Low Head, Damn

There you are just paddling along on a stream. Everything is flowing so perfectly. Up ahead, you get the glimpse of your destination. This idea, creation or innovation is so perfect. And to top it off you came up with it. This is going to be great; what could go wrong? Suddenly , the current changes and your vessel’s progress is slowed. Not completely ignorant to the ways and waters of life, you initially think this to be just another dam(n).  

The Metaphorical Dam(n)  

Dam(n)s certainly serve a purpose. They control the flow of the water allowing for distribution to everything from household water supplies to creating recreational areas for swimming and fishing. Nothing wrong with taking stock of your endeavor before you proceed. Changes in direction aren’t necessarily dream destroyers. There are certainly logistics to consider, and a small mental eval before proceeding is usually warranted. A traditional dam(n) has two important factors: it’s noticeable from a distance and it is still useful. However, not all dam(n)s are the same.  


I wonder if kids today will understand the thrill of A/V day during school. Growing up in the 80s, schools didn’t have media devices in every room. So when that cart rolled in you could relax knowing you would be educated but entertained as well.  

So, I doubt I could anticipate the film my school had provided would be such a harsh cautionary tale to 3rd graders. What I witnessed can’t be described as inappropriate actually quite the opposite. Still, the reality of the situation shook me.  

This film spoke of what are referred to as The Drowning Machines. The architectural name for these devices is the Low Head Dam, though those who experienced these structures power seem firm that the name the Drowning Machine is more accurate. Designed in the 1800s, many argue that the harm caused greatly outweighs the benefit of these devices. That is often the way things go with archaic structures. Designed to cause water to back up with producing hydropower being one of it’s uses. 

The film depicts a traveler on the waters, when suddenly their vessel goes over a subtle drop-off. However, what should have been easily navigated disguised a deceptive device. Hidden in that drop-off is a dam, a stealthy and sinister one at that. A vessel caught in this swirl finds itself in a violent tumble. Not only will this traveler find themselves dragged under the water and back up again over and over, they may find themselves being assaulted by other debris caught in this riptide. 

Don’t Be Damned 

A negative thought, a doubt or hesitation can eventually wear you down. Incidentally the Low Head Dam is often known as “Weir”. Interestingly they both are capable of bringing a voyager’s journey to a troubled and tumultuous end. Not only is it the struggle to survive the onslaught of waves but also the additional debris and fragments that are sucked in the wake. Slowly this individual is left in a weary and broken state. How can the thought even be on continuing a journey when all you can think is don’t drown. 

Until these devices can be eliminated what can be done?   

There may be signs, noticeable indicators along your path.  You’ve seen these warning signs in your life before and you know trouble is imminent.  Because this dam(n) was meant to last, regardless of if you don’t need it, pay attention if you notice yourself getting walled in.  Pay attention before you end up over your head.   

Familiarize yourself with your route.  You’re headed into unknown territory, recognizing the problems that lay ahead allow for solutions to be planned.  A portage, a reroute can avoid a certain pitfall.   

Accept the advice of the experienced traveler.  Release the expectation that you are on your own journey and that means you have to navigate the waters on your own.   

Pay attention to the horizon.  Your focus should be on where you’re headed, your goal.  If you lose sight of your shoreline destination amongst the skyline you are approaching a dam(n).   

Row. Row, Row your boat.  The Weir is meant to break you.  I’ll be damned.   

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