Posts Tagged ‘wetland’

“Our relation to nature is the correlate of our relation to ourselves.”

(from “Toward a Philosophy of Nature,” by Robert P. Harrison)

What makes me think of that is this,

Faces from the old Little River

the ruins of the old nightclub Faces, seen here across the back parking lot, from the wetland where the old channel of the Little River once ran. There are the ruins, with smashed records and random debris inside, and tables still upright, and chandeliers and a disco ball, and a mural of some vaguely Gauguin-like tropics with a waterfall cascading into a rippling pool. (At the time I wrote this post, photos of someone’s exploration of the interior were visible online.)

And in the other direction, away from Faces and Rt. 2, from more or less the same spot, on May 13, 2008, is this:

wetland, old Little River 5/13/08

old Little R. 5/13/08 #2

wetland, old Little R. 5/13/08 #3

It seems as though almost no one registers the existence of this beautiful open secret. Nature is hidden in plain sight, ignored. Those who drive by can’t see it from Rt. 2; if they notice anything, it’s the crumbling and graceless building and its pointless sign, FACES in giant capitals, signifying nothing. If that’s our usual relation to nature on this spot, what then is the correlate, our relation to ourselves? Distracted, blocked, we hurry past ourselves not noticing what we are.

Faces as it was, when it functioned, was there for that purpose, too, wasn’t it? To distract people from themselves?

And yet — it’s possible that our ignoring this area, thinking of it as invisible and worthless, has also helped it. Space and time were left for water, plants, creatures, and weather to do their thing. To some extent humans made this area what it is, by digging the current channel of the Little River and draining the marshes in a different way, but that was almost a century ago. Then what? Did someone design this landscape, or did it think itself up?

And could it be that in ignoring ourselves we have left room for something to develop, which one day we will be glad to notice?

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While visiting Vaughn’s mum, Doris, in Sun City Center, Florida, we went to Little Manatee River State Park, and it wouldn’t have been like me to miss this chance.

A wetland borders the river itself.

Close to where Doris lives, in a retirement community called Kings Point, an obscure waterway emerges from under Hwy. 674.

It crosses a fairly wide grassy area, is fed by a ditch or two as it crosses, then enters Kings Point proper.

Along the way a trickle flows in from a culvert, forming a small pool where the flow is blocked by some rocks. It’s full of tiny fish, making it seem as if nature has seized this opportunity to create a fish nursery. They are barely visible in the photo as specks against the yellow rock. (Click the image to see a larger version that you can zoom in on.)

There’s a wide place in the stream where the water circles and a tributary enters, from the far side in this photo.

What can’t quite be made out in the background is a small waterfall that I of course had to get closer to. I couldn’t reach it because of the thick brush — and by this time, I had tramped (in sandals) through plenty of tall weeds which seemed ideal for both snakes and poison ivy. But I did get this picture of the tributary flowing over the top of a concrete barrier.

Again, one wouldn’t think, looking at this unnamed quickly flowing stream, or at the Little Manatee River, that shortage of water is a critical issue in Florida — but it is. The aquifer is getting depleted, and maybe that accounts for the taste coming out of the tap, a flavor of minerals, salts, who knows. More and more developments are under construction, with lagoons and golf courses, practically every few miles one sees new clearing and building underway, but the water supply isn’t getting any larger. As the aquifer depletes, there is less and less pressure of fresh water to hold back the incursion of salt water from the ocean; if sea water infiltrates the aquifer it will at some point no longer be drinkable. These are simply facts.

There’s a lot of dry in Florida too. I didn’t photograph that.

People can’t help but focus on water. It is what shows, what stands out in the landscape and pulls us towards it. I’m no exception.

The aquifer does not show.

Perhaps I should stop taking pictures of water and photograph drought. But would anyone want to look at that?

Is this entertainment that I’m creating here?

What is the rhetoric of this performance? I question the effectiveness of repeating “Be alarmed,” but there is no technical fix for demanding more water than there is to be had. We Americans seem unable to recognize the approach of limits and adjust accordingly. I’m not going to repeat this again and again, but we’re cooking a recipe for trouble.

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Today I had an appointment at the Arlington Historical Society, where I was the beneficiary of generous help from Doreen Stevens. She had pulled out some old maps of Mill Brook in the second half of the 19th century, when it was still a series of mill ponds. Many of the former mill ponds are now playing fields; the brook, no longer performing an industrial function, flows past them or under them.

Doreen directed me to the place now known as Cooke’s Hollow (behind the police station), which was the location of the first grist mill in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, built in 1637. Nothing remains of that mill, but the drop here, where Mill Brook flows out from beneath Buzzell Field, occurs at the site of the original dam.

Cooke’s Hollow

Mill Brook then continues under Mystic St.,

Mill Brook under Mystic St.

between a parking lot and an old industrial building, now subdivided into offices,

Mill Brook downstream from Mystic St.

and enters Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.

Mill Brook enters the cemetery

Mill Brook in the cemetery 2

The cemetery extends to Lower Mystic Lake; near the lake, Mill Brook spreads out into a wetland (too true to its name for me to explore today) and then narrows again at the exit

Mill Brook leaves the wetland

where it pours through something like the remains of a dam or spillway:

Mill Brook spillway

I wonder if the town built these concrete installations with an eye toward beauty, if they thought ahead to when the concrete would be rounded by time and moss would grow on it.



Not that, in the end, it matters. They are what they are now,

Mill Brook nears Lower Mystic Lake

and so is this,

mouth of Mill Brook

the mark of human punctuation which ends Mill Brook.

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Outfall #CAM401A

Outfall Warning Sign

. . . is located beside the Alewife T station parking garage. This is another ideal spot for water and graffiti (nature + art?) to converge.

The Japanese aesthetic called wabi-sabi can be applied here.

“Wabi-sabi is ambivalent about separating beauty from non-beauty or ugliness. The beauty of wabi-sabi is, in one respect, the condition of coming to terms with what you consider ugly. Wabi-sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view.”

Alewife T graffiti 2

“Things wabi-sabi easily coexist with the rest of their environment.”

Alewife T graffiti 1

“Things wabi-sabi are appreciated only during direct contact and use.”

Alewife T graffiti 3

“Things wabi-sabi can appear coarse and unrefined.”

Alewife T graffiti 4

“They are made of materials that are visibly vulnerable to the effects of weathering and human treatment. They record the sun, wind, rain, heat, and cold in a language of discoloration, rust, tarnish, stain, warping, shrinking, shriveling, and cracking. Their nicks, chips, bruises, scars, dents, peeling, and other forms of attrition are a testament to histories of use and misuse.”

from Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, by Leonard Koren


Postscript — the familiar pink tape:

Alewife T Delineation

Before starting this project, when I thought “wetland,” this would not have been what I thought of. But that doesn’t stop it from being one. In principle, wetlands have the ability to purify water by biological means, so in a sense, if there must be a combined sewage outfall, maybe this is where it should go. Much better for there not to be one, of course.

[for more, see Pro. Pei #12]

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Little RiverWellington Brook, the subject of an earlier post, flows into the Little River after it crosses under the B&M tracks. I went along the north side of the Little River by bicycle, stopping to follow faint trails into the wetlands. We’ve had some rain since I was in this area last, but it wasn’t muddy, only moist. The first thing I saw, from a bridge, was turtles sunning themselves on a shopping cart lying on its side in the shallow middle of the river. Slightly downstream were some geese resting on one leg. The Little River is very silted up and the plant life in it is coated with a film of mud.

Muddy Plants in Little River


On one trail a now-familiar piece of faded tape confirmed where I was: Wetland Delineation.


Wetland Delineation, Little R.


I crossed a plank over a minor tributary

Tributary of Little R.

and kept going, eventually coming upon a sighting of the works of man from the wetland point of view.

from Little R. wetland

After a good deal of wandering around, I came to a development on Little Pond called Hill Estates. At the back of these unremarkable-looking brick townhouses is a lawn sloping down to the pond. It is guarded, if that’s the word, by plastic totemic animals that looked to me like oversize foxes. To keep the geese away? I don’t know.

Plastic Fox at Hill Estates



Plastic Fox and Spy Pond

In the lawn there is a pool which I would call vernal, if this were spring

Pool at Hill Estates

and it is protected by its own genius loci.

Wetland guarded by plastic fox

In the distance, two house cats got into a yowling contest.

Cats and plastic fox

The shadows extended toward evening, faithfully watched by the embodied spirit of the place.

Plastic fox at evening

What this says about man’s relationship with nature will bear some contemplation.

(For that, see Pro. Pei #11. )

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Return to Bangor Mall

Vaughn at workLuckily, I got Vaughn interested in going back up to Bangor to photograph the unexpected nature at the mall with her good equipment (she being a photographer and all). True, by the time we were almost there we started feeling guilty about all that optional driving with its attendant CO2 emissions, but it would have been pointless to turn around.

At about 7:00 on Sunday morning we had the place to ourselves.

This time I crossed the fence and waded into the tall weeds, down to the water’s edge.wetland below I-95 onramp

As I said elsewhere, beauty lurks on the boundary line. It turns out I wasn’t kidding myself. There is a great deal that is beautiful in this little valley surrounded by pavement and stores. It is hidden in plain sight. There’s no secret to finding it: just walk. Here is what strikes me more and more: it is a short walk to something beautiful, but this is a walk we usually don’t take.

These are some of my efforts from early Sunday morning.

cormorant + Wendy’s

looking toward I-95


within the grass

wetland below I-95 onramp

rocks in stream

culvert under Bangor Mall Blvd.

culvert 2

culvert 3


Pro. Pei does research

P.S. The stream has a name, and it isn’t Best Buy Creek. According to the USGS map, it’s really called Penjajawoc Stream.

(More in Pro. Pei #11)

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Wellington Brook emerges from a culvert under Brighton St., very near the Cambridge-Belmont line. It flows between two parking lots which I would define by saying the quilt shop is on one side, and Zeff’s Photo and Fresh Pond Animal Hospital are on the other.

Wellington Brook under Brighton St.


It flows into Blair Pond, where ducks and geese, seeing a person, believe they’re going to get fed.

Geese wanna get fed

But the geese don’t get fed by the visitor, so they head out to forage in what can only be called the environment.

Geese head out

Reverse angle: turn 180 degrees and there’s the pond:

reverse angle Blair Pond

Blair Pond flows out under the Boston & Maine Railroad tracks.

Blair Pond outflow


The geese, having poked in the weeds long enough, decide to head back.

Geese return to pond

On the opposite side of the railroad tracks, Wellington Brook exits its culvert. Wound around a vine is a piece of plastic tape that reads “WETLAND DELINEATION.”

RR exit with tape

[more in Pro. Pei & the H2O #9]

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Wetland at Bangor Mall

Fence and wetland, Bangor

See “Pro. Pei & the H2O #6” (in The Narrative) for much more about this place, and also the origin of this blog.

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Best Buy Creek

At the Bangor Mall, between Hampton Inn and Toys ‘R’ Us on one side, and Borders and Staples on the other, is a small valley that a creek flows into, feeding two ponds. The outflow runs into a culvert under I-95. According to a woman I ran into there, it was left this way for drainage. When the snows melt in the spring, it fills up. She also told me an otter lives there.best-buy-creek-sq.jpg

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Wetland at Bangor Mall

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