Living up Freshwater Cove in the eighties we were lucky enough to have great neighbors who let us use their pond. We swam in it, played horeshoes, set up a sauna, ice skated, fished, and just watched it. It was only a couple of acres in size and was installed as part of the flood control after Hurricane Camille ravaged Nelson County in 1969. At is deepest it was probably only about 12 feet but there was a dock and we kept a tiny area to the side of it clean enough to get out on. The springs feeding the pond were small and the turnover of fresh water was kind of limited in late summer when it was hot and dry.
This made for some serious scum of algae and pollen that had to be cleared away before you could jump in. This was a job for the “Scum Busters!”, otherwise known as the kids. We’d send them out to stir it up and clear all the yucky stuff out of the way for the rest of us. They didn’t seem to mind too much. Swimming time is fun time regardless of the quality of the water. One thing we were careful not to do though was touch the bottom any more than was absolutely necessary. Snapping turtles and muck are best avoided. Usually we climbed out on the dock rather than walking in or out along the bank.
Sometimes folks from the city, friends of J and J, would be visiting, and would not know how to act. They would set themselves out in inner tubes and remain still for long periods of time, napping even. This is an invite for the bluegills to nosch on anything interesting on your body, like a mole, or any kind of protuberance really. We were always careful to keep moving. Did I mention we were usually naked? Enough said. One dozing woman actually woke up and yelled “RAPE!
Something’s getting me!” and came up out of the water pretty darn fast. Some of us found this funny.
We had horse shoe stobs set up on the dam and would play teams. Skins vs. Shorts was one moniker. You had to be careful of yellow jacket nests though. I do not recommend sitting down on a pond bank in August until you have thoroughly checked out the area. They can keep on stinging even after you’ve jumped underwater. Believe me, I know.
There for awhile we had a sauna we built out of saplings cut and bent down in a circle over a fire pit. We found an old green, mildewy smelling, canvas tarp up in the barn and covered it over like a tent. Then we heated up rocks in a fire outside of it and brought them in with a shovel and poured water on them while we all sat around inside. It was a great sauna and we got a lot of use out of it until the pony pushed it down one day while he was mowing the grass.
Some of us thought it would be a good idea to drip irrigate our five acres of organic veggies using the pond water but that did not go over so well in the end. It pays to get permission for that kind of endeavor and it did lower the water level in the pond. It was a gravity fed system, very low key. Just ½ inch black plastic pipe that we drilled holes in run down the length of the rows. It made a big difference that one year during the drought. We had green beans when nobody else did and they went as high as $15.00 a bushel, from $3 the year before. The following year, everybody had irrigated beans and the market dropped back down though. There is no way to win in farming for very long.
One year we raised a bunch of ducks, thinking that would be a good
idea for the pond. I love ducks, but they are messy and seem to have an innate desire to leave their droppings right where you don’t want them. Like all over the dock. They are also very fond of tomatoes and can devastate a huge patch of ready for market ones in the space of time it takes for you to go to the post office and back. Foxes managed to get any that decided it was a good idea to sit on eggs down at the pond. The only successful mama was the one who kept her nest right under the rabbit hutch. She would hiss at you like a snake if you came near.
A couple of years we were able to ice skate on the pond. It was probably around 1983-84. We built bonfires to warm up with and had a blast. People dug up skates that hadn’t been used in many years. I don’t think I have used mine since either. I kind of miss ice skating. We used to have winters where you could play ice hockey for about 6 weeks but that all stopped back about 1972.
One time, coming up the driveway, I saw a couple of beavers down by the low water bridge. They found their way up to the pond about two days later and started gnawing down trees on the North side. They were cutting through Tulip poplars too big to get your arms around in one night. Dropping them right in the water. They built a lodge and started raising a family. You could swim around out there in the water with them and get pretty close, which was kind of neat. Then they started attracting the attention of the dogs. We had a couple of
border collie type dogs and Geshen, the female, was bound and determined to catch herself a beaver. She would swim out and try to get behind them the same way she got behind groundhogs on land. Beavers can swim forever though and they did their best to exhaust her and get her to drown. I had to go out in the boat and haul her in. Then the beavers started building a dam just upstream of the pond right where the road up to J and J’s crossed, causing it to go all swampy. J had to keep tearing the dam down and they kept building it back. Guns were going to be next. I decided to have a little discussion with the beavers, and told them they needed to move on. I suggested they head down stream towards where my barn was and build a little dam there in the creek. I could use a deeper watering hole for the horses. They actually did! However, before they got it all built, the dogs got their revenge and that was the end of that.
These days the pond has silted in so much that nobody wants to swim in it anymore, except the snappers. I loved having it there though and seriously miss living in a place where you can just peel off your clothes and jump in whenever you like. Someday, I hope to live near water again.
writing at edgewisewoods.com