Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Optimysticals (3) – When’s a lake a puddle, or a pool a pond?

Optimysticals (3) – When's a lake a puddle, or a pool a pond?

Torrey Orton
August 12, 2009

Walking through an Australian woods we passed by Shaws Lake lodged in the slope of a hill by design. It is a miner's fabrication from the gold rush days with a newly built rotunda of Parks Vic origin (so said a metal plaque embedded in stone with the then (2004) Minister for things parky – John Brumby. And, lots of new parking. The sign had said Shaws Lake and Sweets Lookout this way, so we went.    

The lake was a bit shallow from 13 rainshort seasons, though the nearby Lerderderg River was in a small freshet of activity compared to our last visit two months ago when almost nothing was running but dust devils. The lake was really a pond from my originally New England perspective in which a lake had to be more than a few hectares of open water to qualify for the label. None of us had ever heard of a Lake like Eyre or Mungo.

In my part of Massachusetts there were dozens of ponds of about two hectares surface, roundish and often quite deep - 10 or 20 meters. These were leftovers from glaciation (kettle holes) I think, with names like Massapoag, Little Spec(tacle), Big Spec, etc. These names are so common that Google brings up four or five within 100 Ks. radius of the ones I knew. Sixty years ago we had the foretaste of a summer place (dock and unpaved driveway, no sleepout or cabin) on one of the Specs. I remember it to have had a sandy bottom under the centuries of leaf litter. And I notice that 'spectacle' has two disclosures to offer: the glasses through which to see them and the shape in which they are seen, though neither are often spectacular. The blueberries growing in 3 meter high bushes along the banks in July were spectacular.

The natural lakes were grand things like Winnipesaukee, also glacier gouged from ancient rock. There are a few of these in Western Victoria, but not glacial relics. More marine ones. Many other lakes were pretenders like Dickinson's Lake in my home town – actually dams for water storage in a land of 36 inches annual rain fall spread evenly (it seemed) over the year.

I imagine the naming of ponds or great salt pans as lakes, and of streams as rivers arose from both the difficulty people (the early settlers) have seeing the world in other than their habituated perceptual terms. To this habit may have been attached a need for them to be that original memory (which in hindsight makes them an optimystical of unconscious origin).

Someone pointed out that the early landscape painters had trouble getting the colours and densities of the bush right, often making it too dense and green. Some Japanese watercolours of foreigners at various points in the Floating World prints from the early to mid 1800's share this characteristic. While showing that seeing (and other senses?) is learned, this fact also offers another take on our propensity for seeing positives where negatives abound.

In this case, optimism is a touchingly indiscrete attitude but not damaging since Australian geographic reality has shrunk the words to fit its shapes and contents. Except, as always in Oz, except that some of these watercourses are ferocious every 10 or 20 years, as the Lerderderg exemplifies with its piles of uprooted brush and trees lodged high up its sides by deluge driven floods. This is the underside, the pessimystical, of Australian bush lore with its fellows bushfires and droughts.


* an optimystical is a purveyor of hopes I wished someone would purvey once I heard/understood they were doing it. It is often a counter-intuitive, maybe ironic, communication.

1 comment:

  1. I recall Little Spec most frequently for its lilly pads. Swimming a bit off to the right from the dock, you entered a zone of lilly pads. Here you put your body under the water with just your eyes and nose sticking up amidst the lilies. This way you could watch the dragon flies darting about.