Heavy springtime rains saturated the wooded topsoil of the forests of Three Springs, PA. Winters that were spent filling hungry stoves with chopped wood melted away as the musty scent of burnt ash vanished and was replaced with cool, crisp air that seemed almost drinkable.
As blizzard snows melted away, tiny streams that ran amuck gathered into tributaries that could wash out entire driveways. Bob Cat, as my step-dad was called on the CB radio, carved a ditch with a backhoe back in ’72.
We needed dry land to keep our trailer from washing off the small ridge upon which it was parked. The deep channel, four feet deep at the time of original construction, had caved- in due to erosion and what was left was a little Grand Canyon in my view.
Despite the danger of catastrophic floods upon our land, I found the perfect location to build a dam 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 once fought with sprouting acorns for the right to sunlight. I called the mound across the trench ‘Lady Slipper Dam’, but no matter how many of the orchids I attempted to transplant to the breast of my little Hoover, those delicate tissue tulips did not transplant well and were wiped- out due to my unquenchable desire to build a dam upon that little stream.
Like a beaver in heat, I flooded fields of the pretty flowers away, and as of 2016, none of the nearly extinct orchids exist on this piece of land despite the many years the pink little flowers spent attempting to make a comeback under the harsh sunlight of summer that came after neighbors moved in behind us just above the trench that marked a property boarder.
Bobcat 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 I, almost single-handedly, was able to tame for the purpose of forming a summertime lake that survived droughts of August. I spent so much time playing there, alone and with friends, upon the little damn that deserved a name.
The cool little pond glittered when shreds of filtered sunlight dripped through an umbrella of oaks and pines. Trout my brother Bill caught in a local creeks were brought home in buckets and 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 Lady Slipper Lake froze solid. We never knew where the trout went when the pond froze, and always assumed that a bear or raccoon got to them in the shallows of November.
A dam 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. I dug deep down to find clay to use– chopping my way with chunks of broken sandstone through the roots of trees that seemed so long; my hands were cruddy and fingernails were encrusted with topsoil.
The damn was built a bit stronger, year after year.I chased spring showers like kick-balls. The neighbor boys came over to help– Chris Smith, shortstop of the Three Springs little league team was there to build. Chris had a grandmother who owned Miller’s Restaurant– a coffee shop across the road, downhill from our place, where eventually, that little ditch gave way to a more natural stream and 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 next door. 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 too.
“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 any brothers. 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 I found in Bobcath’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 dam 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 Iraq. His yard was so dry, with the exception of that black little pond, that clumps of grass only grew here and there, like Lady Slippers once did before I built that dam.
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 near Lady Slipper Dam.