Lost and Found: A River Runs Near It

Walks in the woods. There are surprises to be discovered, archaeological remnants from before your time. Sure, in the city there are those empty places and spaces appearing to be in a state of once-was or still-becoming, decaying before your eyes, but those are so hard-surfaced that the structure still dominates. In places where there is more of a tipped ratio of nature to nurture, there can be amazing interplay as plant-life incorporates whatever it encounters into its own tapestry. It is that moment in which nature owns the thing again, when a built structure is subsumed by life and growth, that arslocii occurs. The human-built structure comes alive, is animated by the resurgence of living things being incorporated into its rigid, seemingly indestructible framework.

 

Case in point: a faerie-like construction of a lost fountain in a wooded glen. That it is there at all is wondrous, to be sure. That it has such a magical formal shape and well-designed purpose is uncanny. It is not your typically boxy form, like that of a dwelling; it is round in a mostly square world. Its curving outer wall encircles a central island, creating a moat that is spanned by diminutive arched bridges and small scale stairways. And then, after nature has judiciously devoured and decorated it with woodland aplomb, it becomes a hybrid, surprising and awesome. The trees have grown out of the island, breaking through the concrete and stonework but retaining the overall concept of the original design. It is difficult to tell now what is original and what isn’t, the merging is so deeply woven.

The moss, carefully applied, dappled and dabbed, lightly washed here and impasto’ed there – the surfaces become a coral reef in a bay, colorful barnacles on a shipwreck. A forgotten Japanese garden scattered in the forest. Soft and hard, an armature for nature’s artistry.

It was once something else, a fountain in a park. Nearby it stood a 19th-century engineering marvel – a pump house for a city reservoir, the Roxborough Pumping Station at Shawmont. This lost fountain, resembling now a sunken ship on dry land, could have been a public amenity for thrill-seekers who came to gaze upon this mechanical wonder: the steam-powered pump house built in 1869. So it is likely that the fountain also dates back to then. Surprisingly, the fountain survives despite the demolition of the pumping station a year ago. Maybe the water department doesn’t know it is there, since it is lost in the woods.

This manmade water-work keeps a low profile, embraced by nature, hidden by nature and perhaps, gazing longingly at the river just past the trees. It was once a decorative container for water, a tamed and accessible version of water’s flow. Horses probably drank from it, hands and kerchiefs were dipped into it, flowers may have been floated on it, surely sunlight danced upon it. It represented a beautiful, soothing place for refreshment and rest, a reflection on the remarkable achievement of human ingenuity – a bridge between the river and the industrial management of harnessing nature.

Now nature has the last laugh as it slowly weaves its web over every surface.

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Filed under Culture, Life, Musings, Nature/Nurture, Philly-centric, Random, Small & Great

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