Nymphs and Naiads

Ralph Hansen, now head of the well drilling company Well-Do founded by his father Ralph Sr. (who died last year), tested a well of ours last week on an undeveloped property on Koenigstein. The previous weekend, Sarah Munster had pronounced that it would produce eleven and a half gallons a minute, after communing with the earth spirits through a crystal pendulum (The Land Speaks for Itself). The likeliest spirit, if there was one, would have been a Naiad - at least according to the Greek taxonomy of lesser divinities.

Nymphs of fresh water, whether of rivers, lakes, creeks, or wells, are known generically as Naiads. They preside over springs and are believed to inspire those who drink the waters, and the Naiads themselves are thought to be endowed with prophetic powers, and to inspire humans with the same. Our image of them often derives from the sentimental paintings of the Pre-raphaelites, and in my mind at least, are best depicted in John William Waterhouse' - Hylas and the Nymphs (1896). When not whispering to lovesick swains (viz. Hylas) or frantically trying to calculate well flow rates - all the while converting liters to gallons - they join with other gods, such as Pan, Dionysis, Hermes and their attendant Satyrs in Arcadian frolics.

I was delighted to see when I visited the well mid-test, that clear water was being pumped out at a rate of twenty gallons per minute, and to discover that it tasted pretty good. It was also warm - which should have been a dead-giveaway. As Ralph later explained we were drawing down the well at a rate of knots; from an original water height of seventeen feet below the ground surface it sunk after the test to 80 feet below with no signs of recovery. In short, we were pumping out the water that had seeped into the well over the ten years since it had been dug, and after several wet winters - which is why it was warm: it had been sitting at or near the surface for many moons. The cool clear water from the icy depths of the aquifer was not being accessed. Ralph is certain that somewhere down in the depths of Koenigstein is a sandstone aquifer producing cold, Fiji quality water in copious quantities. This certainty will not assuage the County however; from their perspective, this well is a dud.

While Sarah was trolling the land evaluating potential building sites, Les Toth, who owns another undeveloped hilltop parcel across the road, pulled up to our site on his ATV. I went over to talk to him and explained what we were up to. When I mentioned that Sarah was a dowser he told me of his experience with a piece of land he owned in New Mexico where for a case of beer and fifty bucks a local Native American had dowsed his land and located water - where Les went on to drill a well. But Les is an engineer so while this experience made him a believer in dowsing he wasn't about to embrace the full implications of Sarah as Geomancer and I said not a word about the Naiads.

There is much spring water in the area. It feeds Bear Creek and augments Sisar. Inevitably, both streams are swelled by rain and snow melt. The late winter rains from a month ago made Sisar impassable immediately above the park entrance on Sisar Road except by those willing to get their feet wet like your intrepid correspondent. When my friend Gar and I walked up Bear Canyon last week we returned down the creek (White-Out) which was still flowing well and was almost entirely above ground. Here, just below its spring source, the creek is still inclined to dip beneath the earth for a spell and reappear to continue rippling over the surface rocks. By the time it reaches Margot's property its reticence is such that its appearances above ground are to be remarked upon. The water is refreshingly cold, but not achingly so. Last winter, in a scramble along a tributary to Bear Creek, I fell flat on my back into a foot or two of water. The experience was at once shocking, humiliating and exhilarating.

Sisar Creek flows along the east side of the I50 as it dips down to Thomas Aquinas and is in view of the new 3 story studio building dba has designed for the film-maker Ethan Higbee on his property behind the Painted Pony, the small-holding and petting zoo. I went by the site on Easter Friday and the framer told me he had had a paddle in the stream at lunch time and had seen trout.

As you move down the canyon towards the confluence of the Sisar and the Santa Paula creeks, it becomes increasingly obvious why this area is called Sulphur Springs; driving out of the canyon beyond the school, the undeniable smell of sulphur assails you. Between the oil, the gas, and the elemental stew of sulphur, radon, boron, arsenic and iron the well-water hereabouts is often compromised. The creek water contains many of the same chemical elements but is also contanimated with discharges of brine from abandoned oilfields, DDT and PCBs and the newer insecticide Diazinon, which is particularly hazardous to fish and birds. But the view from Ethan's new studio is magical, a bend in the creek dappled with willows and alders; where the shallow water moves quickly over rocks and looks edenically pure.

My first memory of fresh water is being taught by my father how to cup my hands and drink from a leaking dam wall at Frensham Little Pond where my family lived when I was four. My father was repairing the leak in the dam (which was originally built in 1246 at the instruction of the Bishop of Winchester). Memories of that time include catching perch off the end of the dock and my mother cooking them for breakfast.

The Steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is a local variety of the rainbow trout and a finer eating fish than perch, but while the perch could be had with the simple expedient of dropping a line in the pond with a bead of bread on the hook, the trout in Sisar creek are few and those few are protected by Fish and Game. They were observed in many Sisar creek sites in 2005 and in 2011 by Adam, the framer at the Higbee's place. I have not seen them, and am unlikely to while my major interaction with the creek is splashing through it in winter or rock hopping over it in summer.

If I gaze wistfully into its waters like Hylar, my odds are probably greater of seeing the trout than those freshly pubescent nymphs, but at this point, I'm not sure which sighting would be the more thrilling.