My field data collection this week allows time alone, and time for the brain to contemplate the worth of my job. Perhaps, the worth of myself, my future and my past. It’s a stupid job, I thought, as I traveled the backroads, bumpy from potholes filled, refilled and somewhere in the process of caving again as I trudged between one muddy, incised little creek to the next. These aren’t pretty cobble bottom brooks. These are prairie streams; muddy, silty and trivial to nearby residents. They are as deserted from public interest as the tiny towns that dot the rural Oklahoma landscape. A few are trashed with the discarded items of someone’s life; a broken dustpan, a kid’s bike frame rusting with age, or the family rottweiler haphazardly shoved inside a 50lb feed bag that was thrown over the bridge. Poor dog, his head and shoulders didn’t fit inside the bag and his collar with tags were still wrapped around his neck. Maybe the dog got sick and died, much like these streams are sick and suffering. Usually, it’s not the obvious trash buoyed on top a stagnated creek that is the biggest culprit. The biggest culprit to the stream’s health is the junk you don’t see, like too much phosphorus, or too much nitrate running down from a farmer’s field. Or, it may be the dirt and sediment carried in flow from the rain down rivulets on a slope land cleared of the grass and trees.
Like the rottweiler’s family that lacked the care to bury him, or even enough interest to remove his collar to keep as a memento of a devoted dog, the health of these streams don’t generate much care or interest from the public. What I do seems pointless. Yes, I can test the water. When I pull a water sample, I can run tests to see how much phosphorus or nitrate is in this spot of the stream at this time of the day. I can see how much or how little dissolved oxygen is present, the temperature of the water and the level of salinity. But then what? Nothing. There are few fixes if problems are present. That would entail interest in a muddy little creek that no one cares about.
I like tangible results. I like solutions when a problem is encountered. I like people that love and care enough to bury their dog. I like people that will keep their beloved dog’s collar tucked away in a drawer to revisit from time to time when they miss the way his tail wagged when they arrived home from their jobs. Not an insignificant job like mine, but a job that provides something worthy to someone, a job that resolves problems, a job that isn’t forgotten and lost on a dusty backroad of rural Oklahoma.