By Holly Johnson
I grew up spending summers on Mill Pond in East Orleans with my brother, parents and grandparents. Days were spent chasing crabs, picking up snails, and making sand castles. I practiced my swimming off our beach with my grandpa; he’d tell me to swim to him, slowly backing up as I made forward progress, laughing when I’d raise my head wondering how I was still so far away from him. I fell for it every single time. Other times my brother and I would catch flounder the size of dinner plates off our float. Getting out to the float was always the tricky part for me. It required swimming over a huge bed of eelgrass that would tickle my stomach and wrap around my ankles. I usually resorted to using a Boogie board to safely make it over the eelgrass and into deeper waters for fear that some eel grass sea monster would consume my 8-year old body. And nothing beat the excitement of returning from Nauset Harbor, though Robert’s Cove and into Mill Pond via Mill Race in our 14-foot skiff. I’d take my position in the bow, orange lifejacket obstructing my ability to lean even further out and over the edge, to get a good look at all the sea creatures in the shallow, clear water of Mill Race. I’d see a carpet of red sea stars, minnows, crabs, and eel grass. With the rapid current and the speed of the boat to keep us from bottoming out, it was always hard to get as good of a look at the bottom to satisfy me.
At the time, these were just wonderful summer memories with family. As I grew up, I realized that these memories and experiences had influenced my own desire to understand how nature works, explore the delicate balance between a thriving or stressed ecosystem, and acknowledge how, we as human beings, relate to our natural world. I was fortunate to take a variety of environmental studies and science courses as an undergraduate. I was even more fortunate to further my studies in a graduate program that focused on environmental economics and policy. I now work reviewing environmental impact reports for the Commonwealth. This educational and career path was sparked by the curiosity of a child‘s summer days on the pond.
For me, the key issue that these studies and experiences continually come back to is that our relationship with, and our perception of, our natural environment are not universally agreed upon. Generally, as a society we have differing opinions about the state of the current environment and potential harmful impacts that may jeopardize its health, and struggle to reach consensus on how to remedy or mitigate damage already done. I face these challenges both professionally and personally on a regular basis. In my 30-odd years of spending time swimming, walking around, and boating on Mill Pond I have seen visible signs of change; some the natural ebb and flow of shifting sands and tidal regimes, others with more complicated causes such as pollution, development, or climate change. I haven’t caught or seen a flounder the size of a dinner plate in years and my dreaded ticklish eel grass bed has long died off. These days I enjoy walks along its shores, watching birds and kayakers, and listening to the soothing sounds of the Nauset Beach surf in the distance.
I feel like I am a witness to the evolution of a wonderfully dynamic ecosystem. I am privileged to have spent so many summers on Mill Pond. Not only has my time there given me great personal joy observing the splendor of the natural environment, but it has provided me with a palpable example of humankind’s influence on our planet’s ecosystems, and the passion to pursue a career that strives to acknowledge the relationship between man and nature and seek an outcome that best benefits both.
– Holly Johnson currently resides outside Boston, but tries her hardest to spend as much time on Mill Pond as possible throughout the year.