The Crossing’s Pond: A Peek Behind the Curtain

The following is an interview with Leszek Vincent, a plant scientist that has done a lot of work on the Crossing pond. I wanted to have a conversation with him coming from the perspective of botany and life sciences as art in order to pick Leszek’s brain about some of the things he has done to make the pond beautiful on an aesthetic level and on the functional level. Living next door to the pond for 3 years I have had the chance to see it go from dismal, mud and gravel lined area to a beautiful, diverse habitat and this is a chance to peek behind the curtain on the process.

The idea of botany as art may not make sense at first, but I believe that it is. God made the earth and it was good, and now we build on top of his creation, using the elements that God has made. Mankind has been entrusted with the care of the world and Leszek is working to restore one little corner of it. Like a painter he works with a palette of things the God has made in order to create a tiny work of art.

Enjoy the interview.

A: Take me through snapshots of the lake from the time the Crossing moved in and into the future. What have you done and what has been your goal at every stage?
L: Well, initially when we bought the property there was talk
of the lake being filled in for various reasons… insurance, safety, aesthetics. Then we began to see it as a great opportunity to turn this environment around, and providing some measure of restoration to the pond. We began to see it as a really positive thing politically, socially, in terms of community, and in terms of making a statement about Christianity. We wanted to get people asking, “Why is a church doing something like this?”

Then in 2005 I started talking with the construction people here and began exploring possibilities of moving the topsoil (the moved a lot of earth in order to build the building and didn’t have a place to put it) over to the pond area. I started thinking “if we are going to try and do some restoration do this lake area we could use that topsoil.” We could trap the goose poop into the ground where it could help fertilize the ground and cover up the gravel.

When we bought the property the lake was lined with gravel and because of the large numbers of Canada geese the pond has become quite polluted since the goose poop could not sink into the soil and fertilize it. Instead it all ran into the pond when it rained. We used the topsoil to cover up the gravel and the goose poop, which let the poop add nutrients to the soil and the gravel simply became part of the mix.

We still had to manage the geese though. It has never been my intention to make all the geese go away, but just to reduce their numbers on the property. I began to think about what long term plan we could put in place to manage the geese. We tried a silt-fence first just to put a bit of a physical barrier between the lake and the geese so they couldn’t see over it. I put stringers across the lake and it looked a bit like a used car lot. The geese got used to it though.

I researched what other states are doing and read quite a lot of literature and realized that we need a long term perspective. Something this project teaches is perseverance. This is a long haul. It is not something where you just put down your credit card and get a turn around. I realized that what we really need to do is grow a barrier of plants around the lake. I had in mind 3 species of plants in mind that were native to the area and would be aesthetically good and would provide a barrier structure. We bought the plants and they really took root and are now part of the new lake shore environment and provide a visual barrier for the geese as well as adding to the biological diversity of the environment.

A: Other than the functional side of making a diverse and sustainable environment how has beauty and the aesthetic side factored into it?
L: I am biased here. I am a plant scientist. For me, the ugliest plant – one that is perceived to be very ugly – can be something that holds great beauty because I can look beneath the surface. I wanted to go the extra mile and help us to get together and communicate something to our culture that we Christians can be very productive and constructive in turning our around situations that have gone to a bad place. There is a bit of a parable in this. You look at the gravel-lined lake and think “What can you do with this? It is dead. Lets just fill it up.” But there was an opportunity here. We could have some problems, but we felt we could take the risk, expend money and energy and really turn something around.

This facility can communicate something of the richness of how life really can be, far from being perfect, it is full of flaws, at the same time there is a resonance of beauty and wholesomeness that we have tried to bring back into the environment, and we have turned something that is really bad back into some that this is much much better.

A: What single thing are you most proud of in your work with the pond?
L: Proud of? Nothing really. I am very thankful. We have had some people who have contributed time. We have gotten state funding. We have been able to connect with people outside the church environment which has given us opportunities to talk with people who never would have given a second thought to church in territory that is their comfort zone. It has caused a bit of a shock to some people. I don’t try to take advantage of it, but it has been great to keep these long term conversations going.

Things I am proud of? I am thankful for the spin-offs that are growing. I am teaching a seminar on storm water management using the property as a case study. Last year we had a lot of engineers and city developers come to a workshop at the Crossing. They were visiting best management practice sites and the Crossing was one of them. They are looking for demonstrations of solutions that have been put in place. We have gone through the work and now we can show people “This is what it looks like” “This is what it took to get us there.”

Things I am proud of? Nothing really. People have teased me by calling this place Lake Leszek and actually this is the last thing that I want to have as a label. Partly because it starts developing a bad thing in me. I am vulnerable, we all are, to want to be known for something. I don’t want that. It does not develop the right heart. For the record it is not Lake Leszek. It is the Crossing’s lake.

If you want to try and put the flavor or pride on it, it is to see people coming out there and enjoying the environment. People coming up to me and saying, “We really love the flowers.”

When I look out there being a plant scientist –I have dealt a lot with plant genetics – and I see the diversity of species that we have compared with what we had (it was dismal) it is great to see what has come back in. It is great to see something of a natural situation which people are enjoying. I love to see kids coming out of their classrooms and walking around and picking flowers. I enjoy that. If that helps kids to connect with the environment and to think and enjoy that is great. I don’t ever want it to be something where people are standing behind a fence and saying “Wow, that looks great.” I want them to be able to experience it for themselves.

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