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main index   © Jeff Matthews  entry Mar 16, 2016


A Lovely Lake, a Floating Isle

and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness

You can pick up the jug of wine and loaf of bread in town, namely the town of Posta Fibreno in the province of Frosinone in the Lazio region, not far from the Abruzzo National Park in the hills high above to the east. Posta Fibreno is 100 km (60 mi) east of Rome and about 30 km (19 mi) east of Frosinone. It has a population of about 1,500 and an area of 9 sq km (3.5 sq mi). The town is on the shores of Lake Posta Fibreno, now a protected nature reserve (image, below). The lake is at an elevation of 288 meters (865 feet) and is elongated and shaped somewhat like a letter in an unknown alphabet, which is why they call it a “river-lake.” It is both. The lake is really the beginning of the short Fibreno river. The river leaves the lake (from the end you see in the photo, above) and joins the Liri river about ten km further on (just right of dead center on the map) and together they later form the border of the Lazio and Campania regions of Italy and, rebaptized the Garigliano river, gurgle happily down into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The lake, itself, is in karst terrain; that is, rich in caves and underwater springs. This map (above) of the hydrographic basin of the Garligliano shows the general network of "blood vessels" as they flow down the western side of the Apennines from NW to SE from Abruzzo into the Liri valley, but the map doesn't begin to show the underlying "capillary system" that feeds this entire part of the mountains to give us little pleasures such as Lake Posta Fibreno.

The icon of the lake is the "wheel"—perhaps more like a mascot because it really moves. It's a floating island, 30 meters in diameter and about 4 meters thick, essentially a thick mat solidly held together by, and made up of (among other vegation), creeping stems (called rhizomes), peat, marsh grasses, types of angiosperms such as pond weed, perennially flowering plants such as nasturtium, and the roots of shrubs (which are really trees, but they don't get any larger than what you see here. This thing parades back and forth in its enclosure, moved by the winds and by the movement of water flowing in and pushing from below. You don't need time-lapse photography, either; apparently you can stand there and watch it move. It's been doing that for quite a while, too. Pliny the Elder wrote about in his Naturalis Historia in 77 AD. (The Latin is kind of difficult to work out, but roughly he says, "Well, I'll be a sonuva...that thing just moved!") And locals have legends—centuries old—about what really makes it move around, and it's not the wind or the flowing water—it's something else, but they won't talk about it. They just grow morose and get all nervous and start looking at the heavens, and one tribal elder who once studied English literature long ago and in faraway Naples starts whispering "...and still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, and the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon stormy seas...!" and reaches for that jug of wine I mentioned earlier.

But the same locals take an active part in the life of the nature reserve and do a good job at handling visitors. They take pride in restoring their traditional oaken boats to pole or paddle around (pictured)—tiny things that they insist on calling navi (ships!); the boats are the sole descendants in Italy of those used by the Samnites before the age of the Roman Empire. You, too, can go for a ride. The protected area of the nature reserve goes back to 1983. That period seems to have been the watershed in Italy, when dozens of nature reserves sprung up to protect the natural treasures that abound in the nation, some run by the World Wildlife Foundation, others by regional or provincial administrations. This, after years of  frenzied and callous re-and overbuilding after WWII, which included the builders from Frosinone coming up to this lake in the 1960s to dump surplus construction waste materials into the water. That time is past and it's a good sign. As with all of these protected reserves, there is a treasure of protected flora and fauna in and around the lake but also in this particular case, a number of species of vegetation that have almost disappeared elsewhere, such as hippuris vulgaris, the aquatic plant known as Mare's Tail. Underwater vegetation is also varied and inviting...so if you are a scuba diver... As I say, it's a good sign.



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