Heavy springtime rains saturated the black topsoil of the forests of Three Springs. Winters loaded with blustery blizzards melted away, leaving the ground like a sponge. When the rains came, robust streams formed behind the house; the contents of a million trickling, wormlike sprouts fed into one larger creek– a manmade channel that my dad dug with a backhoe truck in ’72. He purchased his share of the American dream, which happened to be a wet one at the base of Jack’s Mountain.
Dad needed dry land to park our trailer home upon. The deep channel, four feet deep at the time of original construction, had caved- in, due to erosion. We found the perfect location to build a damn that exists, in a near natural perfection, to this day. A natural mound appears amidst the willows– a little hump in the land, back where saplings fight with their ancestors for the right to sunlight. We called the mound across the trench ‘Lady Slipper Dam’, but no matter how many of the orchids we attempted to transplant to our breast, those delicate tissue tulips never could be removed from their root of origin. We flooded fields of the pretty flowers away.
Dad never named the creek he dug to keep the basement under our green and white mobile home dry, but his common sense led to the creation of man made water-way that three sons were able to tame for the purpose of forming a summertime lake that survived droughts of August. We spent so much time playing there, the little damn needs a name.
The cool little pond glittered when shreds of filtered sunlight dripped through an umbrella of oaks and pines. The trout we brought home in buckets thrived there. A million mosquitoes must have hovered up there at night, because our pet fish got fat, and lived most comfortably, at least until winter came and our lake froze solid. We never knew where the fish went when the lake froze, and always assumed that a bear or raccoon got to them in the shallows of November.
A damn of mud and rock made one handful at a time was covered with moss gathered from northern sides of century- old locusts and elm. The organic carpet took to root upon the clay mounds. We dug deep down to find the perfect clay– chopping our way with chunks of broken sandstone through the root systems of hundreds of trees; our hands were cruddy with fingernails encrusted with coal black- topsoil of the sacred Lady Slipper forest.
The damn was built a bit stronger, year after year. We chased spring showers like kick-balls. The neighbor boys came over to help– Chris Smith, shortstop of the Three Springs little league team as there to build. Chris had a grandmother who owned Miller’s Restaurant– a coffee shop right across the road, downhill from our place, where eventually, our little river crossed under a bridge on Hudson Street. The muddied currents we stirred passed down a gully just West of Miller’s Diner.
Chris lived in a trailer too, two houses away/ When he wanted to come out to play with my three brothers and I, he’d stop at his grandmother’s restaurant and pick up four cans of Donald Duck orange juice. Chris always had a can of snuff. Sometimes, when Mom seemed in a good mood, my brothers pinched in.
“What younz doin’ ta-day?” Chris would ask, handing us the offerings. Chris was an only child and lived with his mother. Like us, Chris’s parents were divorced, but Chris’s mom had not yet secured a second husband, and worse-off for Chris was the fact that he did not have a lot of brothers, like we all did. He thought of the dam as his too, although it was on our land.
“Puttin’ in a spill-way,” I explained, showing Chris a piece of plastic tubing we found in our father’s race car garage.
Before finishing his juice, Chris would dig into the clay trench and grab handfuls of material for the damn. Brian Hoffman sometimes came over. He lived next door to Chris. The arguments over how to increase the size of the lake without having to take down the old damn and put up a new one were as common as our screams and yells when we played with a Nerf football in Brian Hoffman’s yard where there was another lake– a septic tank that bubbled like an untapped oil field somewhere in Texas, where the land is so dry, tumbleweeds grow instead of Lady Slippers.
Tadpoles– the infestation of tadpoles that happened in our lake the first year we built it– handfuls of jelly with tiny spots inside. We had to take mounds of the tadpole embryos out of that lake, just to see our spillway work! We tossed them like Nerf footballs and played tackle on the moss and Lady Slippers.