In July I hiked down the nearly dry granite stream bed of Mullen brook in Westport on Lake Champlain. I was intent on exploration while watching my step to avoid streams of water and tripping over loose rocks. The shaded stream flowed into a rugged ravine, once filled with water behind a dam which powered great grandpa Jim Stevenson’s saw mill. I remembered its mortise and tenon structure partially extended over the ravine on stilts and, once standing on the dam, the dizzying view of the ledges below. Today, I saw no evidence that the mill dam ever existed until ~ sensing something ominous directly above, I looked, and there, spanning the ravine, was an archless bridge.
According to 1916 entries in Jim’s business diary, he had increased the capacity of the dam by raising its height with four feet of reinforced concrete in order to extend the log sawing season which only occurred during Spring rains. Decades later, the older under-part of mortared stone, succumbed to a flash flood, leaving the upper part as an everlasting tribute to Jim’s engineering.
I paused where Jim, having slipped on November ice, had fallen from the top of the dam to instant death. He lay alone on the cold stone until his teenage daughter, Beatrice, went to find him when he did not show up for lunch. Born on Christmas day in 1846, great grandpa was a month shy of seventy-three.
I discovered small kettle holes near where Jim had lain ~ time capsules carved in the bedrock, centuries older than the mortared dam. Thrusting my hand into a bucket-sized, moss and mud-filled hole, I resurrected a black worker stone, a sparkling sphere like a winter sky full of stars.
Shall I return it to its eternal capsule or keep it in remembrance of great grandpa Jim?
Ira Smith © 2010