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  • "Don't build no heathen temples where the Lord has done laid his hand.
    There's a well on the hill, let it be."...James Taylor

    All is not well on the hill - the Broad Mountain - once home to nothing but the wonders of nature. Now home to prisons, power plants, industrial parks, ghastly sodium lights, an interstate highway and a shopping mall...but there are still big, beautiful bodies of cool, clear water.

    One of those is about to change. Actually, it has already begun. Amazing and awesome and frightful how much havoc a giant bulldozer can wreak in just one day. Old growth trees toppled, a broad swath of something resembling evil incarnate cut through the forest. And they have just begun.

    That big old reservoir has a real name, but I can't recall it right now, and nobody calls it by that name anyway. It's always been "The Muddy."

    Like most reservoirs in our neck of the woods we call "Pennsyltucky," it was built by the W.P.A. in the 1930's. Lined by huge slabs of mountain stone, chiseled by hand and stacked by coal miners put out of their jobs by The Great Depression. It may not be an engineering marvel, but it is a testament to the power of hard work and hard workers. It would have stood just about forever if only they would let it be.

    One of my earliest memories is my dad taking me up there some fifty years ago, when it was still all wilderness and wonder. It's always been a gathering place, a palace of pleasures for the poor folk of the coal region. My dad and I would go up there after his shift in the mines. He would visit with his brother, my Uncle Tony, and their friends, who would meet there to cool off in the deep shade and mountain breeze. They would often set up a folding table and play cards while I explored the woods and swam the crystalline dam.

    Ah, so that's where my love of swimming began. I remember climbing the stone pump house that sat on top of "the block," the big mound of stones that separated the dam from the spillway. Diving into the water so clear you could see all the fish and frogs, lizards and snakes and snapping turtles, minnows and tadpoles swirling around like an aquatic ballet.

    I relish the rush of cool water through my hair onto and into every pore of my overheated head, then every inch of my skinny-dipping body as it sinks beneath the surface. The pinks and purples of sunset in the sky, reflected in the water, wavering now and then on ripples of wind. The trance-like state of repetitive breath and motion, not meaningfully measured but naturally in equilibrium, as I float effortlessly along the breadth of the dam. Rolling onto my back, gazing into the twilight, entertained by the swooping and swerving of bats all above and around me.

    Now that's getting back to nature. That's being a part of nature.

    But now the uglification of the reservoir is underway. I'm told it all has to do with some lousy dams of silt and sand down south that gave way, driving regulators to demand "reinforcement" of dissimilar dams across the land. The Muddy will be drained and its beautiful stone slabs smothered in concrete and wrapped in chain link fence. The encroaching woods will be cut away, never to return. The reservoir itself will be back in some form, but never true to its original nature.

    Meanwhile, I will continue to swim there until the water is too low and thin to support my weight. Then I will move on. There are other big bodies of water on that mountain, and plenty of sweet spots and secret swims up my sleeve when I get down to only waist deep in the big Muddy.

    Photo: "Muddy by Moonlight" by William Savitsky
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