Monday, May 30, 2005

Zook's Dam

One of the water lily buds opened today.

Alex has been putting in a water garden in the front yard, just a little one, the size of a half-wine-barrel. A goldfish already lives there, as does a potted water lily. I've been watching the water lily bud emerge and rise closer and closer to the surface; today it opened to reveal an exquisite pale yellowish-white blossom.

Looking down at the lily pads and the bloom, I was shot back through time to an outing to Zook's Dam, in Pennsylvania, in my childhood. There I saw for the first time wild water lilies floating on the surface of the water, as mystical as any saint, as improbable as giraffes and luna moths. We trespassed into rowboats that were moored by the shore, and looked closely at the lilies. My mother, with her usual wicked impatience, grew tired of our dog Raggs barking on the shore, lured her into the rowboat, and then pushed her overboard. Raggs' instincts kicked in, she learned to swim, and stopped barking at us.

I don't know for sure which Zooks they were or why they wanted to dam the creek and make a nice-sized lake; I think -- I think -- there used to be a mill there in the days before electricity and highways. But Zook's Dam was a Destination in that rural area 'way back when I was leetle. In the summer, people boated upon the waters to fish for bluegills and bass; in the winter, people skated on the thick ice just to be out in the open air. I stood in ice skates for the first time on the waters behind Zook's Dam, and fell and cracked my head so hard that I worried my brains would fall out. I was warned to stay away from the big kids skating fast; mom pointed out the nubbly, bubbly ice over the hidden lilies and cautioned me not to trip or fall over it. It was out under the great gray winter sky, and I could never forget the thrill.

Zook's Dam collapsed not many years later, perhaps from the weight of the silt that accumulated, maybe because of a spring flood, maybe because the dam was built by plain old people, not specialists. I waited for the dam to be rebuilt, and the fishing and skating to resume, but in vain. The wide waters became a swamp, then a pasture with a trickling creek through it.

Looking at the water lily blooming on the surface of a tiny pond today, I finally understood, just a few years short of a half-century later, that they couldn't rebuild the dam. For one thing, county building permits were unavailable for damming creeks, and two, the knowledge of how to build a dam without certified engineers and construction companies was utterly lost.

In the front yard, in these suburbs, I'll remember. And I guess I'll write about Zook's Dam, too, so that someone else will know.

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