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Speedwell Forge: the magical disappearing lake

Speedwell Forge, 1994

I returned from Indonesia in the summer of 1994, and spent a lonely year in an unlikely place: Lititz, Pennsylvania. That I would find myself in Pennsyvlania was unexpected, but this quiet corner of Amish Country was lovely and enchanting. It was Speedwell Forge, an artificial lake built in the 1960s and the well-loved fishing hole of a generation of Central Pennsylvanians. More than once I canoed around its perimeter, scouring its surrounding hillsides for signs of deer and searching in the wetlands for Heron and Ibis. This is one of very few pictures I took that year, but I recall it fondly: early fall in the treetops, and the glassy water's surface.

map of speedwell forge

I returned from time to time, in 2006 perhaps, and again in 2012. This time I was stunned to see my lake had disappeared. Turns out the dam was on a priority list for repair and structural reinforcement, but received no attention before a series of storms caused it to buckle. The authorities were forced to execute an expedited draw-down, and anglers from across Lancaster County were encouraged to come pull out what fish remained. By the time I saw it, the lake bottom had (again) become a meadow, with the barest of trickles in the stream bed. Speedwell Forge, 2012

In evolutionary terms, it was just a flash in the pan: from meadow it came and to meadow it returned. And perhaps it will return once more as a lake: I saw "Save Speedwell Forge" signs cross out with the word "Saved" So perhaps the community and the government have come together and prioritized the funds necessary to put the dam back on its feet.

There's a lesson in memories there: here today, gone tomorrow, as the water flows unabated by time on its inexorable journey downstream. There's no use trying to hang on, and so I don't.


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