the meaty juicy goodness out of the head as well. A crawfish boil involves a whole gang of friends sitting around tables, pulling apart steamed and spiced invertebrates with their hands, and making a huge mess while having a great time. Alternatively, the meat can all be removed after parboiling and used as part of other recipes, such as a crawfish salad with mayonnaise or fried up in a po’boy. Crawfish can be prepared in nearly any way, but it’s important to purge them before cooking. Purging is a polite term for submerging the live crawfish in warm or hot water with plenty of salt in it, which elicits all the crawfish to simultaneously evacuate their bowels.

FRESH WATER This vastly improves the taste of the meat, as cooking them with a full digestive tract gives a bitter taste. Additionally, keeping live crawfish for a week or so and feeding them an all cornmeal diet will further increase the quality of the meat. This may not be advisable for all invertebrate enthusiasts though, as keeping live crawfish is difficult due to how chemically and thermally sensitive, territorial, and cannibalistic the animals are. They also quickly fill any living space with a horrific smell of rot that won’t leave for weeks after eating them. Catching crawfish is a fun adventure with friends, keeping crawfish is an enormous, legally ambiguous pain in the butt. It’s a good idea to double check that the crayfish taken are in fact Rusties before chowing down to avoid damaging an already fragile watershed. Rusty Crawfish can be easily differentiated from other species by a couple characteristics. They are often dominant species in any given area due to how aggressively they take over local ecosystems. In general, fully red, fully brown, or fully black crawfish are not rusty crawfish. Rusty crawfish have grey o pallid blue-green claws and darker tails, and rust colored red spots on either side of the abdomen. How do you catch them? Great question. Hands, nets, and traps all work. It’s worth noting that these three options appear in ascending order of effectiveness and descending order of excitement. Crawfish swim backwards and keep the business end with those freaky looking pinchers facing towards the perceived threat (you). Crawfish can be distracted if they are cornered by keeping one hand in front (outside of pinching range). This allows for another hand to sneak around back, allowing them to be grabbed with thumb and pointer finger on the sides of their body just behind the head where the claws can’t get to. A pinch from a smaller crawfish ranges from adorable to painful while the big guys can draw blood.

by NICO VASSILAKIS Catching enough large crawfish to have a good meal is difficult without a net to scare them into or traps to leave out overnight. The traps can be purchased at any establishment that sells outdoor recreation equipment, like Bass Pro for instance. For those fully invested in learning every part of the food production process, these traps can also be made in fifteen minutes out of chicken wire and zip-ties. Fish heads/guts, leftover chicken carcasses, and just about anything that used to be alive works well as bait for the trap. I grew up catching crawfish in a river that runs through my town. Before I had any understanding of sustainability, of ethical food consumption, or of the growth rate of the human population, I had formed a connection with the world around me. If nothing else, playing in streams and interacting with wild animals gave me a sense of belonging in the ecosystem. It’s easier for me to keep the environment in mind when I have acknowledged that I am a part of that system. Taking the role of an active participant in this process re-humanizes me, and catching crawfish allows me to sustainably and mindfully participate in the ecosystem. Fighting invasive species is just as important to conservation as leaving native ones alone. For many people, this feeling of doing something is more satisfying than the equally important “not doing something” so common in environmentalism. I believe that activities like this are a great way to introduce people to a more sustainable lifestyle.



-MARGARET GOLDENThese photos were taken throughout Acadia National Park in Maine. Acadia is a remarkable place, home to many diverse and thriving ecosystems. From the gorgeous views of the vast ocean to the inspiring mountains covered in dense forest, this place felt otherworldly. With so little of the United States left untouched, the national parks provide a space to reflect on the importance f nature and remind us that they need protecting.



Profile for Green Observer Magazine

Green Observer Fall 2018 Issue  

Green Observer Fall 2018 Issue