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ISSUE 117 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/17/2003

So professor, what do you do for fun?

By Emelie Heltsley
Staff Writer

Friday, October 17, 2003

What do Dean of Students Greg Kneser and English professor Jonathan Hill have in common? They both have hobbies that bring them away from students and into the soil and sunlight.

Kneser designs corn mazes: huge life-size mazes within cornfields. His mazes aren’t simple either – the miles of trails actually create huge, intricate pictures. Kneser’s average maze is created in an eight-acre field of corn that is grown double thick. Each corn stalk grows to be nine feet tall. Even Kneser admits that, “the size is hard to comprehend.”

Over the course of three summers, Kneser has created three mazes within a cornfield belonging to his in-laws. His mother-in-law got him started, and his first maze, a medley of Minnesota “stuff,” was a tribute to his deceased best friend.

The next summer, Kneser created a maze in the shape of Minnesota that showed Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Paul Bunyan was 780 feet tall, which, as Kneser pointed out, is five feet taller than the tallest building in Minneapolis. Kneser’s third and favorite maze showed Linus and Lucy waiting for the Great Pumpkin and Snoopy flying overhead.

Why does he design corn mazes? “It’s just a fun thing to do,” Kneser said.

First, Kneser draws out the picture on a huge piece of graph paper. He then turns the picture into a maze of trails. Before the corn even starts to come up, Kneser plots the coordinates of the design on the field. When the corn is a foot high, Kneser mows the actual trails of the maze, and lets nature do the rest.

“It’s really amazing when you walk into a maze,” said Kneser. “The design would be burned into my memory, but it’s completely different when you actually go to walk it.”

Kneser now designs mazes for other groups. He created a firetruck maze for the Volunteer Fire Department’s fundraiser in Pepin, Wis. He has also designed a Laura Ingalls Wilder maze.

Hill also enjoys working in the great outdoors, but on a smaller scale. In 1969, Hill and his wife moved to Northfield from England and bought their current house in 1970. They decided the first thing their American house needed was a garden.

“England is one great, big garden,” Hill explained. “We are both from England, and we both came from families with gardens. We are genetically and culturally engineered to garden.” Hill and his wife created a garden out of a 2 1/4 acre plot of land behind their house. The first thing Hill did was plant hedges around the garden, which was “distinctly un-American.”

Although he and his wife are English, “the garden is more Continental European,” Hill said. “But it is still a beautiful garden.” Traditional English gardens are informal and full of curves and irregularities. Hill’s garden, on the other hand, is “dominated by formal hedgerows.” His garden is split down the middle with one large hedgerow, and its different sections feature various plants and flowers.

Is there ever any tension between the Hills regarding their garden?

“Yes!” he said. “I prefer straight lines and she prefers curved lines.” Hill said his wife is the brain behind the garden, and he does the grunt work. “But that’s OK,” he said. “I like grunt work.” Hill personally trims the hundreds of yards of hedges.

Hill is drawn to the tranquil, relaxing and aesthetically beautiful atmosphere of his garden. He enjoys the exercise and the fresh air gardening brings, as well as the physical and mental relaxation.

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