A Path Not Taken

By Jim McCloskey

As I read Robert Nonemaker’s article on the recommissioning of the Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens while uploading it to the WaterShapes web site, one comment he made stuck in my mind:  Seeing that fountain as a ten-year-old, he wrote, was one of his inspirations for becoming a watershaper.

I didn’t have that sort of uplifting aquatic experience as a child:  I learned to swim in a dreary, nondescript indoor pool and spent the rest of my swimming childhood in Santa Monica Bay.  To be sure, the Pacific Ocean was awesome and inspiring to the ten-year-old me, but witnessing its power never defined a career path for me.

I didn’t formally become involved with watershaping until I was already well engaged in my publishing career, which I’d begun in college at the age of 19.  I’d worked on a bunch of books and several magazines by the time I took the editor’s chair at Pool & Spa News a dozen years later, in 1987.  But I’d always had an eye for water and had seen and appreciated a lot of cool watershapes before any aquatic interest and my career collided.

By 1987, I’d already seen the Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle, and I even knew that another of Julia Morgan’s Hearst-funded pools was under plywood on the beach in Santa Monica.  I’d stared for hours at waterfalls in Yosemite, built tiny dams on streams to create warmer bathing pools in the San Gabriel Mountains and had a poster of San Francisco’s Sutro Baths on my office wall.

I’d been swimming in rivers and lakes all over California and Oregon by 1987 and had found my way into a pool or two in various hotels across the country.  As an amateur art historian, I’d made a study of fountains and what they say about the communities that built them.  This led me to a variety of fountain plazas in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York and other cities I visited on my travels – attractions not universally targeted by the typical sightseer.

Indeed, I’ve felt a compelling urge to be around water through all of my life, but no, there was never a moment where I felt grabbed by the shoulders and pushed onto an aquatic career path.  I have to say that I envy Bob his lifetime Longwood experience, and I can’t help wishing I’d been able to use what I’d seen through the years as the sort inspiration he found in sizing up the recommissioned Main Fountain Garden.

These thoughts have made me a bit wistful, but in truth I look back on 40-plus years in publishing with no regrets:  I know I’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people in a range of industries and professions, and I rest easy knowing I’ve made a difference.

***

About ten years ago, my wife Judy accompanied me to a trade show in Las Vegas, and it was my intention to take her to the Fountains of Bellagio so I could explain to her that its very existence was one of the reasons why I was so happy about publishing WaterShapes.  As luck would have it, however, the wind was high enough that evening that all shows had been cancelled – and so cold that we fled almost immediately.

The Basin of Bellagio is impressive, but that night it wasn’t particularly dramatic beyond the fact that the winds were kicking up some interesting ripples.  Long story short, weather conditions may have kept me from sharing my thoughts about watershaping with Judy that night, but now I’m hopeful that Longwood Gardens will give me another shot at it.

As it turns out, our youngest daughter is moving to Philadelphia this month and will be there for at least the next four years as an intern and medical resident at the University of Pennsylvania.  So Judy and I will be visiting from time to time, and I plan to take advantage of those multiple sojourns to visit Longwood Gardens a time or two.

If the depth, the raw profundity of the experience Bob describes in his article (click here) is any indication, I’ll get another shot at explaining my love of watershaping to my exceedingly patient spouse!

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