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Mountain Home Magazine

Waterfall Whisperer

Apr 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard

Kevin Fishburn has always loved waterfalls. He enjoyed photographing them back when you had to choose a lens and actually focus it. He has no interest in digital photography but has maintained his interest in waterfalls, so much so that he’s recently changed his landscaping business, Nature’s Touch, to Mossy Edge Waterscapes so he can focus on what he loves best: creating the right water feature for each client.

After Kevin graduated from Cowanesque Valley Junior-Senior High School in the mid-nineties, he eventually found himself in Western North Carolina learning the craft of waterscaping. Lots goes into it—excavating, lining, constructing, plumbing, planting—and then there are the rocks. He can’t say exactly when rocks started talking to him, but, “Gradually I became attuned to them,” he says. “They’d speak to me. I’d wonder why am I looking at this rock?” Then he’d study it closer, dig around it a little to see its shape, and the answer would come. “It tells you,” he explains.

When he was done apprenticing, his boss asked Kevin to move at least a hundred miles away if he started his own business. They shook on it, and in 2011 Kevin came back to Northcentral Pennsylvania. Worried that there wouldn’t be enough work if he only did waterscaping, he went into general landscaping. He put an ad in the Dollar Saver and got a call to build the biggest pond he’s done so far, about thirty by forty feet. He’s been happy to find there’s more interest in water features in his old stomping grounds than he’d thought.

After twenty-two years of experience and becoming a Certified Aquascape Contractor, Kevin has learned “there is a pond or water feature to suit every person or place.” He likes bringing nature closer to people’s doorstep, either by upgrading or rebuilding an existing feature or starting from scratch. The Delaneys in Hills Creek asked Kevin to upgrade their pond and make it deeper. It’s right off the patio behind their house, and the waterfall runs year-round. Kevin checks on it the months they are away. Bright orange koi are visible deep in the pond on a thirty-degree March day.

“All you need is a hole in the ice,” he says, and even if the waterfall ices over, there is still water running below it, keeping oxygen in the water.

If, instead, someone needs a low-maintenance water feature, he’ll suggest a pondless waterfall. You can just shut the pump off if you’re going to be away for a while. (Pumps need to come out in the winter if they aren’t left running.) A pond, however, is an ecosystem. If you have fish, then you need to expect that heron or other predators will come wanting a snack. You need to choose plants that won’t take over. Ferns and mosses, cone flowers, and other wildflowers that re-seed each year are good choices. Annuals add color early in the season, Kevin notes. Impatiens love the water and can be planted right in it. And if you want to change your color scheme the next year, it’s no big deal.

Why do so many people want water features? Kevin hears reasons that range from folks who want to create a paradise in their own yard, to those who claim that waterfalls are therapeutic. WebMD says that negative ions, which are released when air molecules are broken apart due to moving water, may lift your mood. One of three people feels this euphoria around negative ions due to greater flow of oxygen to the brain, and a biochemical reaction, they think, that increases serotonin, the happy hormone.

Deb Kearse always wanted to be near water anywhere she lived. In 2020 she and her husband, Tom, moved back to Gaines where Tom had grown up. They owned a cabin off the main road, away from the highway noise, for summers and family gatherings. Tom was willing to look at lake property, but Deb said: it’s easier to build a waterfall than a house. “She wanted a place by the water,” Tom says, “and she made it happen.”

A friend recommended Kevin. He took one look at the slope coming down from the woods behind the house and saw the potential. He submitted a hand-drawn plan, and the Kearses gave him free reign. As Kevin collected rocks, he told Tom they were talking to him.

“I’m not that far out there,” Tom says, “so I didn’t understand. I thought it was a sales pitch. But he’d point to a stone and say ‘Whatever you do, don’t lose that stone. I really need that one.’” And it would turn out to be crucial for a certain spot. “He was so attentive to details about how the water came over each rock. As hokey as I thought it was, he had a sound and flow he was looking for.” The rocks told him where they belonged.

The project was completed by the end of 2021; they enjoyed it only a few weeks before they had to winterize it. By December, though, Deb was sick with multiple myloma, a cancer of the blood. By early 2022 she was deep into chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Pain was intense. Kevin opened the waterfall as soon as weather allowed. Deb helped plant whenever her symptoms allowed.

“It was completed at the perfect time,” Tom believes. “This was her safe haven, her place to pray and will her pain away.” Soon they could only spend afternoons there, unable to stay where an ambulance couldn’t easily reach. After August, Kevin’s videos of the waterfall had to be enough.

Deb died on her birthday in October 2022.

Kevin will go up in early May to plant a weeping redbud tree and get the pump going. “It’s going to be a little hard,” he admits. “The little time I spent with her, she really helped me with my confidence and my business.” Tom says that’s how Deb was, always looking out for others. The family will gather at the cabin on Memorial Day to spread her ashes at Nana’s Waterfall, as they call it.

“I think, without a doubt, we all believe that’s where her spirit is,” says Tom.

You can find Mossy Edge Waterscapes on Facebook or call Kevin at (570) 439-4840.

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