Pranks weren’t particularly common during my two years in Bennink Residence Hall. One incident stands out in my memory, mostly for the prankster’s baffling choice of ammunition.
For whatever reason, somebody (I’m looking at you, gentlemen of Second Boer) bought several loaves of sliced bread, snuck into my floormate’s room, and unleashed a honey-wheaten storm. Bread slices on her bed, bread slices on her desk chair, bread slices cartwheeling behind her laundry bin. Was this a nod to some inside joke? Was the prankster crafting an elaborate and as-yet-unexplained pun? Did this individual hold a deep-seated grudge against baked goods?
I’ll never know. I arrived in the prank’s aftermath, as sniggering Bennink residents were stuffing wayward slices into plastic bags. A few minutes later, two of us stood in the hallway, bread-laden bags in hand, wavering. We felt guilty throwing all this wasted food in the dumpster. At the same time, none of us were going to eat bread that had landed on someone’s shoes and skidded under a bed.
But we knew who would.
We headed for the woods behind Bennink Hall, reached into our goodie bags, and started flinging. Bread slices whizzed into the woods like whole-wheat Frisbees. In a few minutes, we’d created a carb-loaded smorgasbord for Calvin’s resident squirrels, chipmunks, sparrows, robins, flies, ants, worms, fungi, and bacteria. With all those hungry mouths to feed, the bread wouldn’t go to waste.
That wasn’t my first experience disposing of unwanted food scraps by leaving them to the elements. Some people might call it littering. I prefer “guerilla composting.”
Take an average apple core. When I’ve finished nibbling around the stem, I could throw it into a trash can, where it’ll thud onto a pile of tea bags and crumpled grocery store receipts. The trash bag will soon be cinched tight and thrown into a smoke-belching truck, which will rumble to a distant landfill. There, the bag will be buried under one, two, ten, twelve feet of other bulging, reeking trash bags.
Nothing much can happen in the dark, airless confines of that bag. Bacteria will attempt to munch on the apple core’s sugars, but without oxygen, only methane-producing anaerobic bacteria will survive. And what does methane gas do when it seeps out of this fetid mass of human detritus? Why, it heads for the atmosphere to join carbon dioxide in the cozy endeavor of warming Earth’s climate. And the apple core remains locked away, festering.
By mindlessly pitching organic material into the garbage can, I’ve ever-so-slightly interrupted the cycle that sustains life on this planet: when one organism dies, its molecules get broken down and rebuilt into the next generation of organisms. Chipmunks transform an apple core’s carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus into new chipmunks. A maple tree is nourished by the decomposing elemental remains of the crimson leaves it sheds each autumn.
But we humans, in the name of tidiness and ease, rake up those maple leaves and ship our apple cores to an unseen landfill. The cycle falters.
So consider an alternate path for that apple core. When you’ve finished nibbling around the stem, you could throw it under a tree, where it’ll thud beside a pinecone and roll under a crunchy leaf. A squirrel will wander up and munch on some of the vitamin-rich seeds. After the squirrel departs, a menagerie of insects will slurp away the core’s sugary juices, lay eggs in the browning flesh, or burrow toward the last remaining seed. Mold spores will begin feathering the surface as bacteria, worms, and rain disintegrate everything but the woody stem. The apple core’s molecules will be unpacked and stitched again into the fabric of new organisms. This is the way it’s meant to be.
My Ann Arbor house doesn’t have a compost bin. So I engage in a little guerilla composting beneath the bushes next to my back door (sorry, dear landlord). On a given day, squirrels carry off carrot tops, mold blooms on a lemon rind, and bacteria finish off a green pepper stem. Because the landfill doesn’t need this food. They do.
Geneva Langeland (’13) survived graduate school with minimal blood loss, escaping with her ms in environmental policy and communication. She now works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the communications editor at Michigan Sea Grant. There, she gets to hang out with educators, researchers, and communicators who love the Great Lakes as much as she does.