Pebbles In The Pond: News & Musings by Landscape Architect Dick Bell

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The Game’s Afoot! July 23, 2009

As I was growing up in Manteo and Elizabeth City, North Carolina, during the Great Depression of the ‘30s, I fell I love with the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I loved to lose myself in their world as they white-washed fences, ran errands for their parents, slipped away to raft and fish the Mississippi River,

My buddy Billy Hackett (left) and me at play on Roanoke Island.

My buddy Billy Hackett (left) and me at play on Roanoke Island.

studied the currents and dangers of the shoals, and came to know intimately the land forms they traversed. Every day was a learning experience for them. But despite the fun and adventures they had, the ultimate goal was survival.

Actually, life outside of that fascinating literary world was much the same for me at the time. Survival was the ultimate goal – with a little fun and adventure mixed in to keep it interesting! But every single day my parents had to struggle to provide the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing for our little family. Those things most of us take for granted today were hard-won goals back then.

Mom and Dad in Manteo

Mom and Dad in Manteo

In his own right, my father was a pioneer. A self-taught man, he designed and built the first replica of Fort Raleigh in Manteo and, soon thereafter, “The Lost Colony” amphitheater. (Many other outdoor drama amphitheaters would follow.) A British immigrant, he first had to learn the nature of the new place he called home and how he could care for it and manipulate it to make a life for himself and his family. Meanwhile, my mother was blazing her own trail as she raised her children and created the first plant nursery on Roanoke Island. Creativity and determination propelled my parents as the dreamed, scheme and struggled against difficult circumstances and odds.

This was indeed a difficult time to be an adult. But neither my brothers nor I ever felt “deprived” of anything. We watched our parents blaze their trails and we admired their grit and determination while we blazed our own little trails through the sands and sea and maritime forests of Roanoke Island, learning as we went. Like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, life for us was a series of adventures and one big, continuous learning experience. There was always something new to discover around every turn of a forest path, through every year of school in the relatively primitive educational institutes we attended as children, through the hardship of the Depression and fears of World War, and even inside every book we read.

In my later years, I’ve realized that the world I grew up in is completely foreign to our children, and will be even more so to our children’s children. I wonder about their spirit of discovery and whether or not they are capable of viewing life as a never-ending learning experience.

So I decided to write a trilogy of books that I hope will capture that spirit of adventure and discovery that I experienced, both as a child and later as an adult determined to find my own place in this big world and perhaps even make a difference.

The first book, entitled The Bridge Builders, follows the long path that leads from a Duke’s estate in England where both of my grandparents worked, to their immigration to Canada and to my father’s escape to the “paradise” (his words) of this place called “Carolina.”

That's me, in Paris, during my fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.

That's me, in Paris, during my fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.

Book One also explores my childhood where I learned at the feet of my parents and peers in those lean, early years, and then describes the great adventure of being part of the evolution of the brand-new School of Design at North Carolina State University. Then I take readers on the journey I experienced as I traveled throughout Europe – through 22 countries – after I received the Prix de Rome to study the history of ancient lands and the impact of world religions on the creation of world civilizations. (If ever I’ve been on my own raft poling my way down the “Mississippi,” this was certainly it!) Book One concludes back in the States as I got down to the business and pleasure of marriage, fatherhood and building a profession.

The second book in the trilogy will be Pebbles In Our Pond, the title alluding to the ripple effect of a pebble striking a pond’s surface and the radiating concentric circles that occur afterward. It is my metaphor for my life’s work — dreaming up ideas (the pebbles) and throwing them into society (the pond). It will include case studies of my favorite projects, such as the “Brickyard” at NC State University, Raleigh’s Pullen Park, the amphitheater and lake at Meredith College, the security fence at St. Mary’s College, and many others.

Pebbles In Our Pond will also discuss the landmark case for soil sedimentation and erosion that my wife, Mary Jo, and I won when we challenged a developer who was ruining the pond in “Water Garden,” our residential and office development on the outskirts of Raleigh.

Building our first house at Water Garden: a view to the pond.

Building our first house at Water Garden: a view to the pond.

The third book in the trilogy has not been named yet, but it will embrace a bit of soothsaying about our future in the natural world – our hopes, dreams and the realities we are being forced to confront if we are to continue to live and prosper within a healthy environment. The “green” movement is nothing new to this old advocate of environmentalism. I’ve been preaching sustainability and how to tread lightly on the land for as long as I can remember. And my father did the same before me. So – it all comes full circle.

I’m pleased to announce that Vantage Press in New York will publish the first book. The contract has been signed and, as Sherlock Holmes would say, “The game’s afoot!”

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3 Responses to “The Game’s Afoot!”

  1. Rachel Vest Says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I was doing some research on Manteo. I grew up there as a child. My dad was the minister of the North End Baptist church, this was in 1960.
    I was amazed to learn that your father built the amphitheater
    there.
    My dad also worked with the park service, and cleaned the grounds of the amphitheater, and I know every part of that
    theater, even to knowing Irene who sewed the costumes.
    Such an amazing place.
    I just received the history on the church my dad had there, and it too is very interesting.
    I am excited to read your book of which I have not obtained a copy of , but fully intend to get.
    Thank you for this article.
    Rachel Vest

  2. Rachel Vest Says:

    Thank you for the reply so very much. Your history of Roanoke Island is so extrememly valuable, and especially to me, and positive it is to others. As I remaked before I grew up there in the 1960’s. My dad was Caleb W. Goodwin Jr., pastor of the North End Baptist Church, which is now Roanoke Island Baptist Church. I have learned, and hope I am correct here that your dads name or as he was called was Skipper Bell?
    That name is so familar to me, but I am not sure. We lived on the North End of the Island, in what was known as the old Marchant Meekins house, adjacent to Alpheses Drinkwater.
    I was so fortunate to meet in my youth so many of the older people of the Island.
    I look so forward to your book, and to your people’s history there, I can hardly wait.
    I am working with a lady named Nancy Pearl (Midgett) Walker.
    on our life and times there.
    My dad had a brother named David Andrew Goodwin who worked for Mr. Finely there in Raleigh, I am curious if you knew him.?
    Thank you so much for allowing me to ramble, and though I may appear confused, it was just that your article, and your history are so incrediably important, and I have become so
    star struck that you go back so far, and your parents.
    Any information on Mr. Meekins old place would be so welcomed, if you knew him. I have some things from the attic there, that are interesting, and have no connection to how they would have gotten there.
    Thank you so very much.
    Sincerely with appreciation to you
    Rachel Vest


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