It felt surreal driving into the parking lot by the strange looking blue and white pole building that has been my workplace for the past eight years, and where I worked for seven years before that. Before children, before the tough decision to follow my husband's job opportunity in a different state, before all of the strange path that led me back here. I had been off work for nearly three weeks due to the state government shutdown, my longest break from work at any time that I have been actively employed. I had found myself enjoying the time off, not worrying about the money I was not making, not being ruled by a time clock.
As a rule, I rarely show up to work "on time". It drives my boss crazy sometimes, and I'm sure it annoys others, but I think there is more to life than being punctual. I showed up my usual ten minutes or so late, and did not miss a thing. As usual.
I did not have a hundred emails waiting for reply. I did not have a "to do" list a mile long. Pretty much as I had left my desk three weeks ago. My job is like that, I don't have responsibility for many urgent things, but what I do has value in the long run. My boss was on vacation, there were no immediate plans, so I decided to do something that might be of value somewhere down the road. I hopped in a truck, hooked up "my" boat, and headed for a lake to take a leisurely cruise around the shoreline.
Now that may sound kind of like a luxury job, but I had a reason for my choice. This lake, on the border of Pine and Carlton counties, has had Eurasian watermilfoil in it for about six years. Being the person in the office responsible for aquatic plants, I have followed the progress of this species, considered invasive in certain situations, in this lake for about four years now. What I have found has been interesting: while for a year or so there was considerable growth of Eurasian watermilfoil, and some control efforts were undertaken, the plant all but disappeared from the lake a couple of years ago. Since then it has appeared here and there, but nowhere at a level I would call "invasive". I had not heard anything about milfoil in the lake this year; I considered no news to be good news, but I wanted to check it out for myself.
I was alone, I had "my" boat, the weather was nice, and I was headed for a good day. The solo launch went well; I am one of those rare women who can back a boat down a ramp and launch it myself! I was sidetracked momentarily by a battery connection problem. It turned out the connectors were pretty corroded, so I filed them off and got the boat started. I like being able to solve problems.
It was a good day out. I found Eurasian watermilfoil in a few spots, mostly where it had been before and not growing in any quantity. I found more lush growth of native plants, such as whitestem pondweed, largeleaf pondweed, variable leaf pondweed, and others. I have found that when a lake has a lot of native vegetation like that, invasive species find it harder to take hold.
I also saw kids jumping of docks, smiling and laughing. I saw a dog swimming out to retrieve a tennis ball thrown by his human friend. I was reminded of my childhood days at the lake, swimming all afternoon and never getting tired. My job is a paradox: while "working" I experience all the fun things a Minnesota summer at the lake is supposed to be, but as an observer. I find myself wanting to be that girl on the sailboard again, finding joy on the water, on my own.