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Questinia On July - 1 - 2010

After buying the old farmhouse at the end of March, I quickly went around to its back to look at what I had really purchased it for.  Because, although the house was very old and pretty in a vernacularly plain way, the property upon which the house sat was the real gem.  Sloping just this side of gentle as an expansive amphitheater of lawn down to the woods below, it swirled around outcroppings of gray rock and pistachio-colored lichen. It passed two or three ancient apple trees and went through a proscenium arch formed by opposing copses of enormous white paper birches; their tallest branches meeting high above the lawn’s center stage. It could have  called “Nature’s Gothic Doorway”.

As I took stock of my newly purchased out-of-doors I imagined how the old farm’s horse-drawn carts would travel upon the flat ribbon of trail that switch-backed midway across the slope. The trail now made a subtle snaking terrace of grass.

It was in contemplation of all this when I was met with large mossy rocks, boulders actually, and a distinct squish beneath my feet.  Bending down, I saw small  percolations of spring water rising to the lawn’s surface which then ran beneath my feet and across the descending lawn beyond, in broad sheets.  There were six or seven of them spread over a small distance, all converging down “stream” like a large ooze creating a fan of soggy lawn.  I could barely contain my excitement.  An onlooker may have seen my muted jump for joy.   I became instantly obsessed with visions of what my soggy lawn fan could become.

I impatiently rushed up to the kitchen and with a very large, handy serving spoon, I scooped out a few spoonfuls of ground releasing more water from its high table just beneath the grass .  The more I dug, the more water gushed out. My mind feverishly had its way with both spoon and ground as I  fantasized what must certainly be a torrent just below the surface.  I came up with a plan.  I’d merge all these springs into a stream that was to tumble, froth, and foam as it swept all its way down to the woods.  For that, I was going to need a shovel.

Trading in spoon for spade, I excavated around the springs .  As water emerged and descended the slope, I guided them by taking spadefuls of earth  and directed them to converge.  With each spring I had the same “dialogue”. In our dialogue, some of the springs did not like my bullying, domineering nature, rather, they stubbornly stayed submerged beneath thicker mud and bigger stones.  I relented, letting them have their way because I knew my plan was a good one and as long as I didn’t force the issue Nature would eventually agree with me in the end.  Nature just didn’t know that yet.  I knew it would take days and days of digging, sloshing, negotiating, arguing with , submitting to, but occasionally dominating the subterranean ocean I was sure I was now in charge of.

A stream was indeed there, sort of.  By now, it had all the water I could summon from its admittedly modest headwaters.  All the water it was ever to get all year because it was early Spring. My efforts produced a small but respectable brooklet. I was  pleased.  I ran the hundred yards or so up to the house into the kitchen and looked out the window toward my birch tree theater and the lawn’s new onstage star:  My stream.  At first I thought I actually saw it, but it turned out to be a rock.  I squinted wanting to believe my eye saw what was not really visible but what they wished was: A stream. Any stream.  I continued to scan and scout, and finally with the shift of the sun and its beginning to set,  I saw glimmers of backlit water.  So, it really was there.  I would just have to wait till the sun’s position in the sky was just so or resort to binoculars.  Neither option was good.  A revision of my plan was therefore needed.  WHY?  I wanted to see water, water, water!  I wanted to see  water from every room that overlooked the back yard and that meant nearly every room in the house.  So, my dream remained lofty as I realized my resources were more meager than I even admitted to myself.

Still, a vision is a vision and what does one replace a vision failed than with another vision?!  A new plan!  A pool!  So clever I thought.  So easily done.  I had already done the hard work and gotten the springs to obey me (with some compromise of course) making them form a single runnel (I could now admit my stream was no more than a largish runnel because I now had a  better dream, a more important vision).  All I’d have to do is dig something for the runnel to flow into and contain the water so it could reflect what was above.  For what is water really good for apart from drinking, if not for reflecting sky and trees around it?  In a matter of a day or two there it was.  It worked!  It was splendid!  Not only did it reward me with little ripples upon its surface, but those ripples could be seen from my kitchen window, the perch which acted as final judge of whether my vision was realized or not.  True my pool was small, only three feet by four and about eight inches deep.  But, it was shaped like an eye  which grew silver and then gold and occasionally hazel when the clouds allowed the sky to peek through.  I had an eye of water!  An eye of liquid mirroring a hovering birch branch or flying bird.  An eye in the landscape.  I rested.  My vision turned out to be an eye.

Spring continued.  New leaves on the birch added green to my eye while greater warmth stole water from it.  My eye was shrinking and shrinking fast.  It then dried up completely.  Yes, it would fill with  a hard rain, spill over even, only to cruelly return to a dark hollow socket. I was new here and Nature was not junior to my groping expertise at landscape design.   Evaporation, my unexpected foe, was now also joined by a retreating water table which absconded with my water, having its way with it deep below the surface.  I became jealous and grieved.  I knew I must win back the heart of my vision.  Scheming and plotting, I  knew full well I would resort to any trick to fool Nature into giving me what I felt was rightfully mine.   But I knew Nature had a vested interest and owned more than half of my venture’s shares so  I figured I’d better have Nature sitting with me at the water table during our next board meeting.

I figured I could  only enter the water table’s lair by digging deeper.  I could minimize water loss by making the basin wider, longer, and deeper, thereby  yielding a substantial volume of water to resist evaporation. Who knew? I might even unearth more springs! The summer was the time to dig, before the Winter ice and snow and Spring run  made digging and dredging necessary with back breaking labor.

I  invested in picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, pails and rope.  I dug into the gravel with the moist sand enticing me with what just laid below.  Occasionally, rain filled the bottom of my basin with a few inches of muddy water.  On one summer day, after such a rain, I saw a frog had come to investigate my work.  It was bobbing in the water looking directly at me.  I was charmed.  So charmed by an acknowledgment such as this and so grateful in fact, that I made a pact with the green wood frog (I also knew the rest of nature would be  listening).  I told the frog “I’m digging this for you, you know!”  The frog looked at me, impassively, not judging, just blankly appraising like frogs are wont to do. “That’s right. I promise you  a home”.  The frog stayed put, bobbing, while I dug the rest of the day filling buckets of earth and water and dumping them on the shore.  I took care not to accidentally evict the frog to whom I had just promised a home.

Now that froggie had come a-calling and since I promised him a home, my digging intensified.  I dug by moonlight, I dug in rain,  I dug when I cried, I dug while I sang. I’d fall down digging getting up just to fall into the mud again. I was called flat out crazy by some. A lunatic. A lunatic?  For digging under a full moon?  Well, I needed the moon’s opinion too!  Besides, it was so kind to illuminate my venture.

“Why don’t you just get somebody with a back hoe to dig it out for you?”.  A back hoe?  NO!  I’m the one having this conversation with my  soon-to-be-pond, not a man with some machine.  Not that I didn’t give the back hoe idea  a thought myself.  But I knew it would not do.

The winter returned, but that did not dissuade me from digging and dredging.  The water popped out of  the ground anew and trickled down the slope, once again letting me know where I should dig and where to surrender my piece of my vision to Nature’s will.  Furthermore, the water also cooperated by making my work easier.  Water helped me dig in the ice and snow as flowing water doesn’t freeze, so it melted and softened any ground it permeated. I could take out the ground in chunks. For that, I was often thankful and praised the water. The pool was now shaping up to be a large basin of mud and ice.  It was uglier than a cesspool.  Thinking the honeymoon might be over, I even started thinking of it as a cesspool.

One day, expecting the UPS man to arrive with a package, I thought I’d play a joke.  After I heard he’d arrived, I walked up to the house in my muddy work clothes, my hair and face caked with earth.  I greeted him and  told him not to mind my appearance.  That I was just in the middle of “cleaning the bathroom”.  I don’t know how he responded because by the time I finished my words laughing myself blind with hysterics, he was gone.  That’s what nature was doing to me.  Making me submit to uncontrollable giddiness and probably unwelcomed bathroom humor.

Because the emerging pond had become so ugly that Winter, come early Spring, I decided the pool was to be festooned with wild flower plants I was to start from seed.  But by that time the pool was not simply a pool anymore.  It had grown and began to take shape as bits of green emerged around it. It became more defined and rich.  It had become deep… five feet.  It was long…. twenty five feet and nearly as wide.  I stopped digging for a moment and looked.  It was actually becoming something and it kept on becoming something, a something I had been seeing only in my mind’s eye for a couple of years now.  I felt like I both knew it intimately yet was  detached and  astonished by it.  It was something so alien and wonderful.

I stopped digging for a few days allowing the silt to settle.  With the water clear and the emergent vegetation all around beginning to cloak the ground it was becoming  sort of magnificent to me.  I had channeled the excess run off from the pond making a small but effective cascade down a staircase of rocks.  It even made a sound.  I planted more flowers all around to give it a crowning glory.  I tidied up, I admired, I meditated, I was mesmerized.  I almost slept with it.

One late May afternoon,  when I could not think of anything more to do, I sat with my back against one of the mossy boulders under which so much of my spring emerged.  The sun was starting to make its descent and through the trees, light was hitting the water so as to reflect the ripples  like a screen upon the flat face of one of the giant stones.  I watched this display for a few moments when I noticed next to me under a marsh marigold blossom was a frog.  Its body postioned, once again, toward me head on.  It stared and ballooned its membranes signaling my work was done.  I told the frog “See?  I told you I would make a place for you to live”.  Satisfied now, I got up and began to ascend the lawn through the proscenium of birch, turning often to see what the pond looked like from as many angles and altitudes as I could.  The sky was blue,  rays of sun slipped through the chartreuse leaves.  There was a rich shadow giving a mysterious contrast to the land.  The air was soft, dry,  fragrant and clear.  I reluctantly bid adieu to my pond and entered the house.  I made my way to the kitchen where my husband was waiting.  I went to the sink and looked out from my perch of judgment.  There it was.  A miraculous tarn of clear mountain spring water peeking through “Nature’s Gothic Doorway.

Just then I caught sight of a large splash followed by waves which hit the shores.  It must have been some large frog I thought, maybe even a bull frog.  But through the birches I saw something entirely different.  There, floating and bobbing, was a duck.  By the looks of it a female.  I couldn’t speak.  Before I realized I couldn’t speak I saw another duck: A male.  To me, any male duck is a mallard as he was painted these most beautiful shades of caramel, red, purple iridescent rainbow and emerald green, and blue.  Too many colors!  All outlined in a bright white.  By this time the sheer adrenaline of seeing something that beautiful overtook me and broke my silence.

“Look!!”.
My husband came to the window and said:
“Oh, wow!  That is the most beautiful duck I’ve ever seen, I wonder what kind it is”.

“A mallard”.
“Oh no it’s not” he said.  “That is the most beautiful duck in the world” and since neither of us knew what kind of duck it was, I decided to identify it with the help of a bird book.  It took no time to identify it as a wood duck.  The first line of text describing it was: ”Considered by many to be the most beautiful duck in the world…”

Had I a vision of making a pond so that two  unknown birds would find it and swim, taking up courtship activities there every morning and evening for two weeks at the end of May, I never could have done it.    Nature made sure I knew it was pleased.  I was given the gift of a vision I could have never envisioned.

Written by Questinia

In the medical arts in NYC

44 Responses so far.

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  1. Kalima says:

    I’m there every day in your pond. taking off my shoes, barefoot, meeting with the earth, feels so good, and wondering why every day can’t be this beautiful.

    Remember a few months ago?


    “Barefoot in the Park”/ “Barefoot in your Pond” now it feels like a bare arsed stumble through the field. 😉

    OG |_ K

  2. kesmarn says:

    Q, what a beautifully written, charming, eloquent post. What a gift you are to the Planet, both virtual and physical!

    I honestly think some of the best online writing available is right here in our virtual back yard.

  3. whatsthatsound says:

    What a fantastic story, Questinia! I am being perhaps immodest in suggesting that it is a companion, of sorts, to the post I just published recently. You and the pond are a perfect example of the way that humans must return to a deep connection with the earth, as I write. And your story seems like a smaller version of the Gaviotas project I mentioned in my post. The scientists themselves couldn’t have planned the way that fauna and folia began to appear as their work harmonized with nature and resulted in rain forest covering formerly desert land. The book, “Gaviotas: A village to reinvent the world” is a great read,
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_8?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=gaviotas+a+village+to+reinvent+the+world&sprefix=gaviotas
    and this is the story from their website
    http://www.friendsofgaviotas.org/Friends_of_Gaviotas/Gaviotas_Forest/Gaviotas_Forest.html
    From reading this, I think you would really enjoy it.

    I love the writing, your use of language, the beautiful photos. I love everything about this cyber-oasis you’ve gifted us with!

    • Questinia says:

      Thanks for the links and your generous remarks. I wrote below how my realizing I had wifi service at the pond was an example of what you wrote about in your post. What a concrete analogy! But I can be very dense sometimes 😉

      I didn’t think of the Gaviotas project as I didn’t reclaim a blighted area. I simply saw what I did as enhancement. But, it does demonstrate the underlying process which made the Gaviotas project a success, I think. By respecting what is there and respecting the limitations (to a degree, I pushed the envelop by making the pond deeper) of the place, all the aspects of a place can be represented. Sort of like an ecological fractal.

      The pond was for me too, much as the rain forest that was reconstructed was for the people of that area. That’s what resonates the most, I suppose. That it was a win-win!

  4. PepeLepew says:

    I have a *massive* river behind my property.
    Was quite frightened of it a couple of weeks ago when it was threatening to flood.
    But, otherwise, love the sound of it in the evenings and I love the wildlife it attracts — osprey, herons, owls and eagles in particular. But I will never control it. It’s much too big and wild. It’s not mine; you’re not actually allowed to own a river in Montana, the rivers belong to everyone.

    • Questinia says:

      I don’t own my pond either because I don’t own the water that flows through it. Nor do I own the frog.

      I don’t even own the frog!

  5. Khirad says:

    Reminded me a little of Wind in the Willows and a mythic parable of man’s (and woman’s) relationship with Nature.

    One could be tempted to see another, deeper level to this tale. 😉

    Thank the Lord it wasn’t as abstruse as Joyce though!

  6. escribacat says:

    Wow. I love this story. It’s very zen. And very moving. I can imagine the joy of making a home for a frog and two ducks. It’s a brilliant achievement (the pond and the story). And it’s funny too.

    • Khirad says:

      Aye, or Taoist. In any case, it seems to me this is the origin of the Japanese Rock garden -- that is, what might happen when one can’t get water to cooperate with their bucolic designs of perfecting harmony!

      • Questinia says:

        Which is precisely what I would be thinking as I dug, Khirad. Good call. I was aware of my lack of ego throughout and it felt really good. Losing one’s ego while immersed in an activity is a definition of happiness.

  7. dildenusa says:

    When I lived in Vermont we had a pond and a stream near our house. It was very nice in the spring and summer. After work I would chill out at the pond. In the winter I would ice skate on the pond. There was all kinds of wildlife. Not many ducks but there were fish, frogs, and the usual racoons, skunks, and I saw large water birds like herons and egrets.

  8. Kalima says:

    I love your pond, the bird is beautiful, but not as beautiful as you. Thank you: :)

  9. PepeLepew says:

    You actually BEAT water?

    You know how hard that is?

    • Questinia says:

      Wow. Interesting take, Pepe. I never thought of it that way. I saw it as a “negotiation”. This year is very dry. It was the first time my pond dried up. It now has water in it again but I couldn’t negotiate what water decides to ultimately do.

      This venture has made me think about water on this earth and it’s scarcity in many areas. That made me interested in phreatophytes (indicator plants that grow in areas where water tables are of a characteristic depth relative to the plant) and other aspects of water ecology.

      I happen to have a very nice capillary fringe!

  10. boomer1949 says:

    Questinia,

    What a wonderful piece and a joy to read. Perseverance nurtured your vision and you will enjoy Nature’s rewards for many years to come.

    boomer

  11. Mightywoof says:

    What a Magnificent Obsession ……. and what a soul-satisfying reward!! I loved your journey but now, I am embarrassed to say, I feel that green-eyed god sitting on my shoulder.

  12. choicelady says:

    What a marvelous story! How amazing that you created MORE wilderness out of a little, thus reversing the urban encroachments of our lives. I’m so glad you’ve been rewarded with the joy of critters migrating to your water and giving you a look at them as they look at you.

    No animals or birds coming to your idyll will want to be served cocktails. They already have paradise on earth!

    Beautiful!

    My only brush with nature has been a broken sewer line under my house and a couple of wayward raccoons and a skunk that threaten the neighborhood cats. On the whole, I like yours a LOT better. Thanks from the world for making it better.

    • Questinia says:

      The last sentence is so kind, choicelady. I already live in a rural environment so I made but a small donation to the amazing landscape that already exists.

      There is also emotionality. Alas, the wood ducks did not return. The following year only the female showed up. She looked at the pond while perched on a nearby tree and flew off. I felt snubbed. I made changes in the pond hoping to woo her. But the next year I saw her being chased away by a pileated woodpecker off the premises. Then, the year after that, I only heard her quacking in the woods.

      Nature is mean and lacks tact.

  13. Bauart says:

    Great post! I completely understand the thrill.

    Early this spring my wife and I built a small Koi / Turtle pond in our very typical urban backyard. (We live about 5 minutes from downtown Dallas). I wish our space could be as natural as yours. (We had to settle for circulating pumps and had no fresh water springs we could use).

    The previously tank bound fish and turtles love the new space, (our little pond is about 7′ x 10′ x 3′ deep), but the surprise was the increase in wildlife. We have see toads and frogs, and a huge increase in dragon flies, butter flies and lightening bugs. Our wooded neighborhood already had hawks, owls and large variety of texas birds, but this really added a whole new dimension.

    Our only problem has been fortifying the little pond to keep the turtles contained. Even though we have built wooden-stake fences and rock ledges, they manage almost daily (somehow) to climb out and head to our swimming pool.

    • Questinia says:

      Thanks. Water indeed changes things enormously. Since the digging of the pond there have been a multitude of ecological changes, primarily in the wildflower department. Salamander, turtles, sundry water insect varmints (no mosquitoes because it seems balanced), frogs, and BIRDS! The number of different kinds of birds has at least tripled.

      Turtles heading for the pool means they expect to lounge and be served cocktails given all the work they do giving you picturesqueness. Take it from me. I know nature.


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