By Shannon Williamson
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I thought it only fitting that I share why “I do what I do” with you fabulous readers. Working as the executive director of Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s never easy. Before you tell me to quit my whining, I would like to acknowledge that I do have the privilege of working with an awesome board that helps me clean fish tanks and paint walls and lots of other more important stuff. However, holding polluters accountable doesn’t earn me a bunch of popularity points, and sometimes it makes people downright nasty. So why do I do it? Let me tell you.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved the water. My grandfather, “Pa,” used to take us kids out on his beat up old boat to deep sea fish off the Jersey Shore every summer. One of my earliest memories is of being snuggly secured in the v-berth of “Georgy Girl” during a raging storm. Pa had apparently made a tiny misjudgment in taking the family out on a three-hour tour in questionable weather. As my mother threatened Pa with great bodily harm if anything bad should happen to us, I recall loving the not-so-gentle rocking of the boat as I watched the waves thrash violently against the portholes. I was two. I pretty much never get sea sick now.
As a kid, you couldn’t keep me out of the water. Land-locked as we were, I spent most summer days at our community pool. I would alternately throw myself from the highest diving board I could climb into the far-off waters below and sitting for as long as I could on the bottom of the pool having expelled all the air from my lungs. I loved how all the sounds became muted and how my hair would float out all around my head in every direction. Most of all, I loved the stillness.
Canoeing and tubing down our local river was also a family favorite. As much as my older sister and I hated each other — and I mean that in the most loving way — we always had a blast paddling through the sun-dappled waters, breathing in the unmistakable scent that healthy rivers seem to share, and splashing the living daylights out of each other until one of us ended up in a headlock. Good times!
My undergrad and graduate school days were spent studying how dolphins communicated on the North Carolina Intracoastal Waterway, tracking how viruses responded to nutrient loading in the Gulf of Mexico and diving nearly 1.5 miles beneath the Pacific Ocean’s surface in a submarine to collect viruses living in extraordinarily hot underwater volcanoes. As each experience topped the last, my connection to water deepened.
That brings me to today. Lake Pend Oreille embodies everything I love about water. Great power and stillness. Family tradition and new friendships. The chance to learn, explore and make memories that will last a lifetime. I think we can all agree that Lake Pend Oreille has a special kind of magic that we want everyone to enjoy for a long, long time. We can work together on making this a reality, we really can! I know you love our lake and I do too. That’s why I do what I do.
Shannon Williamson is the executive director of Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and president of the Sandpoint City Council.