When we were in Michigan, we stayed with our friends the Carters for several days. I kept creepily threatening to take pictures of their house and write a “tour the Carters” post when I got home, because I am not exaggerating when I say that their place is amazing.
The inside is open and gorgeous, with something fascinating everywhere you look (one book shelf alone contains a bear skull, a leather sack of old assorted coins, and a bleached turtle shell). Every single object in that house comes with a story, and the telling of the story (“Oh, that? That’s just some bison fur I picked up out west when Deb and I were caught in the middle of one of their stampedes.”) is pitch-perfect in its nonchalance.
The outside is almost better. Picture the set of The Hobbit come to life. Giant outdoor furniture, carved from giant pieces of giant trees, a treehouse complete with rope ladder and shingles, and a hand-dug pond, rock-ringed and gorgeous.
I wish I’d taken pictures. But I was too busy soaking it all in to grab my camera.
When we got back home, I convinced Ken to engage in a little Single White Female of the Carters and dig our own pond. I have no problem shamelessly copying things that I like, and I really liked Carter Pond. Plus, maybe if we made our yard look like theirs, we’d start having adventures like theirs (“This is a geode I found while banding bats down south one year.”)
|The site of the once and future pond|
But the thing is, to get a pond in your yard, you only have three options: 1. buy property with a pond already on it, 2. pay someone to put in a pond for you, or 3. dig it out yourself.
Sadly, we didn’t have the foresight for option one, or the disposable income for option two, so option three it was. We had to hand dig our pond.
And by “we”, this time it really meant “me”, since we started the project on a Monday, and Ken has this stupid thing called “work” that demands large portions of his time during the week.
So I dug. And I dug. And I dug some more. When I wasn’t digging, I was taking a hatchet to roots so big they looked like medium trees in themselves. And when I wasn’t hacking up roots, I was sweating.
|Get your dirt out of Boss’s hole.|
Digging a pond by hand is not as facile as one may imagine.
I’ve said it before, but these are truly amazing times we live in. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, Ken and I were able to access dozens of experts’ knowledge about pond installation. YouTube videos indicated that once the first level of the pond was dug out, a secondary level, deep enough for fish and plants to survive winter, needed to be excavated.
So, more digging.
Once that was done, we put in an underliner of old tarp and some Styrofoam package sheeting Ken had laying around, and the pond liner went over top. The whole thing was secured in place by some rocks.
|A glorified Hefty bag|
Let me tell you about “some rocks”. We knew we’d need massive amounts of fairly-large stones, so we went to a local landscaping company, got a brief but fascinating lesson in the nuances of rock-sizing, and arranged to have three tons of rock delivered to the bottom of our driveway.
From there, it was just a matter of 43534572394812309482 wheelbarrow trips from the bottom of the driveway to the bottom of the gully where the pond was slowly taking shape.
If given the choice between digging out a pond or hauling smallish boulders down to a gully, I would be hard pressed to make a decision. Both were back-breaking, exhausting work that I did mostly on my own because Ken was busy making the money to buy smallish boulders and the kids were too busy searching the rock pile for gold nuggets.
|There is an art to dry stacking rocks. I think by rock 67580 I may have mastered it.|
Finally, finally, the pond was dug, the liner installed, the rocks arranged, and we could start filling the thing up with water. Not surprisingly, when it came time to hold the hose and shoot things with water, I had no shortage of helpers.
We gave the water time to settle and I researched local nurseries that sold native plants, because I had this grand scheme of creating an authentic New England woodland garden around the pond. Sure, every time I mentioned wild ginger or may apple, Ken would just roll his eyes and mutter about “Paying good money for weeds”, but I wasn’t budging. This pond had taken too much time and labor to junk it up with just any old plant.
|There she is! My beautiful pond.|
On Saturday, we went to Emmons, a local aquatic store for fish and water lilies. The kids were immediately charmed by the giant koi. I was horrified, both by the giant koi nightmare mouths and by their price tags- $4,500!! We opted for the “3 for $12″ goldfish special, which still seemed like a ridiculous amount to pay for goldfish, but I was assured that they were voracious eaters and would quickly grow to just under eight inches.
|Water lilies. One of nature’s weirder plants.|
From there, we went to Earth Tones, a native plant nursery that I could have spent the rest of my life in. The place was beautiful, with not a single hosta or geranium to be seen. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some hosta and geraniums, but around here, that’s pretty much all that’s sold. So to see the amazing diversity of plants local to this particular corner of the planet, well, it was amazing.
|I named the rock center “Steve”. Steve weighed easily 400 lbs. and Ken had to wheel him down on a dolly.|
Back home to plant everything, and stand back and look at the fruits of our labor. I love it so much, even now, with the plants all tiny and new. If they survive winter (and they should, since they’re plants that have specifically evolved to live in this exact location), they’ll fill in the spaces even better next year. Every morning, Ken and I wander down to the pond, and stand side-by-side as we silently sip our coffee and stare at the water. The fish hide when they see us coming, but you see them down there, little flashes of flame against the rocks. For a few perfect moments, everything in the world is as still and tranquil as that pond.
Then some child can be heard screaming from inside the house, breaking the quiet, but it’s ok, because I know the day will give me other chances to sneak out from the noise and slip down to the pond for another moment of solitude.
(If you want to check out the Carters’ shop, which has pictures of the amazing benches I was talking about AND some fantastic gift ideas, you can click here: The Crooked Stick. The website is still under construction, but Andy’s got inventory for sale and is happy to do custom orders.)