Tuesday, July 20, 2010


When I read Ira's piece, I am reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh words:

If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.

Discovery and Remembrance

by Ira Smith

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


  1. Ira, You've done it again! Loved this piece. You took me on this hot summer day to the cool river bed. I could feel the stillness and the sense of discovery. Your saw mill and rock images anchored me to the story. The river and the evolving story about your great grandfather moved it along, culminating in his tragic death, and the discovery of his body by his daughter. The story slows down at the end as the narrator lingers by the kettle hole - dark and deep with history. I love your description: "black worker stone, a sparkling sphere like a winter sky full of stars". I'm not entirely sold on the last sentence (a question) as I think it is implied - you can already feel the narrator's inner struggle, his dilemma. Wondering if maybe you could eliminate that last sentence and end with something like this: ". . . full of stars, a totem of sorts to pass on to my grandson". Not sure about this - but whatever you decide, it is a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.


  2. Hi Ira, What a beautiful description of place and family history. Am I correct, in your childhood you were able to stand on the dam? What a meaningful visit for you, a confirmation. About the worker stone - In the movie Harold and Maude - she throws his gift to her into the water saying "now I'll always know where it is." I'm kind of drawn to that. Remember Thoreau, he didn't bring the stone he admired home because he then would have to look after it. Beautiful writing, thank you. Sharon