The Squam Conservation Internship provides skills and experience for future conservation professionals while working as the driving force behind the SLA’s conservation mission. This volunteer internship provides hands-on conservation work experience and certifications over a broad range of activities. Interns serve as campsite hosts and caretakers at our backcountry campsites, work toward the eradication of variable milfoil, help preserve loon populations on Squam, engage both youth and adults in environmental education, and perform other conservation duties such as shoreline restoration and trail maintenance and construction. Squam Conservation Interns also regularly write about their experiences in the Squam Watershed. Learn more about the internship program here.
June 12, 2017
I am crouched on slightly rotting wooden boards with my head dipped under the composting toilets on Bowman Island, inspecting the horribly flooded system from the seemingly endless rain as the mosquitos dive-bomb me and my shoes slowly become soaked with questionable water and muck. Needless to say, not my favorite moment on the lake thus far. To throw fuel on an already burning fire, my arms aren’t long enough to reach the clips necessary to remove the bin full of the solid waste, though I had of course managed to stir up enough silt so that I was now flying blind as well. Overwhelmed, incredibly frustrated, knees burning from squatting for what feels like an eternity, and tired of smelling decay, I am ready to quit.
But then I remember I’m not alone – Stephen is hovering nearby doing other tasks and luckily for me is 6’3” and has much longer arms then I do (though I know this is hard to believe since I tower over most at a lofty 5’4”). And he is willing to help with my job, though he has already serviced two other toilets today. Together, we quickly got everything taken care of and moved on to other things. Key word, together. Alone it was a daunting task, but as a unit it became manageable. After a quick dip in the lake, and generous amounts of hand sanitizer, I found myself wrapped around a big pine tree, and smiling. Picture attached.
Riley calls that afternoon #2 fun (pardon the pun). When I asked, I learned it’s a day that’s not your favorite, but when time has passed you look back and laugh. I’m not sure I’m there yet, though I have definitely learned a lot about myself and about what it takes to make this glorious lake function. I had always assumed that Squam existed in large part due to the gentle footprints left by those that visit. My time at SLA this summer has proven me very wrong – in fact there are people all over the lake fighting tooth and nail to keep Squam a pristine ecosystem. They do not necessarily end up on the evening news, but from sky to summit to “sea” their determined efforts defend and protect this lake. I am part of that quiet army now, and so everything we do as interns is important – from the toilets to diving for milfoil to trail work to lake hosting. The jobs are just too important to quit. The mission – both SLA’s and the one everyone who puts a toe or a prop into Squam must adopt – is greater than any one of us. So, day in and day out, we do what needs doing. And more times than not, I go to bed sore from laughing, full of group dinner, and fall asleep to the lullaby of bullfrogs from our open window. Most importantly, ready to do it all again (and more) the next day.
It is in these moments of grit that I begin to grasp the depth of my love for this lake and its wildlife and the people it attracts. I have been on Squam every year I have been alive, and I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the lake, both with regards to its ecology and culture. These three weeks have deconstructed – and rebuilt – my appreciation and understanding for this magical place. I know this is only the beginning, this summer will inevitably be a continuous process of dismantling and reassembling. We are just getting started.
I sit here, in a rare moment indoors and under artificial light, watching Alice and Tamara in the kitchen preparing food for our upcoming camp out, playing Phantom of the Opera and singing along. My fingers and forearms are sore from an evening session of rock climbing at the Fisher Barn with Jon (who’s since been renamed Jojo), Becca and Dominique are laughing downstairs as they fill their dry bags to capacity for our camp out this weekend, and Eric and Nate sit with noses buried in books. All is well. I know while each day will inevitably bring its challenges, it will also bring its moments of joy and appreciation for this golden lake, and the lifelong friendships I will forge over the coming months.
I am a tree hugger, this is my crew of ten, and we are* the keepers of Squam Lake.
Elizabeth is from Connecticut. She currently attends Washington-Lee University and is a double major in Economics and English. Click here to read Elizabeth's bio.