How to Make a Maine Pond In a Weekend
The state of Maine has lost 20 percent of its natural wetlands since the first European settlers arrived. That's a huge amount of territory in a state where wetlands comprise fully one-quarter of all land area. It's a loss of some 2,000 square miles, if my math is correct.
So it's of little consequence, in the grand scheme of things, that a few dozen square feet of wetland materialized this week in my backyard, courtesy of my two strapping and energetic sons. But from a narrow, personal perspective, the impact has been considerable.
I'm not sure from whence, exactly, arose the impetus for this excellent summer project. Both of my boys (young men, really, eighteen and twenty-five) have been ardent naturalists for a while now. Tristan, the younger, got fired up a few years ago by an inspirational high-school botany teacher named Rob Lovell at Camden Hills. Matthew, the elder, grew up mostly with his mom who has made a career in public service with the National Park Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Service, and lately the Department of Interior. My own contribution, if any, must have come from being a keen (though bumbling and indolent) gardener, in which capacity I spend a couple of hours each day wandering outdoors and contemplating how wonderful things might be a few years down the road, if only these scrawny green specimens would get their act together. Occasionally I dig a hole and plop something into it.
Be all that as it may, the lads emerged from Tristan's basement lair the day before yesterday to announce they were going to make a pond. They'd already chosen the spot: several feet from the back deck, amid a barren expanse of contractor fill. At a glance, it seemed proposterous — the ground was compacted and all but impenetrable; not even weeds have consented to grow there during the four years since the cottage was built. Undeterred, they began picking and chipping away.
Next morning, while the weary youths slept in, I ventured onto the deck to behold what wonders they had wrought. There was a pile of large rocks, a pile of small rocks, and a pile of some unclassifiable gritty substance that might have been beamed down by one of those Mars exploration rovers from the surface of the Red Planet. At the center of it all was a crudely lenticular excavation, large enough to dispose of a fair-sized homicide victim, though you'd have to worry about a hipbone or something sticking out. It was pretty impressive, given the terrain.
Soon the boys awoke and forayed out seeking donuts and PVC pond liner. For good measure, they also picked up a precast fiberglass pool that looked like an Orc jacuzzi. So we will have two ponds, it seems, in due course. I tried to help in an advisory capacity — make sure the bed is nice and smooth, I suggested (parroting something I'd read in a book), or you'll get punctures in the liner. They rode off merrily to filch sand from the local beach.
Within about thirty hours of conceiving the project, they had finished it, more or less. Still a bit rough around the edges, the pond was filled with water and banked with rocks and enlivened by a couple of plants displaced from the natural wetland at the back of the property. (I suppose I should say that Down East magazine in no way endorses pillaging wetlands or filching sand or any other shady things my sons might get up to.) By nightfall, a frog had discovered the place. As of this morning — just two days on — there are three frogs, a Playmobil sea serpent, and a water lily.
What a difference it makes! Where only a couple of days ago there was Martian desert, now there is a little body of water, shimmering in the breeze, reflecting trees and sky, not exactly teeming with life but nonetheless harboring frogs and plants and possibilities. What should I plant around the margins? If we mix some compost in with the leftover fill, could I make a little mound at one end and plant, say, some golden Hackonechloa and a weeping Japanese maple?
Art, according to Frank Zappa, consists of making something out of nothing and then selling it. Gardening, by extension, often consists of making beauty out of emptiness and then enjoying it. I happily anticipate years of pleasure from this humble pond.
I do shudder, a bit, to consider what the boys will be up to next.