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ISSUE 120 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/23/2007

Lake Olaf: Friend or foe?: Tough tradeoff between enjoying suffering, preserving health

By Miriam Samuelson
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 23, 2007

As I walked from Boe Memorial Chapel to Old Main Hall earlier this week, I discovered something that greatly disturbed me: the enormous puddle of water behind Buntrock – lovingly dubbed “Lake Olaf” by many students – was gone. You see, I am a seeker of cheap thrills, and one of my favorite pastimes throughout the years has been watching people tiptoe around the puddle, only to get stuck in the mud or, better yet, fall into the mass of brownish water with chunks of ice and who-knows-what still floating in it.

I know this may seem sick and twisted, so don’t get me wrong. I’m not an evil person or a misanthrope. However, like any good critical-thinking humanities major, I get a little pleasure out of other peoples’ pain. Those familiar with the Broadway musical “Avenue Q” will recall the ditty “Schadenfreude,” the lyrics of which describe the joy of watching other people suffer – not big things like human rights violations or personal tragedies, but the little joys of feeling “warm and cozy watching people out in the rain” or seeing “straight-A students getting Bs.”

Cruel as they sound, these lyrics resound with us all at some time or another whether we like it or not. Let’s be honest: we all erupt in applause when some unfortunate student trips up the stairs in Stav Hall and sends her grapes flying over the railing. And we think it’s kind of funny when someone bites it on the ice in front of us on our way to class. We are all empathetic creatures, of course, but we laugh to diffuse tension and to hide the fact that we’re happy we’re not the ones in the embarrassing situation. Hence, the gravity of the lake-draining situation: how will we find entertainment on our walk from Larson, Mellby or Hill-Kitt to Buntrock? Without Lake Olaf, how are we to achieve our inward happiness at the misfortune of others in the early hours of the morning? Will we be confined to walking sans laughter at our clumsy friends to our 8 a.m. classes?

But I suppose there are other factors we should take into consideration. I’ve heard rumors of environmental sustainability playing a role in the drainage of Lake Olaf. And I’m all for that. As a staunch environmentalist myself, I decided to do a little research to see if the environmental incentives and overall convenience of having healthy grass and a dry sidewalk could truly outweigh the joy of making fun of my friends when they fall into the lake.

According to the 18th World Congress of Soil Science, melting snow erodes the soil that loosens through winter freeze-and-thaw cycles. And we’ve all seen the effects of heavy walking traffic over waterlogged ground. Not only do our feet erode the soil and spread it all over Buntrock tiles and carpet, but our footprints leave little hope for grass seeds that have been sown by an optimistic St. Olaf Facilities staff in early spring. And there’s the extra work that others have to put in to clean up after our muddy footprints in the buildings – it's really an unpleasant experience for everyone involved.

There are health concerns too: wet socks on the way to a day full of classes can hardly be good for immune systems already challenged by the stress of midterms and other life crises. Some days it’s a choice between soaking your feet or getting sucked into calf-deep sludge – neither option seems too appealing, aesthetically or health-wise. And there’s nothing worse than waiting, feet soaked and nose running, in the Health Center on a Friday afternoon just because you stepped in puddles all week on your way to Buntrock.

All things considered, the case for draining Lake Olaf does seem rather appealing. However, I can’t say that it outweighs the hilarity of watching someone fall on his or her derriere in the mud. However, the damage is done. The lake is drained, and I guess I’ll have to seek my cheap thrills elsewhere.

Staff Writer Miriam Samuelson is a junior from Atlanta, Ga. She majors in English with a CIS major.

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