The Pond Builder

The Pond Builder

A legacy is

wood ducks, willows, and bubba,

a giant beast who boys tried 

to catch fishing on the 

red clay core, clay stripped and packed

tight by some man on a dozer.

He laid this rusted riser,

checking heights with transit

and rod. He closed the valve

waited for rain and hoped to God 

the pond would hold—maybe 

for ducks and boys, but mostly 

for his name among 

those who build

and understand what holds water.

Some Farm Ponds We Built When I Worked for Soil and Water Conservation

Bringing in a Lethal Librarian

Up to this point in my life, I’ve looked down my only double barrel firearm, my nose, at that other subset of outdoorsmen known as hunters. I haven’t been hunting since the time I bagged a ten-pointer, saber-tooth tiger, and window pane in the same trip, the trip right before my mom confiscated my bb-gun and grounded me for a short eternity. 

I figured it would be hard to ever eclipse the results of that excursion, and thus I focused my efforts on the pursuit of aquatic life, making it my life’s goal to become a charter boat captain on my grandma’s pond. In those days, I had about every color plastic worm available, which is not saying a lot because plastic wormery has advanced a lot since then. (Apparently, scientists have kept quite busy discovering new species of plastic worms, heralding each species as the missing link in the largemouth bass’s dietary preferences.)

Because my hunting skills are a little rusty, over the years I’ve let other people hunt on our farm in the hopes that they would deter the roaming horde of deer that pillage and plunder my crops. But, alas, year after year, I have been disappointed as hunters have killed nary a deer; instead, they’ve merely baited more in and taken pictures of them eating corn cobs. 

HUNTER: “Look at all these deer in the photo I got from the trail cam.” 

ME: “Have you killed any yet?” 

HUNTER: “No, I could of killed some does, but I’m waiting for that big buck there.” 

ME: “But can’t you kill up to six a year?”

HUNTER: “Yeah, but it’s too much trouble to fool with does.”

I’ve heard this so many times that my regard for hunters and their outdoor craft has plummeted. At least if a fisherman doesn’t catch anything, we have the decency to lie about it, but hunters seem perfectly content admitting that they spent four hours sitting in the woods and failed, then proudly riding away in their oversized trucks with no forest ruminant on the back. In fact, I’m starting to think if a hunter drives a trunk big enough to rival an Abrams tank, then they are too much trouble to fool with.  

Apparently, real hunters drive a truck of normal proportions and work at the library, or at least that’s what I’ve learned since we’ve started letting Payne, a mild-mannered student worker and aspiring librarian, start hunting on our farm. In two weeks, he has killed three deer and two racoons–with a bow and arrow. That’s more than the other hunters killed in five years, with high-powered rifles with sniper scopes. You would never see Payne and think, “he’s a deadly hunter,” but I suppose it just goes to show you can’t judge a future keeper of books by his cover. 

My Philosophical Thoughts on Playgrounds

Earlier this week, Thomas looked out the window and said despondently, “Deddy, turn rain off.” 

Ah, my sentiments exactly, son. If only I could control the rain, I might have made a few dollars farming, but unfortunately I don’t control the rain; God does–or possibly the Illuminati–but either way I have little control over what falls from the sky over my farm. 

For Thomas, rain was the major impediment upon our progress to the park. Parks are wonderful places, places where toddlers can discharge energy without risk of your couch collapsing. Sure, there’s a slight risk you might pull your left deltoid muscle while showing your toddler how to climb the miniature rock wall, but thankfully your toddler shouldn’t know the four-letter words associated with a muscle pull yet.

Anyway, I’ve learned that what makes a good park isn’t so much sliding boards, rock walls, or an impact-friendly synthetic rubber surface, but the playground’s greater containment system. When you do pull a muscle, you will be considerably less mobile while your arm is hanging limply, so a good fence that at least impedes a toddler’s escape from custody is a nice feature. I’ve dealt with many types of livestock over the years, and I’ve always thought pigs were the most adept at probing fences for weaknesses, even more so than goats. Toddlers exceed even pigs and goats at escaping containment. Apparently, toddlers live to defy authority, whereas goats and pigs just take pleasure in it. 

Another important attribute of a park is its proximity to your domicile. It needs to be close enough to your house that your offspring doesn’t have time to fall asleep between departure from the park and your return home. Indeed, the whole point of taking your child to a park in the morning is to earn the 2 ½ hours of free time in the afternoon–and nothing sabotages all that carefully laid groundwork and sacrificial muscle sprain more than a toddler’s twenty-minute power nap on the way home. I’ve heard rumor that some superior specimens of human parents are capable of transferring a sleeping toddler from a car into their home without waking the sleeping ball of energy in their arms, but mostly I believe that’s a myth, given that modern-day car seats are about as user friendly as a twisted ratchet strap. Extricating sleeping toddlers from a car now requires a modern miracle, and good luck getting a toddler back to sleep who has awakened refreshed from a twenty minute power nap.

That said, you can, eventually, sleep soundly at night knowing you took your child to the park. Indeed, if there is one thing I’ve learned from fatherhood, it’s that happiness is a toddler on a sliding board.

The Collard King

Some people could sell a sugar cube to an engorged honeybee in a honey bound hive–their salesmanship abilities are that good. Others of us struggle with selling. 

I remember the first time I ever sold anything at the farmers’ market. In eastern NC, where I grew up, collards were big business. It seemed like every small town had a collard peddler, who before Thanksgiving and New Years would park at a gas station with a truckbed overflowing with freshly-cut collard heads. There, in the parking lot, the collard king would hold court, a big folded up wad of cash in his hand as he bestowed the honor of buying his freshly cut collards on his followers. And followers he had. There would be a genuine traffic jam in the parking lot from people clamoring to fork over cash to the collard king. 

Thus, I aspired to be–only I aspired to be a collard king in western NC, where I settled once I got married. I grew a quarter-acre collard patch, tended them with gentle loving care to maturity, then spent a Friday evening picking my first batch to take to the farmers’ market. Nobody was selling collards at the farmers market, and thought I could establish a niche. I had also done my salesmanship research and read that produced piled high draws people’s attention. The saying was, “pile it high and watch it fly,” a metaphor meaning people would surely buy my collards so fast they would fly off the table. But the only thing that flew were my collards, literally, as they parachuted down due to periodic wind gusts. It was a chilly, windy November morning, and in the excitement to get to the market that morning I had forgotten my coat. I froze for five hours, made 30 dollars, and returned home with a pickup full of collards to give away to neighbors. One neighbor said, “We never ate many collards growing up around here. Seems like most folks here ate turnip greens.”

And that’s the problem with farming. You can grow the world’s most beautiful collard greens, but if you live in an area where people eat turnip greens, good luck.

It’s Now Time to Apologize to My Mom

If there are any miracle workers out there who may be reading this, please feel free to stop by if you’re ever in Shelby, NC, particularly any weekend between the hours of 1 PM and 3 PM, when my toddler is kicking and screaming to resist the dark forces of slumber. On weekends, a divine intervention may be the only thing that can get my son to go down for a nap. 

At first sight of his pillow and blanket, Thomas starts with a gentle heart-breaking plea, “No, no, no, Daddy, let’s play.” In the past, as a mere fallible man, I’ve fallen for this cleverly-crafted ruse and allowed my offspring to skip his nap and play. I do not recommend it. Continuous play from 7 AM to an inevitable late afternoon toddler meltdown is hazardous for all involved–I have the psychological scars to prove it, not to mention a striking impression of my toddlers’ incisors on my shoulder. 

The problem is that parents are left with two unenviable military positions–either they face a prolonged battle of attrition to get their toddler to go down for a regularly scheduled nap (how the teachers do it at daycare is beyond me) or they risk the threat of utter annihilation once a toddler’s overworked energy reactor has finally imploded. No doubt about it, my toddler’s meltdown scream is an unconsolable weapon of mass destruction, namely of eardrums, and anyone within a thousand mile radius of it ought to seek underground shelter. 

This world is a strange place. We at least send our new military recruits to ten weeks of basic training to prepare them to handle weapons of war. But new parents get a cigar, flowers, and a hardy, “Good luck!” to prepare them to handle bundles of life. Two years in, you’d think we’d know what we’re doing with Thomas, but on some days, particularly Saturdays and Sundays between the hours of 1PM and 3 PM, I feel as lost and exhausted as a new parent in a maternity ward. 

And the crazy thing is we only have one kid. How parents with multiples do it is beyond my comprehension. You’d think the second one might be easier because you’ve got some experience under your belt, but you’d be wrong. The life-giver who reigns over this mortal coil has a mortally coiled up sense of humor. I know enough to know that nearly always the second child is the exact opposite of the first child, so you might as well wipe up all that hard-earned experience and toss it into the diaper bin. 

Even now, with my basic understanding of the natural processes of human growth and development, I sometimes find it hard to believe that I was once a toddler, so small in size, but boundless in energy. But my mom has indeed verified that I was once such a creature. I guess, if I’m being honest, I do have some vague remembrances of her wanting to come home from work and take naps instead of wanting to wrestle, but it didn’t bother me too much back then because it was a lot easier to put my sleeping mom in a figure four leg-lock than it was my older brother. 

Sorry, Mom.