A Daydreamer’s Gem

Entrance into the Knoll

I love being a student at Western Washington University, but after sitting in stressful classrooms, studying for hours in the library, and facing a constant bombardment of people, I end the day feeling both physically and mentally drained. To counter the amount of time I spend inside, I used the beautiful weather as an excuse to take a stroll across my college campus. It was at this time that I happened to stumble, I mean literally stumbled, over a branch that enabled me to discover the mysterious Knoll, or as I like to call it, the perfect place to daydream.

Imagine the whisper of numerous trees as hundreds of branches and leaves flutter in the wind. Picture daylight peaking in through the trees, casting playful shadows all around you. Dozens of chickadees sing their own harmonious tunes, and as you watch, robins hop along the ground, picking up holly berries and wolfing them down in seconds. Can you see a spacious place so large, that your imagination can run free? Finally, imagine yourself sitting underneath a tree and watching a squirrel run on a newly formed branch above your head. It pauses only briefly to stare at you wearily. Now, I don’t know about you, but this is my ideal place to relax, and gaze off into space wondering where my thoughts will take me.

Surprisingly, this Knoll is located in the heart of my thriving university. Who would have thought that Western had its very own hidden Knoll? And the most surprising thing is that no one appears to know that this gem of nature even exists. When surveying a few passersby, I asked if any of them knew what exactly they were walking past. One out of the five walkers actually knew about the Knoll, while the rest replied with various answers, such as “Really? I have never heard of the Knoll” or, “That’s so cool! I wish it was publicized more”. These comments just reinforced to me how unknown the Knoll is, even among students attending WWU.

Origins of the Knoll

Later, as I walked around the Knoll, I found a plaque that memorialized Ida Agnes Baker. This finding spurred my curiosity, and I began to wonder about the history behind the Knoll. It took a lot of internet searches and a few trips to seemingly random websites before I finally scavenged up some useful information.

Apparently, this place used to be a pond bog but was filled in with dirt when Old Main was built. “Dirt from Edens Hall and Wilson Library may have also ended up in the Knoll”, wrote Jerry Flora in his memoir Normal College Knowledge. This memoir was written by the 1967–1975 WWU President, who wanted to make public the excellent wealth of knowledge offered here to Western students. Oddly enough, Flora decided to include history about the Knoll in his book as well.

I was not about to stop searching there, however. Hoping to find more information, I dug around and found a website called Hidden Histories, run by Western Washington University, which also gave some information about Ida and the Knoll. In 1921, The Knoll was dedicated as a Bird Sanctuary to memorialize Ida Agnes Baker, who was one of Western’s original faculty members, as well as an animal-lover and an active suffragist. The Hidden Histories website led me to my next search about why Ida was memorialized here at Western. From the WWU Heritage Resources blog sponsored by Western’s Libraries, I learned that Ms. Baker was hit by a car and died near Western when she was walking home from a meeting with the League of Women Voters. This information was buried deep within the University Archives and Records Management section of the site, and after finding out the truth of the tragic and unfortunate death, I can see why the details might have been intentionally buried or lost within the pages of history.

Ida Baker Memorial bolted into the one and only large boulder

Life after Death

Despite its sad origins, what stands out most to me about the Knoll is the sheer amount of biodiversity that I discovered there. What a great opportunity to do a little contemplation amidst the background of nature. Along with the daydreaming, I also like to try and name the plants and animals that I find, but I must admit that it isn’t as easy as it might seem.

Bird Fountain at the top of the Knoll

Once again, my lack of knowledge inspired me to do some researching, this time on how to properly name and identify the species I found. Thanks to my new best friend Google, I found out that you can take an online “Tree Tour” through WWU’s Tree Gallery. It was extremely helpful, and using it I was able to identify most of the trees in the Sanctuary such as White Ash, Holly, and Canadian Hemlock. A few of the common plants in the area were ferns and rhododendrons. I had a little more trouble identifying the birds and animals found there, outside of the more generic species (like the gray and black squirrels, crows, robins, pigeons and chickadees) but I’m sure it would be a great opportunity for you to do a little investigating of you own.

Noise vs. Silence

Unfortunately, the Knoll is not always as peaceful as it might seem. During the busy weekdays, the buses can be heard zooming past and making their hourly stops in front of the Viking Union; but on the weekends the place is as peaceful and quiet as possible. In my opinion, the noise is hardly an issue, but if you would like absolute silence and less pedestrians I would suggest visiting on Sunday mornings and afternoons. Even holidays are a great time to visit the Knoll because many students and residents aren’t on campus those days.

Late afternoon sun shining through the trees

Solitude can be overwhelming at first, but for me, when I get lost in my daydreams all else fades away. Alternatively, the Knoll would make a great place to read or snack in: just as long as you don’t forget to pack up everything that you brought. My personal favorite activity is to just bring a blanket and sit down on the grass (provided it isn’t wet) and take in the beautiful setting sun as it filters in through the trees, while I ponder everything that I have done that day.

Exit out of the Knoll

How to leave the Knoll?

I could keep going on about the wonders of the Knoll, but I should probably begin to wrap it up. Although this place is generally unknown and at times can be noisy, overall I think it is the perfect setting to get away from the fast paced world in which we live, and it grants a great opportunity to take a few moments, or more, to just sit and contemplate or daydream.

Though it was difficult to find even the smallest crumb of history on the Knoll, I admit that is part of the old Knoll’s charm. It is a charismatic yet mysterious place, and its mystical nature causes visitors to wonder what interesting secrets are held there, and even more, where will my daydreams take me?