Friday, February 6, 2009

The Reservoir

Our farmhouse got it's water from a reservoir, a big hole excavated on the side of the mountain, not too far up behind our house. A spring fed into it from further up the mountain, filling it to within a few feet of the top, and the water fed through pipes down the hill to the house.
The hole was covered with a large sheet of tin and marked so that hunters wouldn't step onto the thin metal and go through, into the numbing, cold spring water.
Each Fall, Grampa would go up the side of the mountain, to check the reservoir. I dearly loved to go with him, as the reservoir was enchanting to me. The walk was fun, through the crunching brown leaves, holding my grampa's hand. We picked wintergreen berries from their little stems near the ground and popped them into our mouths. Grampa brought a basket, and occassionally we'd find a clump of new brown mushrooms. He'd cut them off leaving the roots in the ground then lower them gently into the basket. Later, Gramma would fix them for supper. But knowing what might be at the reservoir was what inspired my little legs to grapple with the climb through the woods.
Fall's abundance of leaves usually covered the metal over the reservoir. We'd sweep the leaves off with an old broom and Grampa would slide the cover off. I kept my eyes on the opening as the metal scraped across rocks and was thrown off to one side. Occasionally, some critter would be near the edge of the pool, lying just under the cover, unaware that his cool, dark hiding place would soon be revealed. Many times I would be priveleged to see animals, snakes and lizards that I ordinarily never saw. They would quickly scoot into the water or tunnel under a drift of leaves and rocks---gone for the time being.
I sat on the edge of the deep, dark reservoir as my grampa used a big net to pull a thin layer of leaves off the top of the water. Somehow, they'd managed to filter down and under the sheet cover.
The water in the reservoir was deep and still. The deeper it went down, the darker it became, but it was crystal clear to the bottom. I remember looking into the depths and being amazed that I saw no fish in such a perfect place for fish.
But there were other things I loved in this place. Moss---the greenest moss I ever saw---grew just inside the upper edge of the hole. Against that moss, bright as jewels on emerald velvet, lay one of my favorite creatures: a red spotted newt. Small and sleepy-eyed, it crouched in a swirled ball within the moss. As the metal moved off and the sun hit it's little orange body, it slowly uncurled and began moving off into the leaves. I'd seen dozens of these newts in my young life, but it was always a fresh delight to pick up the delicate little thing, examine it very, very close to my face, and then put it back into it's place.
Once all the living things had fled from the water, I lost interest and began exploring the stone row that ran down and away from the reservoir. Old stone rows threaded their way here and there all over the mountain. Natural field stone had been piled into rows and used for fences by long-ago farmers on this mountain. Broken down now by weathering and time, their wandering lines were still visible in many places. I loved to sit on the rocks, quietly and slowly lifting each one to see what crept beneath. Many times, another orange newt. Sometimes a large brown lizard. Most of the time simply roly-polys. But the anticipation of what could be under the next rock, always kept me busy until Grampa whistled and it was time to pick up the mushroom basket and head on down the mountain. By the time we'd reached the house, ruddy cheeked and out of breath from laughing and kicking through leaves, we had a basketful of goodies for Gramma. Brown mushrooms, a perfectly formed abandoned bird nest the wind had whipped out of a tree, a great handful of wintergreen leaves, some buckberries, and a few twigs of Sasafrass. We were always happy to trade it for big bowls of hot soup she always seemed to have ready when we appeared from the woods.