Kneeling in the tall grass on our ponds edge fervently cutting back the overgrown, volunteer shrubs that have taken root over the past few years, my mind wandered back to a bygone era when it seemed our whole life revolved around the pond.
Over the past 4 summers, our pond has been sadly neglected due to our extensive travels and working out of state. Invasive shrubs and cattails have set up residence along the shoreline closing in the boundaries of our once open view. In reality, the pond was starting to show signs of inattention even before we started our nomadic lifestyle. As the boys graduated from high school and moved on to college, life evolved and other priorities took control. But the time has come to breathe new life into our beautiful water feature!
We purchased our property back in 1999. One of the features of this land that attracted us was the presence of a boggy area along the back property line. On the edge of this wetland, where the meadow began, was an wide open spot just begging to be transformed into a pond. It was an ideal setting – plenty of sun and very private. We were excited about the possibilities and started construction within a couple of years. A local contractor, known for his ability to work miracles with an excavator, carved and shaped the clay soil below the wetland and our pond was born.
Little did we realize then how much the pond would became the center of our life over the next few years – the projects and recreational activities changing with the seasons. Many lazy summer days were spent cooling off in the water – diving and playing from our homemade octagonal raft. Summer evenings were spent sinking down into an Adirondack chair, enjoying a glass of wine at ponds edge, watching the bats emerge at dusk and basking in the solitude of the private setting.
Projects developed by Jim and the boys during that time were often centered around and incorporated the pond. After helping a friend for several years with his sugaring operation, Jim and the boys designed and built our own sugar house spanning the spillway of the pond and we invested in an small evaporator. The boys learned the process of sugaring from our friend Bill who still makes and sells syrup from his sugar bush using a team of horses to gather the sap. Spring became synonymous with sugaring time. We tapped our 60 plus maple trees and boiled sap. More often than not, we gathered sap after school let out for the day. This meant firing up the evaporator and boiling well into the night. I can still remember the quiet evenings when we all congregated in the sugar house – the air inside the building thick with steam rising off the evaporator. My sons took their jobs seriously – loading the firebox, testing the sugar level of the sap, pouring off and jarring up the syrup – everyone participated in the process. Conversation and laughter intermixed with periods of silent meditation. The topics discussed while waiting for the sap to turn to syrup were numerous and varied – from friendly banter to solving the world’s problems! I treasure those memories. Often times, I would step out of the warm, cozy sugar house into the snow covered landscape to gaze up at the stars and watch the sparks emerging from the smokestack – mesmerized by the silent beauty.
Winter was all about skating and playing hockey. Endless hours were spent clearing the ice for pick-up hockey games throughout the season. For a few years, we hosted an early morning hockey game on Christmas Day and a late afternoon pot luck and hockey game on New Year’s Eve. It was a nice tradition that brought both family and friends together. There were times when we entertained the notion of figuring out how to put up lights around the pond so we could play hockey at night! But, our efforts were instead transferred to the town hockey rink since it was more accessible to everyone and more inclusive of the whole town community. Hockey was our winter time obsession!
At some point during middle school years, our family caught the “apple cider” bug. With a homemade cider press, we began collecting apples from all over the countryside. The press was set up in the sugar house and we used the pond to wash the apples. Various attempts were made to automate the grinding process which was labor-intensive and required a certain degree of strength and endurance. One idea put to the test involved connecting a bicycle to the grinder so our stronger leg muscles could be employed. That bicycle still sits in the loft of the sugar house where it was last used. I guess you could say our sugar house is enjoying a state of “arrested decay!” We put up many ½ gallon Mason jars of cider. Jim even delved into the “hard cider” business investing in several carboys and learning the technique of turning apple cider into alcohol. We had hard cider in different stages of fermentation in our basement for several years!
Restoring the pond to its former glory is rewarding on two fronts. I love seeing the landscape surrounding the pond transformed, cleaned up and rejuvenated. Even more, I relish the flood of memories that cascade through my thoughts as I work.
Meanwhile – back at the house, our front garden continues to change with different perennials coming in and out of bloom!