Dam Nation

It was probably OK for the environment? It wasn’t the worst. The kids, then four years old, had the wrought-iron fireplace tools (you question my judgment) and were using them to break up a rotting log at the edge of the forest. In rhythm with the falling of the poker, they chanted “This stump must GO!” The delicate mycelial structure of some fungus would be pulverized. Beetle grubs would die of exposure or bird-strike. But we’d sit by the fire; we’d have peace. Why don’t you work on that stump, we had said. I had requisitioned the intricate world of the rotting log for my comfort. I felt as furtive as the thief of fire from the gods.  Like the campfire at our feet and the log cabin behind us, the lake in front of us was man-made. Douthat State Park in the mountains of western Virginia was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the New Deal era. Founded in 1933 to employ unmarried men ages eighteen to twenty-five left idle by the Depression, the CCC built Virginia’s first six state parks, often from the recreational lake up. The dam that holds up the water at Douthat is a triangular prism of earth extended across the south end of the lake. A stone in the spillway says “1938.” You can still discern an ice-cream-scoop-shaped absence in the slope of the hills opposite the dam, where the crews got the earth. That dug-out cove became the swimming beach. Log cabins and hiking trails are tucked into the surrounding mountains. Every cabin has a grill and a firepit, a hearth and chimney of found local stone, and two rocking chairs on a stone porch. The lake itself is just as well-proportioned: on the south side, the dam and the beach; on

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