Me holding Miyaka the bald eagle during my internship

I found it on my floor when I was cleaning, one disk slightly chewed by my red roan compadre, Bois D’Arc. As the CD player in my car accepts the battered and bruised

media, familiar melodies come through and I am instantly swept away. I am sitting on the edge of my bed in a cozy studio apartment, ramen noodles steeping in hot water, green beans warming in the skillet (the summer-intern version of poverty is a strange one). My humble abode shares a wall with the attached animal rehabilitation clinic, and a roof with a dozen assorted eagles, owls, hawks, and falcons. It’s evening now, I have had my sunset sit on the porch, and the birds are mostly quiet now, saving their energies and voices for the morning, approximately 30 minutes before I need to wake up. Though small and strange, my living space comes free and I wouldn’t rather live in any other place. The place smells sanitary but lived in; environmentally friendly cleaning products blend with old carpets, wood, and office chairs. Though hospital sterile inside its clinic, the rustic building with a wooden porch feels at home on this hilltop over the Meramec River valley. For the summer, this is my home. I start my morning each day with the sound of a bald eagle happily greeting Joe, the rehabilitator extraordinaire, as he walks into the clinic. His Crocodile Dundee-esque leather hat and gravelly voice offer a façade to a gentle and caring man, capable of tenderly holding the wildest red-tail to administer food and medicine. I myself assist him on many days, welding gloves on my hands, coaxing fierce and flapping raptors out of their guest rooms and into the room where shots can be given, salves can be applied, and examinations can be made. “She’ll be ready for the flight cages tomorrow.” Joe says, smiling as we return the recovering hunter back to its cage. He walks with them in long enclosures, coaxing them from perch to perch, helping the injured animal recover its aviation musculature. I have the chance to learn from Joe, as well as all of the experts this summer. I study rehabilitation, propagation, education and outreach by shadowing every supervisor on a rotational basis. Some skills come easier than others. I would happily stand with a hawk perched calmly on my arm and talk to visitors for days on end. On the other hand, I can never quite get the hang of sweeping feathers. At any rate, I can’t say that I will be bored with this internship.

Isn’t it amazing how a smell, sound, or sight can transport you to a special place and time? I could write a book on my summer at The World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, MO, but for sake of time, I will leave it short. Last week I had the pleasure of organizing and hosting a weeklong workshop here at The Watershed Center. Over the course I had the chance to meet several people in the water protection community, with each of whom I enjoyed excellent conversation. The students and I learned things about streams, sinkholes, and watershed that we had never known. Presentations on hydrology, geomorphology, hydraulics, karst, planning, and more opened our eyes to the world of watershed management. Most of the afternoons were spent outside, feet in the water, ears attentive. All said, the workshop was a success, and I learned a great deal from the workshop, and from organizing the workshop.

Watershed Academy Participants studying the South Dry Sac River with Dr. Bob Pavlowsky

For me, the icing on the cake was a float trip on Saturday. After the stress of workshop logistics had faded, we got the opportunity to spend a day on the water with our friends, some of whom had never paddled these Ozark waters. While a day on the water is a good one, this was especially excellent. Many of the people I work with daily, and some of the people who had spoken at the workshop joined for a day on our own James River. The water was clear, we didn’t drag too much, and wildlife was abundant. The splash of a smallmouth being gently lifted from the water was common, along with sightings of hog suckers and redhorse blazing along the bottom of the riffles. Turtles were out in numbers, and many of the floaters got to experience the truly unique texture of a soft-shell’s brown-dappled carapace. A group of belted kingfishers bolted by us, cackling the while, questioning our motives in drifting so close to what was no doubt their favorite nesting site along the bank. The joy of these encounters is exponential when shared with those close by.

I can’t help but think about those who were with us this week. Was their time at The Watershed Center profound enough to burn a memory as strong as mine from the bird sanctuary? Will the interns I work with recount their time with us the way I think of it now? What will those triggers be? Will the call of a kingfisher bring them back to their final weeks of the 2013 summer? Will the bubbling sounds of water through a riffle remind them of that difficult place where you’re expected to listen to an instructor while completely fascinated and distracted by all that surrounds you? My hope is that The Watershed Center will be a powerful catalyst for the formation of new memories.

Sarah Davis from the City of Springfield and Stacey Armstrong from WCO explain the function of a rain garden

We have such a gift to give the community with our site on Valley Water Mill Lake.  Something mysterious lives at the creek, in the lake, and perhaps at every beautiful and natural place.  It’s something that catches us off guard and pulls us inward; allows us to see with sharper eyes, hear with precise ears.  It’s something that can bring healing and joy and memories. This mystery is easily quieted by busyness and noise. As children come to The Watershed Center to learn, I constantly remind myself to avoid speaking over that something. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, said in The Sense of Wonder,

I sincerely believe that for the child… it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.

My goal at the Watershed Center is to connect students to that something which will fill them with “emotions and impressions” that build up the soil and give them memories.

Take a moment to put on an old album from a time ago, open a forgotten box occupying the attic, or cook a favorite meal from your younger days. Give yourself time from you busy schedule to travel your own history and reflect on the lessons learned and memories made.

Do you have a favorite memory or impression of The Watershed Center? How about a favorite body of water? Please share it with us. Leave it in the comments, post it on your preferred social media, let us share in that memory with you for a while. We will be sure to foster memory making for years to come. Thanks for reading.

 

Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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