It would be odd to not have one of my first blog posts be about my first travel companion, Knome. My first expeditions over the Atlantic were as a solo traveler and the idea of taking selfies of myself for a week seemed ludicrous, so I brought my traveling gnome along for the ride.
The story of Knome started my freshmen year of college. After spending two years to save up for college I was in no mind to take superfluous classes. I had mapped out all of my graduation requirements and was going to take only the necessary courses to graduate. Despite my strong planning skills, I was required to meet with a school counselor who would pick my first semester classes with me… and by with me, I mean for me. Even though I knew I would be a business major I hadn’t declared it yet, so the counselor put me in courses intended for people who didn’t know what they’d be doing through college. I was quite frustrated. When I learned she put me in World Geography, I was infuriated. What a BS class she was making me pay for!
Despite my efforts to swap World Geography for another class, I was required to stick to the schedule my counselor made for me. A couple weeks into the course, the professor informed us that there would be a mapping assignment project required to pass. We were to make a map based on our topic of choice and do a one page write up explaining our map and what we learned. We could pick any topic we wanted, so long as a map for it didn’t exist yet.
If it wasn’t obvious from my intense planning skills you should know that I’m the honor student type; I need to get my A. I was also not about to waste my money by not passing a course no matter how pointless I felt the class was. But I couldn’t help but feel some sense of a need to rebel against the standardization of students. So as I went about my geography course I was looking for a way to mock the system while still earning an A.
As I continued attending class with no idea what the heck I was doing there or what my project topic would be, the professor mentioned gnomes in Europe. Apparently, gnomes were a hot topic in Europe at the time. “Well,” I thought, “if the professor thinks ridiculous topics like gnomes are of value for college courses, I will make such a topic the focal point of my mapping project.” And so I did.
There was an organization called the Garden Gnome Liberation Front based in France that had been stealing garden gnomes from various locations around Europe and placing the gnomes in boycott or suicide positions in another part of the country demanding freedom from the gnomes’ enslaved lives. The front went so far as to break into a garden show in Paris; even a gnome sanctuary had been created in the outskirts of France.
The mapping project required credible sources and citations; I was surprised to find that gnome activity had been covered by major news outlets like CNN and BBC. This gnome thing was real. A ridiculous and odd thing, but nevertheless really going on in Europe. So I made a map, using little gnome hats I had cut out of stickers, to mark where each of these incidents had occurred.
For my project write up, I found the prompt asking us to ‘explain what you learned while making the map’ quite elementary and triggering my BS radar, so I took advantage of it. “First,” I wrote, “I learned that gnome is spelled with a ‘g’ and not a ‘k’… I also learned that this project would have been easier if I could read French…” and the mockery went on. But I was sure to hit every graded element for the project in between my jabs. After editing out a number of my slams to fit the maximum one page requirement, I handed in my map and write up for grading.
World Geography had a little over 60 students in it, so it took a while to get our mapping projects back. The enrollment also meant the professor didn’t know our names to our faces. I was thankful for this fact the morning she walked into class and asked “who is Acacia Thornton and Johnathan [Doe]?”
I sank into my seat. Crap. I was about to get scolded for not taking my mapping project seriously.
The room was quiet. She repeated the names. Neither Johnathan nor I responded. He must have BS’d the project too. The room was silent.
“Fine then. Whoever you are, your mapping projects went to the dean…”
“Shit shit shit,” I repeated in my head. “What have I done?”
“… he loved them and wants to offer you a place in the major.” She concluded.
“What!? Really? They liked that!?” I was bewildered. I remained silent though, just in case.
I clearly had no intentions of being a geography major, but my curiosity got to me and I researched what becoming a geography major entailed. Turned out, the geography major offered many subjects ranging from weather and atmospheric science to natural hazards and earth science. I was captivated. I had been naturally curious about so many of these topics as a kid. I had no idea. I immediately added one of the classes to my schedule for the next semester.
In my final college semester, I took European Geography. We had a project in that class too, and I decided to revisit the gnome situation to see if anything had changed over the four years. Not much had changed, but it was clear the Gnome Liberation Front was still active.
Unfortunately, I, along with a majority of the European Geography class, had misunderstood the project to be about a country and not a city. I had selected France as a whole and should have written about Paris being the epicenter of gnome activity. I was worried I wouldn’t get an A after hearing this news. It didn’t matter in the end; the professor wrote one simple comment on my project, “A, if only for the topic alone!”
I took seven courses in the geography school over those four years. Turned out, taking that World Geography course was more than worth it. I learned so much from those courses and about myself. I graduated college with both honors and a minor in geography, thanks partially to gnomes.
Where does Knome fit into all this? Well, the Christmas after I graduated college, I was given a garden gnome as a gag gift. I named him Knome. Gnome spelled with a k. He was a liberated gnome who traveled the world with me and he made snarky comments about our travel sites. He became quite popular. People would want their picture with him and he even had his own Facebook page.
While Knome and I were a good team, we couldn’t last forever. Knome retired nearly two years ago. He now lives the life gnomes were meant to live being free and liberated while I continue working full-time and traveling when I can. I will never forget the companion whom I started exploring the world with. He was a wonderful travel buddy and a gentle reminder that not everyone, gnomes included, are blessed with lives that enable them to travel the world.
Credits: Article and images by Acacia.