I feel anticipation as I approach the pumps. Each day they are different. Astride a small dam that forms the lagoon, they adjust the water levels of the various channels and basins that make up our ambitious flood-control project. These homely contraptions are the unsung heroes our lowlands. For a town that was once known specifically for its floods, we haven't had a big flood in years.
The water level of the canal, which the pumps feed, is a mystery. I've never been able to correlate it to the changing tides or weather or the impending threat of flood. Sometimes it's low, other times to the brim. When low, the pump apparatus is visible. It reminds me of the exposed and vulnerable shellfish at Muir Beach during low tide—the enormous outlets of the pump are uncomfortable and naked. When silent, they take on an ominous stillness. It feels like the suspension of time. I want to stay there until they spew forth the frothing, churning water of the lagoon behind them.
The pumps remind me of Robert Smithson's seminal work, The Monuments of Passaic (1967). Smithson, a native son of Passaic, New Jersey (as am I) and best known for his earthwork, Spiral Jetty, contemplated the significance of the wastelands of suburban New Jersey. He proclaimed the pipes and pumps of Passaic to be fountains. Its bridges and sandboxes and pontoons were, in a wry perspective, also monumental.
Has Passaic replaced Rome as the Eternal City? – Robert Smithson, The Monuments of Passaic
Are the pumps of Corte Madera our monuments to fine urban planning? Or are they the reminders of the follies of filling our tidal marshes with tract houses? I haven't decided. Yet, there is no question of their significance. People pass them every day with their poodle or bichon frise. They ignore the noble structures, even as they protect the low-lying tract houses from the surge of bay's tide. It's a thankless job. In honor of their fine work, I've decided that they, like The Monuments of Passaic, should be elevated in status. I hereby proclaim the pumps to be now named, The Fountains of Corte Madera. Postcards to follow.