the story of the dam and the lake

I remember the day we moved into the house where I grew up and where my parents still live. My grandparents drove us up there, through what I remember as the outer fringes of a hurricane that came to land.

When we arrived at the house, the first thing I did was to run to the creek I’d been told ran behind the house. It might have been raining, but I do remember the creek, which held a significant place in my childhood.

There was a bend in the creek and in the elbow of the bend, after every major storm, I would find an expanse of sand that called to me. I would go down to the creek and I would build a dam.

It’s an interesting thing to do, to build a dam of sand to block a running creek. The early stages were all undertaken with almost a sense of futility. I would move shovelfuls or buckets of sand, and it would seem that nothing was happening. The movement of the creek would flatten out the sand and the creek would seem to take no notice.

But I would persevere. The sand would gradually build up, and as I moved from the banks of the creek towards the middle, I would be able to give the dam some shape. I never took advantage of the obvious cheat, of filling empty gallon milk jugs with water and using them as part of the structure of the dam.

But as I kept moving the sand, the dam would take shape and the creek would eventually take proper notice.

Once the creek had been stopped, it became a race. I would continue to move sand, bolstering the dam, making it a bit higher and a bit thicker.

But eventually, the inevitability of the creek would win out. The creek would continue to flow and to build behind the dam, and all the dam could do is to stand and try to resist the pressure growing behind it.

There would always come a moment when the dam seemed secure and the small lake behind the dam gleamed beautifully, the sun through the leaves playing on its flat clean surface.

But then would come the moment, that first moment when the lake wins its battle against the dam. A thin trickle of water would make its way over the top of the dam, and despite a bucket or two of sand, the dam would continue its assault and at some point, the dam would concede.

The thin trickle would breach the dam and turn into a torrent, and then the lake would revel in its return to motion. Creeks are not by their nature stationary beasts. They run and they mean to run, and while they can be held in check for a short time, their nature will out.

I’m sure there’s an analogy that can be made with this story of the creek and the dam. As a first part of the 2019 reading project, I’m currently reading Babylonian wisdom literature, and that literature includes conversations between unlikely pairs, and I think the fable of the creek and the dam might be one that they would have considered.

I feel this sometimes, that I am the dam and there is a lake building behind me, and I do wonder sometimes, what will be that first signal that the dam is no longer capable of holding back the lake, and will I be able to step aside and let the lake return to being the stream.

~ by Jim Anderson on 27 October 2019.

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