Carried away with water

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, August 2, 2014

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Several features of this earth have captured my imagination for as long as I can remember.

(A) Mountains.

(B) Trees.

(C) Water.

I assume that’s because I grew up in a place whose name means “The Table” in Spanish. We had:

(D) none of the above.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

The largest body of water in my county was the bathtub, but only on Saturday night. The highest hill was out on the baseball field (we called it the pitcher’s mound).

Trees? We had lots. My dad got them from the Soil Conservation Service, and we planted them all over the yard.

They grew well in that sandy loam. Within a few years, our house was surrounded by big trees, shaded from the summer sun, a haven for birds and little kids who liked to climb. I never understood why, once you stepped outside our yard, there weren’t more of them.

I did visit the mountains – probably more than most kids my age. Our family vacationed a time or two in New Mexico and Colorado, and when I got a little older, as a Boy Scout my troop camped in New Mexico.

Camp Tres Ritos gave me my first real experience with mountains, their size and silence imposing, frightening. There was an air of mystery and danger in snowy peaks that pierced the clouds, hidden valleys, sheer rock faces and steep cliffs.

There were streams at camp, too. I had crossed the Mississippi a few times and read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but those little mountain rivers were a lot more accessible.

The fact that they were ice-cold did not deter us. We walked them, fished them, cleared out sticks and built dams to create little pools – all the things we could not do back home.

On a map of my home county you can see the beginning of the Lower Colorado River that flows through Austin and to the Gulf of Mexico. But that mighty riverbed is just a memory on the landscape now – a “draw” that provides the only taste of topography between the Caprock escarpment and the mountains, hundreds of miles to the west.

If there’d been an actual river running there when I was a boy, I’d have been on it for sure, floating away to my own Huck Finn adventures.

As a grownup, I’ve climbed a few mountains, and I live under a bunch of big trees now. But running water still has the magical appeal of the unknown.

Researching this, I spent some time on the website of Fallingwater, the house Frank Lloyd Wright built for Pittsburg’s Kaufmann family in the 1930s in the Bear Run Nature Reserve in western Pennsylvania.

The house straddles a cascading waterfall. In every photo, you see these window-walled rooms and stone terraces cantilevered on the side of a mountain, and pouring out from beneath it all is a roaring stream. You can’t see it from the house, but you can hear it in every room.

Fallingwater is owned now by a trust, operated as a national historic landmark. Since it opened to tourists in 1964, 4.5 million people have trooped through it. You can also, for a healthy fee, go stay in the guest house, dine there, get private tours with the curator and wander the site without the crowd.

I think that just made my bucket list.

My father-in-law just finished building a little landscape waterfall beside his back door. I brought over a few stones and stacked them up, but he did the work – pump, power, support structure, water lines, plants and lighting.

Now he and my mother-in-law can sit out there and listen to the splashing sound of water. It’s not Fallingwater, but it’s highly therapeutic.

I note they used to live in Arizona.

I’m glad the trickle isn’t big enough for him to lash together a raft and float off on. There are plenty of sticks here, and it’s exactly the kind of thing he’d do.

There’s just something about water that calls out to a boy.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.

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