The love pond

My excursion into the strange underworld of water gardening.



Amanda Ward
September 20, 2000 2:19AM (UTC)

My sweetie's got sweaters, and he's got ties. He's got shelves of books and stacks of CDs. He has computer games, skis and a canoe. You could call him the man who has everything, but you'd be wrong. What he doesn't have -- yet -- is a pond.

This is our first year in Texas. And this week is our anniversary. Last year, my man headed into a Montana morning with his fly rod and brought home an anniversary trout. This year, he just sits by the window and stares. There's nothing outside our window but a big, scorched yard. I know what he's missing. I stop casting about on the Web and trolling the malls for presents.

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This year, I'm giving my man a pond. A love pond.

Sounds simple, eh? No fancy implements needed other than a big yard, a shovel and some elbow grease. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out!

Because I am organized, I make a list: Research ponds, dig hole, line hole, fill with water, add fish. Smiling, I add: Skinny-dip by moonlight.

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Step 1: Research ponds

At work on Monday, when my boss isn't looking, I begin my search. The first resource I find is Pete's Pond Page. This astonishing Web page details the construction of a huge pond in the yard of one avid water gardener named Peter Orelup. Pete's pond began as a medium-sized hole in 1993, and is now home to koi, water lilies, a stream, and, I kid you not, a bridge. The diagram of Pete's elaborate recirculating pumping system makes my head -- pardon the pun -- swim.

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From Pete's page, I head over to the Austin, Texas, Pond Society Home Page, which I am awed to find that over 150,000 people have accessed. I am invited to join the Internet Pond Web Ring. I have missed the Austin Pond Tour and Officer's Meeting. I am beginning to feel overwhelmed when an office busybody named Bob peers over my shoulder. "Can't have a pond around here," he says.

"Why not?"

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"Raccoons," says Bob. He explains that wherever there is a water source, wildlife will congregate, and around central Austin, wildlife means raccoons.

I find a local water garden store, and call immediately.

"Oh, yes, you'll get wildlife," admits the woman who answers the phone. She adds in a snooty voice, "We pond-lovers feel it's worth it."

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I shrug. I really dislike Bob. "You know," I tell him, "True pond lovers embrace wildlife."

He goes back to his little cube.

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Step 2: Dig hole

"Honey," I say, as we sip beers in our backyard, "where's your favorite spot to, um, sit and think back here?"

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He looks around. "Under that tree, I guess," he says. I smile. Little does he know, I think, that by spring he'll be reeling in a big one underneath that oak.

The pond store is smelly and amazing. There are small ponds full of seaweed, and big ponds with waterfalls and lazy koi. "I am a pond novice," I explain to the first clerk that comes my way. To my dismay, the clerk tells me that to get away with not having a pump or filter, I can't go larger than 4 feet by 4 feet. Not much room for skinny-dipping.

That night, while my man is out, I drink some wine and begin to dig with an old shovel I find in the garage. Don't let anyone fool you: Digging is very hard work. By 10 o'clock, I am sore, and there is a puddle-sized hole in my yard. I put the shovel away. Maybe this will be a Christmas pond.

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Step 3: Line hole

Back at the pond store, I price pond liners. They are expensive items, and the woman assures me with condescension that a garbage bag will not do the trick. I choose a medium-sized black hole, and throw down my credit card: $157.43. I am now the owner of the most expensive plastic wading pool on earth.

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Step 4: Fill with water

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I am now spending much of my workday thinking about ponds. The Pond Lady of New Orleans Page recommends that you put your pond where there is plenty of sunlight. In Usenet's rec.ponds chat room, an anonymous user tells me to be sure to place my pond "where the water accumulates during rainstorms."

That night, I ask my sweetie where the rain accumulates in our yard.

"I have no idea," he says, "It hasn't rained in months."

I sigh.

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"Is everything OK?" he asks. I nod, and walk away, lest he see my blistered hands.

The next morning, after he has gone to work, I dig for 20 minutes or so. In approximately three years, I should have a hole big enough to accommodate the damn liner I have hidden in the garage.

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Step 5: Add fish

You can have many types of fish in a backyard pond, but the insiders all seem to go for koi. Greg, in Iowa, has pictures of his koi, Miss Piggy and Marge, on his Web page. On Andrew and Jackie's Australia Koi Page, I am treated to a look at the koi digestive system. I sign up to be a member of the Texas Koi and Fancy Goldfish Society.

Bob whispers that I should really stop surfing during work time.

At home, the digging goes slowly. By the time our anniversary is three days away, my darling has begun to question the tarp in the middle of the yard, and the gloves I wear around the house. I put him off with winks and vague allusions to anniversary thrills. He expresses concern about the hours I spend on the computer, chatting with pond pals from around the globe.

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Step 6: Skinny-dipping by moonlight

Tuesday: My baby cuts me off.

Over coffee, he demands to know if I'm seeing someone, and why my hands are red. He mentions a recent "Dateline" which featured a woman who buried husbands in her yard. He looks at me pleadingly. He gestures to the tarp. Finally, I admit my dreams of trout, and nude swimming in the moonlight.

He calls the Doubletree Hotel, and makes reservations. "Is the pool still open?" he asks.

"At your own risk," says the operator. My man promises the best fish on the menu, and a moonlight swim to boot.

Tonight, we'll fill in the hole in the yard. I'll say adios to my beleaguered buddies at the rec.ponds chat room. And as soon as I return that liner, I'm splurging on the closest thing to a swimming hole we're likely to get in our backyard: a neon plastic Slip-'n'-Slide.


Amanda Ward

Amanda Ward in a freelance writer. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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