It’s always interesting to be able to live long enough to see how a long range project worked out. The farm is one of those plans, and thirty years later so is the pond.
First, the pond does not belong to us or to Trufflebert. It is the property of Bill Roskam’s four grandchildren. He purchased the land adjacent to the farm after Weyerhauser had completed their clear cut. He replanted the land in fir trees, exceeding the required code, with the intent that his grandchildren would profit from the sale of the timber when they were older, and Paul advised him to scoop out the swampy area that abuts the road, which winds around the bottom of our South Field, to make a pond.
I vaguely remember a special incentive was that if he signed up with the local water district and allowed them to use the pond if there were ever a fire in the neighborhood that this willingness to share the water resulted in some type of financial compensation from the county as it was being dug.
I choose to believe that Paul told Bill that it was the right thing to do,
and he signed up for that reason.
Although we didn’t own the pond we enjoyed looking at it, and later we did plant several Weeping Willow trees at the eastern end of it in memory of Ted’s mom and dad, and two stately sequoias overlook it on the back side of the south slope where we buried their ashes. Sadly, these no longer belong to us either, since we split the property into two parts about 12 years ago. However, we’ve always thought of the pond as part of the farm.
It became fun to walk to the pond in the spring and summer, especially on a hike up the road to the meadow beyond it. In May, the Scotch broom is always glorious, making the whole hillside to the right of the path buttery yellow where it has taken over, and in the fall, at harvest time, the sugar maples, which line its western bank are wildly red and orange, showing off and confirming that the nights have turned cold.
The pond is where Eric and Wendy’s yellow lab, Scooter, learned that he could swim. As a city dog he was unaware of his talent until he came to the
farm. Timidly he went into the swimming pool, behind the house, coaxed by Eric, who trained him where the steps were located so he could exit in case he fell in or if he felt too insecure. (We had built a pool at our home in Sun Valley, and our Springer Spaniel had fallen/jumped in at night and almost drowned because he did not know how to get out again. So we knew that this was an important lesson.) Scooter was a reluctant participant, ears back, wild-eyed, looking for a way to escape. He couldn’t wait to get out of that swimming pool.
Later, we all traipsed to the pond for a real swimming lesson, one suitable for a farm dog. His example would be Lily, Lisa’s older yellow lab.
We lofted large sticks into the pond for Lily to retrieve, and she demonstrated her love of the water for Scooter. He watched at first, and
then he jumped in. He swam smoothly out to the stick to fetch it for us, his tail moving back and forth like a rudder, and then he kept on going. He looked over his left shoulder as if to say, “Hey, I’m really good at this,” and we could not get him to return to shore. He swam and swam out of our reach, and we called and called, but he was now blissfully in control.
Finally, we pretended to walk away down the road on our way home. That brought him out carrying the stick, and he shook himself all over us bystanders and trotted home with a new-found confidence.
When the backhoe dredged the pond, they found that the basis was steel gray clay, which is good soil for retaining water. An intake pipe brought in freshwater from the nearby creek and an outtake pipe at the bottom of the dig sent it back into the creek about 200 feet later. Today the creek still runs into and out of the pond as well as around the outside.
The pond is also at least 100 feet wide, and it took two years of rain for it to fill. There were constant worries that the dam would collapse or that the
outflow would get plugged up and the water would crest the dam, but nothing like that ever happened.
I’ve been told that every fisherman dreams of having his own trout pond, so when it was suggested that we stock the pond, Ted jumped at the chance.
So, one summer we loaded two brand new 30 gallon trash cans into the backs of our cars and headed to Noti, about 40 minutes away, to buy six inch trout at Troutdale Farm.
They have several ponds with fish of different sizes, and we gauged what we wanted and ordered them. The owner asked how long before we returned home, and we told him that we had other errands to run on the return trip. He refused to sell us the number we wanted. He said that there wouldn’t be enough oxygen for them unless we returned ome immediately. (This has stuck in my mind as so much a picture of what a small farmer would do, and since I only know of farmers in Oregon, it, to me, is so Oregonian. I don’t believe that any business person in California would have denied me what I wanted on ethical grounds. It is one of the things that I like about Oregon. As someone raised in California, it is my experience that there I would not be denied. Caveat emptor! My inexperience would be my problem. If I arrived at home with two containers of dead fish, then so be it. Perhaps it is because we rarely run into people who know or care what they are doing, and I am at their mercy that I feel this way.)
So, we did, and the pond remained stocked for about four years.
At the beginning, we needed to feed the fish until they became established and could forage on their own. We purchased fish pellets, and in the evening we headed to the pond with the required amount to cast into
the water. I still remember the wonderful cool smell of the water as the fish broke the surface to feed. It was a thrill to see them jump, and I know now how privileged I was to have had this experience.
The next year when they were large enough to be interesting, the Martinez boys spent the day fishing, and we enjoyed a fish fry that evening.
Then, things changed. First, we found dead fish washed up on shore with holes poked in them. It wasn’t until someone walked back to the pond at the right time of day that we realized that we had been providing a blue heron with his daily meals. I didn’t get a long look at him, but one day before he took flight from the south end of the pond, I saw him and was struck by his size. Imagine the wingspan of a pelican on long stilt legs.
It was breath taking and aggravating. We were an unofficial heron
preserve. At least he was alone.
What he didn’t eat, the renter did.
We don’t know how this man got himself into financial trouble, but before he left, he had his motorcycle repossessed and after his electricity was turned off for non payment, he hooked up the refrigerator in the house to the separate electrical source that serviced the pool on the bill that we paid for, and he’d cleaned out the pond. (After he left, we found a jar of Pautzke’s green label salmon eggs in our refrigerator.) Now, there were no
The beaver constituted another threat to the pond. I remember finding the branches gnawed to a pencil point that is their trademark. Again, it was my Girl Scout training that led me to inform everyone that “We have beaver in the pond.”
They moved in one year and proceeded to dam up the creek for their own use. They plugged the intake to the pond with twigs and mud. Then, they frolicked nearby in their new water world. The summer that we found them, Ted would head out every other evening with a shovel over his shoulder to break down the new dam that they’d created over the pipe leading into the pond. From the road, through the trees, I could just see their living quarters. I never heard the tail slapping on the water that they exhibit when there is danger. Instead, I imagined a small red light, like the portable ones that are thrown onto the roof of a police vehicle when a chase is in progress. I thought that the beavers must have one at the ready to flip onto their roof when they sensed that the man with the shovel was approaching.
I mistakenly believed that they only ate the bark from one kind of tree, the elm. I got this information, I thought from a program on the Nature channel.
Then, on one walk to the pond, I was astounded that they had felled one of the ten-year-old willows. What remained was a large upright piece honed to a point and the rest of the tree nearby, with a matching point, stripped of
bark and branches.
Even that would have been acceptable, but they overstepped and snacked on some of the hazelnut trees on the slope across the road from the pond, now known as “the last supper.” It is strange how your perspective
changes when you are a farmer. Anything that threatens your crop is fair game, even Bambi.
When Eric arrived for his yearly summer visit, he was more than happy to increase his hunting prowess from blue jays and squirrels and raccoons to beaver, and so after two were killed, the rest disappeared.
Over the years the pond has been neglected. The trees from the clear cut have grown tall, but weeds have infested the pond and no one mows around the perimeter anymore. Ronan, Griffin, and Sarah still like to walk there even if they have to slog through the knee-high weeds to throw stones into the water. They could do this for hours if I let them.
Then, last August as we were outside covering the swimming pool for the winter, I spied smoke at a fairly close distance. I gauged it to be at Gillespie Corners where Lorane Highway dead ends into Territorial Highway. As it
turned out, it was a little closer than that at Simonson Road. There was a column of black, but we weren’t terribly concerned because it wasn’t the wall of smoke that you’d expect from a fire in the forest. Nonetheless, we kept our eye on it, and it made us aware that we are surrounded by trees.
Suddenly, from the north a helicopter appeared and flew low right over our heads. Hanging underneath was the orange basket that you associate with buckets of water that are dumped on forest fires. It flew directly over where we were working on the pool, and Ronan, who was staying an extra week with us, was very interested. Then, it descended in a rush of wind behind the south orchard and even as far away as we were, we could see the trees being thrashed around by the force coming from the blades.
It took us a minute to realize that the helicopter was hovering over the pond and scooping up water to put out the fire. It went back to the fire twice before Ronan set off on a run to get closer to the action. He was too late to
actually see it dip into the pond, and I never thought of my camera until the
helicopter was returning home, flying away north over our front fruit orchard.
The gossip at the Lorane Country Store is like putting together a puzzle.
The next day as we stopped there for breakfast, they told me that a truck
had caught fire at the entrance to Simonson Road. We had seen the blackened carcass as we went by. I told them that the water had come from the pond near our house.
A larger tragedy had been averted, and a pond that had been dug and filled more than twenty years before had shown how interconnected we all
Ronan is only eight years old, and he doesn’t know the history of the pond unless he reads this some day. So, he saw one thing, but I lived long enough to see another.