The Loneliness of Death

The line of drooping sunflower plants silhouettes the looming, lonely library beyond. From tall, sickly stalks hang brown, wilted leaves that shake uncontrollably in the whip-like wind, like an old woman’s hands.

These sunflowers have already lost their seeds. They bow exhaustedly, their heads too heavy to hold up, in the 500-square-foot sustainable garden managed by Northwestern undergraduates. The garden is located on the right side of the South Lawn of Norris University Center. It is easy to miss without the grand sign at the far end that boldly reads: Wild Roots.

In front of the sign is a forgotten red wheelbarrow. In it, overgrown dill plants wave in the wind like willow trees.

In the center of the garden is a cement platform that houses most of the surviving flower plants in colorfully painted pots on three levels. About 45 medium-sized rectangular plots cover the rest of the garden. They are squared off by orange-colored wood that reeks of plywood, and nothing grows inside but tiny weeds.

The ground of the entire garden is black – almost too black – and unnatural to the eye. In the blackness there are specks of white perlite that sparkle, like the shimmers of snow on a cold winter’s night.

The sunflowers grow in a long plot that is not squared off, to the right side of the garden. Below them are chaotic, deteriorating vines of cucumbers, an alien-like two-headed zucchini plant, thriving collard plants, baby red lettuce, flowering chives and purple-blue flowers. All are carefully labeled.

The air smells of steaming Chinese food when a young man cuts across the lawn to enter Norris, without looking once at the lonely garden. The sunflowers look on like hooded Harry Potter Dementors – dead, yet still alive. Rain drips slowly from their sagging heads, like tears.

Rain and Dogs

Two black dogs chased each other around on the Evanston Dog Beach Sunday, kicking up sand and splashing lake water about. The light blue lake water lapped gently on the shore and sparkled in the bright sunlight.

This perfect-for-dog-walking fall weather will not continue forever, unfortunately. According to weather.com, this week in Evanston will be cloudy and rainy, with lows in the upper 30s. Most of the dog owners interviewed Friday and Sunday said the rain and cold will play an important role in how much their dog will be walked during the coming days and months.

“We don’t like the rain,” said Susan Avril, 40. She often walks with her 4-year-old daughter, Lydia, and 6-year-old Samoyed, Beertje, to do errands. “I guess it’s us – we more take the car when it rains,” she said. Still, Avril said when it is raining, she takes Lydia to school and back, since it is only a few blocks.

Patricia Seifer, 61, agreed. “If it’s raw – if it’s 30 degrees and cold and rainy – I’m not as thrilled to walk as much,” she said about walking her mixed-breed dog, Ophelia. But, “I still walk her because someone has to,” she said.

The dog owners themselves do not like taking walks in bad weather, but some said that their dogs do not either. “If it’s raining, she doesn’t want to go out,” said Patricia’s friend, Joan Zurakov, 58, about her Border Collie mix, Bella.

Similarly, Charlie Madigan, 62, said about his Black Face Cur, Rip Van Winkle, “He doesn’t like the rain – it gets in his ears and he’ll shake it out. But he’ll still get out and he’ll let you know he’s sick of this, you know, and turn around and want to go back home.”

Madigan said, “We walk him in the neighborhood – we live down in South Evanston, by St. Francis Hospital. First thing in the morning he has to go out. After I get home from school and my wife gets back from school, at about four o’clock we walk him again.”

“He gets walked two times a day, no matter what the weather is or what time of year,” said Madigan. But, he continued, “He hates it in the summer because he gets very tired and he has to sit.”

The Illinois hot and humid summer is an obstacle for Susan Avril’s white, fluffy dog, as well. Since his breed originally was used to herd reindeer in cold climates, Beertje is not well equipped to survive the summer, she said.  “In the real heat, in the humidity, he doesn’t walk. He’d rather be inside and we do, too,” she said.

Avril also said that when Beertje is not walked, “it makes me anxious. I think it makes him more depressed,” she said. “Sometimes he’ll grab his toy and try to get you to play with him. Sometimes he just lays and looks unhappy.”

Madigan’s dog behaved similarly, he said. “If you’re late taking him out for a walk he’ll come and look at you. He stares at you and makes some noise like it’s time to go, and you have to pay attention because he will go to the bathroom someplace.”

Though bad weather makes dog walking less enjoyable for the dog and the owner, Joan Zurakov said that it is important to keep it up. “You walk them as much in the winter as you do in the fall because their need to exercise and go pee doesn’t change with the weather,” she said. “A dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do.”

To Capture Hidden Histories

Her large, silver hoop earrings catch the light of the projected PowerPoint slide to shine while her dark eyes sparkle with excitement. The great movement of her arms lures students in and a heated discussion naturally fills the classroom. When the whirlwind, conversational class is over, students’ mouths are brimming with words and thoughts. They linger after class to converse with the professor.

“Teaching is a performance,” said Nitasha Tamar Sharma, Assistant Professor of African-American and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. It takes up a lot of her energy, but Sharma does not let it control her life.

Her students appreciate her effort. Yoonie Yang, 21, is a student that appreciates Sharma’s interactive teaching style so much that she came back for more. Yang said she thought Sharma is a “dynamic teacher.”

Sharma grew up in Manoa Valley, Hawaii, where both of her parents were professors at the University of Hawaii at Manoa – her Jewish mother teaches anthropology, and her Indian father taught Asian History for 40 years before passing away last year. A bodyboarding, self-described “mediocre” high school student, she fit right into the multicultural community there. When attending the University of California at Santa Cruz, though, she was looked at as a “woman of color” for the first time.

Though she had her own struggles with racial identity – in India, she said, she is viewed as a “rich” American, even though she is biracial, or “hapa” – now her racial concerns are centered around her 15-month-old daughter, Maya. Sharma’s husband, a professional drummer of black and Hungarian descent, is also biracial, which makes Maya’s growing up in the “black and white” environment of Chicago challenging.

Sharma’s colleague and friend, Jinah Kim, said it was amazing how Sharma “balances her life and work.” Not only does she teach beautifully, using multimedia and discussion, but she also published a book called “Hip Hop Desis: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a Global Race Consciousness” recently. On top of that, Sharma still manages to be the “most amazing colleague and mentor,” to Kim and is a working mother who “tries to figure out ways to incorporate her baby into her life,” Kim said. Sharma brings Maya everywhere, said Kim, to outdoor concerts and to places like Hawaii, Paris and Hungary.

Sharma wants to keep being a scholar and teacher, as well as write more books. “I want to change the way people think about the world,” she said, by making people see how the operations of power work in terms of race and exploitation.

Race is a difficult topic to teach, but Sharma said racism is not about pointing out differences in skin color. It is about creating stereotypes of a specific race in order to have an excuse to exploit them. Many do not think to wonder why racism is so prevalent in this country. But Sharma was and is curious.

“For me, there is always a why behind it,” she said.