Collin is my former student, now a ranger for Benton County. He spends much of his time at Hannen Park near Blairstown, but also helping out at other sites. Some of his work involves wetlands, and he was kind enough to show me around, including visiting a wetland at Rodger’s Lake, and also visits to Dudgeon Lake and others. But this entry is less about Benton County wetlands, and more about people like Collin who love wetlands. That’s a story at the heart of the 99wetlands project.
My visit began at the nature center at Rodgers Lake, staffed by some smart, friendly, and dedicated environmental professionals. From the outdoor art to the building design, we’re invited to appreciate Nature, and encounter it in new ways…with a bit of fun and delight. Live animals, taxidermy, and a “north woods” vibe make it a fun place to visit. Collin showed me around, and introduced me to co-workers, too.
Have you ever met someone, and instantly felt you were on the “same wavelength,” so to speak? Like, these are My People. Similar interests and experiences, shared values, mutual friends perhaps . . . and yet, something more. Something we all yearn for . . .
Meaning. We all seek meaning in our lives. Whether we call it inspiration, a personal mission, or our legacy, we all want to feel like we are part of something larger than ourselves, doing something worthy of our time and effort. Something to believe in. The young people I teach and collaborate with, perhaps more than most, seek this meaning. It rubs off on me, too, and I love it! Here in Benton County, I found naturalists working with kids at Adventure Camp, and colleagues who wanted to feel me out on a threat to local wetlands, and a chance to share in the joys and frustrations of working with the public every day.
As Collin showed me around his wetlands, I saw both natural and human-created systems, sometimes near a river (or not), sometimes State land (or County), but all being used by wildlife and people. I admired the dragonflies, “lily pads” (looked like Water Lotus, Nelumbo lutea, at least from a distance), and waterfowl we observed.
It was fun to talk shop. I heard about his further development and employment since graduating. I saw the beautiful park where he’s based, and heard about the long To Do list he has, and some vexing problems, like invasive species and eutrophication, he faces. We talked about possible remedies and collaborations which was exciting.
This post just happens to coincide with the first day of a new academic year. I’ll meet new students and enjoy seeing returning students again. We’ll talk about textbooks and class goals and schedules and grades, all important and necessary to my job. But as I do all that, I’ll also smile to myself as I recall seeing Collin at his place of business, or running into former students recently at the State Fair, or feeling a bit of pride and pleasure seeing my students and alums sharing their successes on social media. They, and I, are part of something special: people who study, and care for, and love the wetlands…and the Earth they inhabit. Thanks for reading, and for being a fellow friend of the Earth.