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Science Notebook: Childhood Dreams Really Do Come True

2009 July 8

About the author: Jeanne Voorhees is an environmental scientist at EPA in Boston, Massachusetts. She began working at EPA (1997) helping to protect and restore water quality in rivers and streams, and continues this with her focus now on doing her Dream Job in wetlands.

image of author with white dog squatting in woodsI was raised on Long Island (New York) and enjoyed hours playing in woods behind our home, never realizing the muck I tromped through or the hummocks of tussock sedge I hopped upon were considered part of a wetland. I just knew I loved watching waterbugs, catching turtles, frogs, and salamanders, and getting muddy. I even enjoyed peering through a microscope looking at smaller forms of life found in muddy ponds and remember the first Paramicieum I saw. It was that moment, 38 years ago, I dreamed of becoming a “scientist.” Now I’m at EPA doing my Dream Job helping to protect and understand the biology, ecology and health of our wetlands in New England. What better job could I possibly ask for?

As a child I didn’t know the wetlands behind my parent’s house were acting like a sponge to absorb water that would have otherwise flooded our basement. I didn’t know wetlands help clean the ponds and rivers we swam and fished in. Although I didn’t know these and other wetland functions, I did know they were home to unique and beautiful plants and animals worth protecting. I encourage you to discover more about wetlands and the benefits they serve at EPA’s wetlands website.

I am privileged to work with wetland scientists across New England exploring such questions as, “How do we know a wetland is healthy?” We may monitor it using computer models with maps, algae (one celled organisms), soils, water chemistry, and other measures to help answer our questions. We might find a wetland is missing bugs and plants that belong in a healthy wetland, and then begin identifying the potential source(s) of the problem so it can be restored to a healthier system. The source could be a failing septic system, or polluted runoff from a parking lot. This is only one issue that monitoring wetlands can help identify.

I encourage you to visit a wetland this week, maybe it’s in your own backyard, to discover its unique qualities and report your findings here. Ask yourself, “What do I see, hear and smell? Is this wetland healthy and how do I know?”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Brenda-EPA permalink
    May 4, 2009

    Jeanne: I enjoyed your blog. I know a wonderful community group who got their childhood play area protected: 17 acres of wetland.

  2. Judy permalink
    July 13, 2009

    Thanks for your story. I have spent my career as an environmental engineer and after reading your story recall some of my happiesst childhood times were spent “exploring” the woods and creeks in my hometown.

    As an engineer we rarely get to have the “hands on” experience you have. We tend to clean up the messes left by others (water and waste in particular) and attempting to minimize human impacts. Sometimes, however, we get to roam the wetland areas next to the rivers – what joy!

  3. permalink
    July 14, 2009

    Thanks for your message. Conservation and preservation combined with education are the best means for protecting our aquatic resources.

  4. permalink
    July 14, 2009

    Thanks for reading my story and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    THANK YOU for being an Environmental Engineer, we need your talents and expertise to help keep maintain the health and integrity of our aquatic resources. Please know that I appreciate your job and efforts too!

  5. Dehra permalink
    September 25, 2009

    I loved this post. I have been searching the web for fellow dreamers and
    after I read your post on Childhood dreams, I thought you might be interested in my site I am building a community of people who support each other in obtaining our childhood dreams. It is fun to begin shaping this and see how many different kinds of dreams there are. I think people could learn a lot from how you combined a passion for the natural world with a chance to help preserve it. I would love to hear what you think of my site!

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