The former owners of our house, a sweet elderly couple, had told us there was once a small pond there, filled in years ago. Yet it was difficult to believe. For in the small, triangular area in our yard where they had pointed, the tangle of yuccas, irises, peonies, lilies, and weeds of all varieties made it impossible to see where a pool once existed.
However, after my wife and father-in-law cleared the area of the weeds and yuccas last fall, and pruned back the flowers, an oval outline of flat stones appeared. Roughly six-by-nine feet in width, it looked like the border of a pool. A little digging on the edges revealed the slope of what looked like a concrete liner. After a winter of discussing it with my wife, with my ever-eager youngest daughter urging us on, we decided to see if we could open it up and even put some fish in it.
Over several weeks early this spring, catching an hour or two here and there between work, sporting events, and rain, Celia and I dug and mucked. There was indeed a concrete liner to the pool that went down a couple of feet deep in the center. The gooey, bog-like material, underneath the rich dirt and remaining plants that we scooped with shovels into the wheelbarrow to dump, proved the liner still held water. Knowing that we needed to get the pool as clean as possible, we then hosed and scrubbed the interior, using a shop-vac to suck out the remaining dirt and grime. The bowl of the pool had once been painted black, it appeared, but was now quite speckled from the years. Fearful I might have to scrape and paint it, a little internet research brought relief. I learned that the greenish-blue pool look of ponds a few decades ago was being replaced by a more “natural” look today. Natural it was going to be then!
After a friend who has a fishpond coached me about the basics, I purchased a small pump designed to float on the surface to filter and aerate the water. Then one evening, after a final cleansing, we filled the pond. I tied a brick to the pump to anchor it in the middle and, after placing the pump in the water, plugged it in. Seeing the little fountain shoot up was exciting for dad and daughter alike.
After adding the appropriate solutions and letting them settle, a few days later we bought four small fish and plunked them in: a Koi, then three different goldfish called a Comet, a Fantail, and a Shubunkin (clearly our favorite one to say). Word got out that Celia was a bit disappointed in not being able to see the little fish very well as, adjusting to their new environment, they hid constantly under the pump and fountain. So one night my friend loaned me one of his large goldfish and we slipped it into the pond. Watching and listening to Celia discover its presence and trying to figure out how it got in there was a hoot. Interestingly, the larger fish gave the little ones courage, drawing them out as they swam around together. Our friend graciously turned his loan into a gift. They have all been bestowed names of Redwall characters, with the goldfish given to us seeming to be the most appropriately named as “Fenna.”
Unbelievably, within the first week we discovered a pair of bullfrogs in the pond! How did they find it so quickly, with no other water source nearby? Strings of slimy eggs were soon trailing off the cord of the pump, which were collected and deposited in a bucket to keep the larger fish from eating hatching tadpoles. One of the bullfrogs remained, usually keeping post underneath an overhanging flat stone on the edge of the pool until attempts to catch him sent him plopping into the water. I will refrain from speaking of his sad demise a few days ago, but will give you a proverb to contemplate. “Do not stand on the stone where the bullfrog you are trying to catch is hiding.”
All of this backyard fun quickly turned into a frustrating battle against the pond owner’s chief enemy – algae! The title of this post does not come from the ability to see yourself in the water! It seemed that overnight the water went from a I-can-see-the-bottom clarity to the consistency of pea soup that hid even the large goldfish. How did this happen? Children shot grass from the lawnmower into it (Grrr!); oak trees timed the filling of the pond with their annual dropping of seedlings, sending hundreds of algae-producing paratroopers into it; heavy rains diluted the chemicals I had placed in it; and then I discovered a defunct UV light on the pump, which was supposed to kill the algae that was now thickening by the day. As the pump was struggling to run, and two of the small fish died, a counterattack had to occur.
So pond blogs were read and steps were quickly taken so I would not end up with a pond bog again. We located an old skimmer, undoubtedly used long ago for the same reason, and scooped out debris daily. The pretty, little, floating fountain pump was replaced with a more practical, heavy-duty one with no fountain but much more movement of the water. Little barley bales now float on the top as they catch particles and cleanse the water. At a friend’s suggestion, two Plecostomus were added to eat up the algae. Shading was encouraged with an aquatic plant fetched out of a natural pond from beaver dams we discovered about a mile away. The result a few weeks later? Just today we can now see the bottom – and the fish – again.
If someone stopped by and took a look at it with me, not knowing the above details, he might think the pond in its current form has always been there (or at least it has been for a very long time). If he were not wise to these things, as I was not just a few months ago, he might even think a little pond of this size could not be too much trouble. Indeed, he could easily conclude it would not appear to need much hands-on maintenance at all.
Just as, in a similar way, people do every day when they look at the heavens and the earth that the Lord has made and fail to see His creative and sustaining power.
And therein lies the parable of the reflecting pond.