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I see nature's reservoir of forgiveness

In autumn and winter one year on the Girl Scout ranch we took care of in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado, men measured and marked the earth by Lone Pine Creek. Then they brought machines that roared, growled, and dug out a half-acre. The workers lined the new reservoir with impermeable clay, covered the clay with topsoil, loaded up their machines, and drove away.

Twice in early spring, we postponed planting the reservoir because the ground was frozen, and snow covered the frozen ground. Then one sunny Saturday morning, Girl Scouts and their leaders drove up the mountain.

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Small girls, larger girls, women, and two men, we planted wetland plants and seeds in and around the reservoir. We gathered together in sunshine, scraped off mud, and ate lunch at picnic tables in tent site No. 2.

Then scouts and leaders hiked up the ranch while I took care of details in and around the reservoir. Before sunset, they walked down the meadow trail, got into their vehicles, and returned to the city.

To satisfy state laws regulating water use, the Girl Scouts, owners of this ranch, will run water from this reservoir into the creek when the water level gets low during the summer. This is to make up for the water used by the camp throughout the year.

At the headworks, I spanned the banks with a long pole, placed posts from the pole down to the front of the concrete apron set into the bottom of the stream, and spanned the posts with boards. The water in the creek rose, and some of it flowed into the reservoir. I checked the slowly filling reservoir and the headworks every day.

Spring storms brought new snow. Sunshine and warm days melted some of the snow. More snow drifted down from dark clouds above us. Snow melted on the mountain and ran into the stream. Water in the stream ran faster and higher between the stream's banks.

I walked toward the reservoir across snow a foot deep. I broke through the crust with nearly every step, an energy-consuming way to walk. I stopped and rested often. I looked at the mountain, at dramatic ridges of granite rising toward the sky on both sides of me. It was white where falling snow had found lodging. Gray, green, black, and all the colors of lichen grew on granite where snow fell away toward level ground.

Forest and grasses grew from all available soil between giant stones. Lone Pine Creek flowed past me, past our two lodges and three tent sites, and across the open meadow.

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Sun shone into the warming day. Here, a hundred yards into my journey, an owl had swooped silently down just after midnight and taken a vole or a mouse. The owl's wings had marked the snow, which had stopped falling about midnight and frozen too hard to receive more impressions by 2 or 3 in the morning.

Already, bluebirds had returned from southern vacations. They courted on rapid wings in the sunshine above the snow. Downy woodpeckers ran up and down pine trees.

The creek didn't run as high as my mid-thigh rubber boots. A walk in the water might have been easier than walking on snow that constantly gave way. Willow bushes claimed the creek, but I ducked down, lifted these limbs out of my way, and walked up the flowing current around four bends in the creek.

I climbed out of the stream and up the reservoir bank, checked the water level in the reservoir, and made sure everything was as it should be.

Then I started back, walking downstream. Icy water rushed by me, drawing heat out through wool socks and rubber boots.

When the reservoir was full, the dam had to come out. I worked carefully. Every board was a potentially deadly force, with a fast current and hundreds of pounds of water pushing it. I pried boards clear of the water with a steel bar and threw them up onto the bank.

Spring rain poured down for part of several days and washed the last snow into the creek. I walked the streamside bank of the reservoir to see what effect high water in a terrific rush to leave the mountain had. The rip-rapped bank held well.

Two great blue herons flew up from the creek, downstream from me, and landed in the tops of pine trees. Small limbs supported the large birds.

Their long necks curved into living question marks silhouetted pale blue against the gray, cloudy sky. I was thinking about the question, "Will this rude gouge in the earth blend into the earth?"

I walked by willow bushes spreading lush green leaves into spring, and when I walked to where I could see the two pine trees again, the great blue herons had flown.

Two Wilson's snipes flew close above the water, over the reservoir's bank and down into wet, concealing grass. A killdeer ran along the bank, just above water level. The wetlands plants the Scouts had dug into the mud, underwater now, were growing toward the sky. Grass seed had sprouted on the banks. New green blades livened the spring day.

Animals and plants forgave the loud, ripping machinery and accepted the new banks, the carefully placed earth, the water.

So did I. My memory of noise and disruption faded. Herons accepted the new reservoir. Snipes and killdeers did, too. Coyotes left tracks in the raw earth of the new banks. Two mallard ducks flew above the creek, turned, braked with their wings, and settled onto the reservoir's surface. Ripples spread in circles toward the shores.

The reservoir began to blend in with the surrounding wetlands. Water sang in the rapidly running stream. Wind blew across last year's bleached grasses and the first green grasses of spring. Birds sang. These sounds of spring lingered in our small mountain valley.


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