By Win Cowger
There is something about that little bubbling noise of a creek that brings my entire life into perspective. The water is carefree. It has no recollection of itself nor does it worry about others. All it knows is to flow with the constant pull of gravity downstream. But if I were a creek, I would hope to flow to the ocean. I want to be a part of something greater than myself. Joining the ocean symbolizes spreading my thoughts far and wide to cause a positive impact. Sometimes I feel like this creek here in Iowa, where I am sitting. It flows into Saylorville Reservoir where it is dammed up, waiting its turn to go onward. Other days the dam breaks and I am unexpectedly hurried in progress towards my end goal.
One day I want to be a college professor. I want to have my own school of salmon that I will teach to swim upstream. I want to teach them how the stream carves the landscape, how it hosts plants and animals, how it provides drinking water to humans – not only through the surface water, but also by replenishing ground water – and how, if managed correctly, it can be a sustainable system that benefits humanity and the greater environment. With this information, I hope my school of salmon will find a stream they love. They will swim up it in a sustainable way, causing a huge amount of productivity for all, and spawn their eggs in a peaceful place, which will hatch and want to return to the ocean – continuing the cycle.
However, I am not in the ocean yet. Being a part of Conservation Corps is one of the first channels in my journey. Next, I hope to get a position with a more technical science focus. Then I will return to school and start my career as a professor. Some people ask me – I ask myself even more often – why I refrain from jumping right into grad school after getting my bachelor’s degree. When I was in college I had many amazing professors who shaped my worldview, but they were missing something. They had gone straight into grad school from their undergrad and never experienced life outside of academia.
Anyone who has been on a tour has seen guides with an intimate understanding of the place where they are going. That, after all, is why they were hired to show us around. It would be a completely different experience if the tour guide had never attended that place and had only read about it in books or heard about it from others. I want to prepare my students for their future, by drawing on my experience of what their future could be like as a laborer, hired scientist or a professor. Like a tour guide, I will have swum every stream and can guide my young salmon upstream to begin their personal journey, to a small creek, where they will ponder how to return to the ocean.