Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In our river valley, the devil was in the details

"When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing - just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?" __ Ralph Marston

I am not real sure of the details, but when I was a young buck, there were a couple of ponds near the river in the upper end of the town of Dolores, Colorado. One pond was fenced all around by a big chain-link barrier with locked gates and had something to do with the drinking water supply. The other was for recreational purposes, I guess. At least that is the way we looked at it.

My compadres and I spent fair amount of time at what we called “the town pond,” or the one sans chain-linked barrier. It was a favorite year-round destination.

In the winter, the fire department would sometimes flood it by pumping water out on the top for a refreeze and its smoothing effect to make a better skating surface. We played hockey for hours there, but later found larger and better options downstream near the bridge as you come into town.

I remember at least once, a group of high school kids dropping a small car, part of the way through the ice into the pond, while cutting doughnuts out there.

But the summer fun I recall quite fondly because of the “lively” aspect of our endeavors and the ‘nature’ of our experiments,

The ecosystem included, but was not limited to, frogs, ‘crawdads,’ snakes, salamanders, various sucker-fish, ‘mud dogs,’ carp, small trout, maybe blue gill?, or even Pike, and bugs galore. Perhaps even a small pet alligator or two, at least until the first hard freeze, may have found freedom there … I don’t know. It was a lively place.

I personally owned a seine, with a tightly meshed bow-crossed frame about three feet square, that you could drop in the shallow, crawling waters … wait a few minutes, and then pull to the surface with all manner of evil creatures on it. I remember pulling it up several times, only to drop it right back in hurry, because I was not sure what the wiggling mass discovered flopping in the netting was when I brought it to the surface.

Another favorite feature was a makeshift raft, (let’s just call it ‘The Calypso,’ Aye, I sing to your glory,) created by nailing two sheets of four’ by eight’ plywood on each side of several square wooden fence posts. You could pole it anywhere in the mucky mess of a pond and fit three or four of the delinquent, would-be life scientist passengers on at a time.

When archaeologist excavate the area 1,000 years now, imagine the significance they will ascribe to the thousands of unpaired canvas shoes they find in progressive layers of fossilized tar pits … slime, muck and goo, that would suck a Converse All Star Chuck Taylor Special, right off your feet and down deep into the mire, never to be seen again for thousands of years.

There must have been selenium, or other mutation-inducing glop filtering into the pond because, to this day, I have never seen freshwater crawdaddies, the length and girth of those Big Boys wrestled from that location.

Dam building was also a beloved activity, acquired skill, and required course of education, incumbent on students of pond-life. Small streams fed into the top end and often, an overflow ditch, cut in bank between the pond and the river, ran a healthy watercourse between the two connected bodies of water. But what flow could not stand a few modifications and improvements by a troop of adolescent human beavers?

Nearby, just downstream, on the river bank, were the Post Office is now, was a huge willow thicket with bent over clumps that made excellent lodges for the beaver army that tunneled through, and wove together, and dug under room-like caverns, hallways, and hidey holes. And then, down from there, the Big Rock with a diving hole right off the point, and long dark suckers swimming in the backwater behind.

You learned to respect the river, and love it. You cared about the pond. You lived and played in the willows. The crawdads, frogs, snakes, and mud dogs were just some of your friends. No matter how much you dammed it, altered it, slopped in it, swam through it, rafted on it, trapped creatures from it – in essence, it flowed through you. But, I guess, I am not real sure of the details.


1 comment:

Johnny Dee said...

wow that brings back some memories, I remember when they put that pond in, and having a crawdaddy fry with them huge crawdads caught by Randy Saltsgaver, and that raft, I swear I was Huck Finnor or maybe Tom a time or two, poling that ungainly thing around on the mighty Mississippi! They even stocked it with trout a time or two. Great read!