Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Things the Millpond Taught Me

I spent my formative years growing up along the shore of the Fenton Millpond. Although I didn’t appreciate it then, that millpond taught me a lot about life.

It taught me about patience and about nature. My lifelong love of dragonflies and damselflies can be traced to my hours watching them dart along the shore and over the still water. Their fragile multicolored beauty taught me that a slow silent contemplation of ones surroundings can often be one of the best ways to learn.

I also spent many hours rowing upstream in our sky-blue rowboat, gliding gently above the silent lily pads and duckweed. I spent many a summer's day going ashore and exploring what then were glorious open fields and undisturbed wetlands. And which are now condos and subdivisions. (Although an atheist, I sometimes fantasize that the damage some of these homes sustained in the recent Fenton tornado was a sort of divine retribution for ruining such a beautiful place.)

It was on one such rowing excursion during the 1970’s I learned that people in power don’t always tell the truth. Some in the local government swore there was no raw sewage being emptied into the Fenton Millpond. One year, however, they lowered the water level to do work on the East street bridge. This exposed a drainage pipe at the end of Lemen Street– only visible from the middle of the lowered pond – from which a mixture of foul-smelling goop and soggy toilet paper were being discharged. So if I now sometimes take the word of civic leaders with a less-than-trusting attitude, perhaps this incident will explain why.

But, to me, perhaps the most valuable lesson the millpond taught me was about the value of stirring things up and the dangers of stagnation. The parts of the river upstream where the water flowed freely and was agitated by rocks and bends in the channel were clear and healthy. The lower parts of the millpond, however, where the water sat undisturbed, soon became clogged by weeds which then died from lack of oxygen and resulted in a stagnant, smelly quagmire. The lesson I got out of it was that sometimes things HAVE to be stirred up in order to keep them alive and thriving. Stopping agitation leads to stagnation. And stagnation leads to death.

This applies, I think, not only to the millpond, but also to society and to life itself. It is for that reason I tend to sympathize with society’s hell raisers. I don’t view them, as some people do, as troublemakers, but rather as people who are providing the vital and necessary service of “stirring up the waters” and keeping our world from becoming too stagnant. They are, in short, the very ones who are making our culture flow and are keeping society alive.

Those who complain about people who are constantly “making waves” should realize that those very waves are what we need to keep our cities and towns active and invigorated.

So make waves. Stir things up. Raise a bit of hell for a good cause. It will make our world better. It will keep us thriving. I know it’s true. The millpond told me so.

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