December 19th, 2009 - The Pump


I came across this photo of me and Happy the Dog the other day while looking for something else, and liked it enough to crop it down and make a Facebook profile pic out of it.
It was from a self-timer shot taken on November 7th, 2006, during a dog walk along what we in the neighborhood call "The Lagoon", which is sort of a pond of slow water on the last bend of Minnehaha Creek, before it is broken up by a man-made weir and heads under Hiawatha Avenue to make the 53 foot drop over Minnehaha Falls.
Some years it's a mucky slough, and other years it's a pretty clear dark pool with some fairly deep holes. It's great skating in the winter after the first good freeze and before the snow cover moves in.
I really pushed the envelope one year and had a spider-webbing of cracks coming out from beneath my skates as I trusted it a little too early and had to quickly head for the shallow edges where the ice was thicker. It was so thin down the middle but the ice was so 'elastic', that you could actually see the surface becoming a bowl shape from my weight. Ice is a weird thing.
It's actually more complicated than just being a "thing", it's more like a constantly changing amorphous entity.
Er, something.
I've also seen mink running across the creek while skating there.
Anyway, I thought Happy had a great expression in the photo. My friend Lena commented, "I can't decide if Happy is happy in this photo, or grinning maniacally while plotting our destruction..."
I said that I thought that it was because the self-timer was beeping and Happy was immersed within his dog-walking domain, and was assuming a "you had better let me kill that thing for you before it gets us" mindset.
My friend Gabi Sloth said that Happy had the "Mona Lisa Syndrome" in the photo. Heh.
Another friend, Trish, said she liked the pic. I didn't think it was anything too epic, but it got me thinking about the particular spot where it was taken. It is a spot with some very interesting cultural and local history.
The full-size image looks like this:


This particular part of the Lagoon we call "The Pump."
You can sort of see the top of the rusty, five-foot-high pump mechanism to the right of Happy's butt, near the edge of the brick abutment.
The whole purpose behind the place is a little bizarre by today's standards, but I guess it wasn't in 1925 when it was installed.
The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board's historical documents describe it this way: "The flow of Minnehaha Falls was not entrusted to natural forces. In 1925, a 731-foot-deep well was dug in Longfellow Gardens “to maintain the small, picturesque lakelet” (The Lagoon) and to “serve as a reserve reservoir for Minnehaha Falls.” I think it only was in operation for a handful of years.
"The well was not, however, able to meet the challenge presented by long, dry summers. Water was sometimes diverted from Bassett’s Creek into the 'Chain of Lakes' to help prime the falls, but occasionally more dramatic interventions were occasionally required. In 1964, the park board reported that “we had to supply water from City water mains (by opening fire hydrants upstream) to make a 'display of the falls' for the Svenskarnas Dag celebration held at Minnehaha Park at which gathering President L. B. Johnson was the guest speaker...”
The Falls must go on.


This is a view of the lagoon from the east side, looking west from the weir (I'm actually standing on the narrow four-foot high concrete wall that channels the water down into the weir, and hanging on to the chain-link fence with a few fingers from one hand while holding the camera and bracing with my telekinetic powers).
The pump would be located to the right of that golden brown area of reeds towards the center-right, sort of tucked into a tiny inlet.
As I've said, the iron pump stanchion and brick platform are still there, and are what Happy and I are sitting on in the photo.


Inside 'the pump' itself.
The armature and parts for a motor powerful enough to draw water up from 731 feet below the ground are still there. I can't imagine how that electric bill would fly nowadays, even if we could get over the environmental aspects of pumping perfectly good drinking water into a creek that is on Minnesota's Impaired Waters list for no reason other than to have a pretty waterfall.
As you can see in the first photo, the place has all kinds of weird rock that must have been brought in from other places, as it just doesn't look native, or even really match the other rock.
There are large volcanic boulders and some granite and marble-looking stones, not to mention the decaying red-brick that makes up the platform itself. I'll go out on a limb and guess that was probably produced from one of the nearby brickyards, as Minneapolis and Saint Paul had flourishing brick industries during the 19th and 20th centuries.

There is also a huge (albeit unwieldy-looking) Catalpa tree that blooms with super perfume and crazy flowers for about a week during the late spring and early summer.
It is beginning to head for the creek with a "Leaning Tower of Pisa" effect and I won't be surprised when one of these days it takes the plunge.
I will make my best effort to salvage the wood for my friend and woodworker Buthidae however.
Even the cut wood itself carries the sweet perfume.


The Leaning Tower of Treesa.

I dread that day, if indeed I do see it in my lifetime. It's a beautiful tree. To me, anyway.

I'm sure others would say that it's non-native and pretty scrubby-looking when it's not blooming.


But at times in the summer, if you sit on the pump block and just focus on that one tree, you can imagine yourself in some place like Louisiana, with the humidity, the sweet perfume, the wind blowing its frilly blossoms into the lagoon, and the broad green leaves catching the sun.
When it isn't blooming, it's working on twisting out some strange, often asterisk-shaped seedpods. Some dry out before the winter without loosing their seeds and shake like tiny baby-rattles in the cold winter winds.

Many are quite bizarre.
Some are like nearly straight record-breaking peapod-like shoots almost a foot long, others are these circled masses, curled corkscrews and helices, yellow moons, pink hearts, orange stars, and green clovers.
Um, well, half-moons anyway.


They definitely are off in their own universe though, orbiting themselves, clutching branches of spiral galaxies, that sort of thing.

There are some other older trees near the pump site that have long since gone down and become part of the ground cover. Moss, lichens, and fungus abound, and on dark nights I have witnessed some of it glowing under my ultraviolet light.
During the winter a few years ago we actually had a single resident deer living near the pump for about a month. I was shocked to see her munching away on the grass early one morning when HapDog and I were walking down there, and she was equally shocked to see me and HapDog up so close. She got up, doubled-back in a long circle as we moved on, and came back into her spot behind us. This is a spot not more than 200 yards from busy streets on three sides. She of course had picked the most isolated spot with the most tall grass and cover. Then one day, she was gone.
That is a very short history of 'The Pump.' I suspect there are many more spots like this in everyone's neighborhood, maybe not always quite as natural or wooded, but full of history and with their own little biographies.
It's up to us to find them out.

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