Nothing But Net

By Jim McCloskey

In summers long past, I’d come home from work, get into my swimming trunks, grab the newspaper and a cooling beverage and head for the pool.

On some days, I was left on my own for an hour’s worth of drifting on my big float, not a care in the world.  Before putting the cover back on the pool, I’d swim a couple dozen short laps and tend to any pool-related chores that needed doing.

On other days, I’d be joined in the pool by one, two or all three of my daughters.  There were two rules:  If I was still reading, they knew not to splash the newspaper.  And if any liquid remained in my plastic glass, there was a strict non-dilution-with-pool-water policy in effect.  In years of experience, I recall maybe one or two occasions (out of several thousand) where the newspaper stayed dry and my beverage untrammeled and I didn’t end up in the water with a child or two hanging on my shoulders.

Our nest has been empty for many years now, and my after-work routines are much different.  It’s been a long time, for starters, since I floated on the surface of our sun-drenched pool at any hour of the day.  All it took was my dermatologist asking me to keep basking because he wanted a new deck on the mountain home he assured me I’d helped him acquire and improve through the years.

I still swim when the sun’s not on the pool and probably use our spa more than ever.  And now that we have grandchildren, I’m getting nostalgic for the sensation of precarious buoyancy and for the joys of being around children at play.

To improve my lot in life (while protecting my skin), I’ve largely replaced floating on the water with gently swinging in a hammock a few feet away from the pool.  It’s not the same by any means, but it became more agreeable a year ago, when I finally set up our birdbath/fountain just off the deck:  The sound of moving water transports me back to days when my daughters’ furtive splashing was so often a part of my summer-afternoon experience.

Paler but a bit wiser, I am content – and I know I’m not alone in feeling better simply because there’s water nearby.

***

I speak with watershapers all the time, interviewing them about projects or hearing what they think about work they’ve seen on the WaterShapes.com site.  Whether they focus on pools, ponds, fountains or any other form of waterfeature, I almost always end up asking one of two questions:  What do your clients think about what you’ve done? Or, If you were the client, what would you think?   

In the former cases, the answers are universally positive, basically because we wouldn’t be talking about a given project for WaterShapes if the results hadn’t been pretty special.  In the latter conversations, the answers can get pretty interesting because few hold back when they see missed opportunities or what might be considered errors in design or execution.

I take responses from both angles with grains of salt, of course, because I know from the personal experiences I recounted above the asterisks that “client satisfaction” and its motivations are moving, evolving targets.  I also recognize the pride-driven biases of those with whom I’m speaking.  So while I know neither question gives me truly solid information, all of the responses have long infiltrated and informed the way I look for and evaluate projects to be published through WaterShapes.

Naturally, my own failings sometimes get in the way of my objectivity.  Back when WaterShapes was a printed magazine, a designer called to ask me why we’d selected a certain project for publication, letting me know pretty quickly that she wasn’t exactly pleased with our choice because it violated what she saw as basic principles of design.

I had to agree with her.  I knew from my conversations with the builder that he had responded both to site limitations and some specific requests from the homeowners in organizing the space.  That specific information hadn’t been included in the story – and, to nobody’s surprise, sharing it with the designer on the phone wasn’t enough to make her happy.

But again, she was correct and I’d let my familiarity with the builder and his process blind me to the fact that the project probably shouldn’t have made it into WaterShapes.  I learned from that experience, believe me, and I think I’ve done well ever since in holding projects we publish to high standards for design, engineering and construction – and have learned to set aside “mitigating circumstances” in the selection process.

As an ex-basketball player, I like to say that we shoot a really high free-throw percentage.  And that’s the way you seem to like it.

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