…one special friend who helped to make this sanctuary possible.
Many years ago Ruth and I got it into our heads that we wanted to put a small pond in our backyard. We both love to be outside, to grow things, to enjoy the sights and sounds of the birds and frogs and insects that are part of our community. We also love to imagine and create together and a vision was emerging of a green and shady outdoor space where we could hang out with kids, read a good book, enjoy a small fire, drink a good beer and nurture a happy, noisy frog and bird population. This was long before HGTV made “outdoor living rooms” popular–and our vision was, and remains, a bit more earthy than what you see on TV!
So one weekend we set out to dig a hole. I don’t remember calling “Miss Utility” to get the power and water lines marked–and knowing us, we probably didn’t. We’d bought a book or two about backyard ponds so we could “ooh” and “ahh” over the pictures and feed our imaginations and maybe get a few pointers on the technical details of building a pond. But, as with many things, we jumped in before we really had it figured out ’cause we were eager to give it a try. As often happens, it not only turned out okay, but even better than expected!
Out neighbors, Ann and Sherrie, were generally game for helping out with our projects. They came on over ready as usual–Ann with a shovel and gloves, and Sherrie with advice and great appreciation for the comedy of errors that was sure to follow. We dug and we dug. As the dirt came out it was piled up behind the pond–part of the vision was to add a small “hill” as a backdrop and to plant it with lovely bushes and flowers and perhaps a small tree or two. We negotiated the shape and the depth as we went along, taking turns digging and resting–until it reached a point where some of us (well, at least this one of us!) couldn’t climb in and out of the hole in the ground very well. Ann was the last woman standing as we reached the end of the dig. She added the space at the center where we could feel certain that the water would not freeze during a Virginia winter so that fish would have a safe space to hang out till spring. I can still see her leaning on her shovel, smiling and exhausted.
The pond and the surrounding area is one of my favorite places to hang out when I am home. Over the years the “small” crepe myrtle tree has squeezed out most of the bushes that we planted, reaching well over 50 feet into the air and offering a wide, shady spread that protects the pond from the summer afternoon sun. We stocked the pond with tadpoles and ten-cent inch-long goldfish all those years ago–and we are blessed with a bunch of raucous frogs and a handful of beautiful 10-inch goldfish today. The pond and its surroundings are also a favorite spot for many beautiful dragonflies, hummingbirds, gold finches, bluebirds, skinks, and more. With more time to hang out with all of them, I also discovered a new friend who doesn’t make herself visible every day, but who joins us a few days each week to take a dip: an Eastern Box Turtle. She seems a curious sort, and happy to share her space with the prior inhabitants. Amazing how much time you can spend observing frogs and fish and a turtle when you don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time!
I often think of our friend Ann as I pass by the pond. It is a special kind of friendship that is so closely woven into the tapestry you gaze at daily. Our friendship with Ann and Sherrie, particularly during the years when we were neighbors, was that kind of friendship. We lost Ann at the end of 2017–a deeply felt loss for Sherrie and for everyone who loved Ann. Sitting by the pond this week, reflecting on vision and creation and the circle of life, I had the opportunity to touch a few of Ann’s lovely and vibrant threads.