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. 

Board By Board

In a moment of inspiration, I once grabbed a crowbar and decided on a whim to start a small home improvement project. I decided to start re-siding my house with hardie board and installing insulation in the walls. Now, two and a half years later, I’m finally on the last wall of my house, and I no longer feel inspired. I can firmly say I’m now anti-inspiration. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I need to be inspired to do something, that something probably doesn’t need to be done. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I saved a ton of money by doing the work myself, but that said I likely also lost several years off my life-expectancy due to lead poisoning. People always talk about how well-built old homes are, but in reality, I think old homes are just well armored. The old wood boards I pried off my house were likely covered in so much lead that I could have pawned them off as metal at the scrap yard. They had at least a dozen layers of paint, dating back to the original paint used way back in 1893. 

On a positive note, in the two and a half years it has taken me to re-side our house, I’ve had a lot of time to think about life priorities and core values while climbing up and down a ladder toting hardie board. Once, after a day of much introspection, self assessment, and ladder climbing, I had a self revelation and decided upon the following maxim as my new personal life slogan, “Never start a project you can’t finish in two hours.” 

However, now that we have a child, I’m considering a revision: “Never start a project you can’t finish in twenty minutes.”

Raising a Man of Taste

Thomas is not a picky eater–he will eat chicken feed, goat feed, cow feed, and cat feed indiscriminately without pretense or shame. I guess it serves me right: I was secretly hoping Thomas would enjoy helping me do farm chores, but instead of helping me feed the farm animals, he mostly just helps himself to the farm animal’s feed. In the process of trying to deter my son from binging on calf starter pellets, I’ve learned that explaining to a toddler why he shouldn’t eat feed meant for other species is a task that should only be undertaken by someone with a Ph.D in logic. Toddler logic is the hardest logic to defeat.

ME: No, no, we don’t eat goat feed.

THOMAS: eat! eat!

ME: “No, it’s the goats time to eat, we just ate. Thomas, stop!”

THOMAS: [grinning with a goat pellet hanging from his lip] time to eat!

ME: “No, goat feed is yucky!”

THOMAS: “No yucky–yummy!”

In the barn, we have three big plastic  trash cans that serve as feed bins to contain the livestock’s vittles. They also serve as Thomas’ buffet line. Of course, the easiest way to keep marauding pests out of feed bins is to shoot them, but you can’t really do that with toddlers (at least you can’t in the South–gun culture is so strong here, the toddlers would likely shoot back). 

And honestly, I’m not sure if I really want to deter Thomas’s adventures with taste. It’s not like he’s only eating highly processed animal feed, he is also developing quite a fondness for farm fresh salads, in particular a fresh orchardgrass/fescue mix which he shoves into his mouth while toddling through the pasture. Anyway, my theory is that if he eats grass as a toddler, he’ll eat broccoli as a teenager. I’ll report back in 11 years.

Thomas caught with hand in cookie jar.

A Good Old Age

I was thinking about it the other day, and I’ve been writing this blog about farming for nearly two years now and have yet to mention the most humble of barnyard creatures. But the time is nigh, specifically the next paragraph. 

I’m talking about chickens. Chickens are paradoxical creatures, being astonishingly helpless and yet nearly indestructible in their own way. For instance, we have a chicken, Quigley, who is ten years old, which in chicken years means she’s as old as Methuselah (who in biblical years lived to 969, which means Methuselah likely pulled a Betty White and somewhere in the desert sands there is an undiscovered stone tablet edition of People Magazine that says “Methuselah turns 1000!”). 

Chickens best defense mechanism has been palling up with humans who are willing to build elaborate and highly priced fortifications in exchange for calcified embryos. On the one hand, it may seem like a poor business decision on the chickens’ part, given jumbo size eggs are ejected frequently out of a small orifice and often the human fortifications are hardly predator proof, especially if an English major built it. On the other hand, if you’re going to die, you might as well die in style, living in a grand gated community with a penthouse hen house, i.e a chicken run with elevated roosts.  

Quigley endears herself to us in other ways than egg laying (she quit laying eggs after two years). Namely, she’s the tamest chicken I’ve ever seen. She’ll come right up to your legs and softly nuzzle you with her beak until you pick her up and hold her. She is the last remaining member of our original flock that got babied and pampered as chicks and lived in a Rubbermaid tote on our back porch. With subsequent flocks, we’ve grown less attentive, which is why most of our current flock are about as tame as feathered dinosaurs. Quigley has outlived all her friends and family. Her best friend Charlie died about five years ago to natural causes, then Perla dropped dead, then Penfold and Andy got killed by a neighbor’s dog. And since Thomas was born, her chicken keepers don’t get around to giving her as much attention or chicken treats as they used to. But still she survives. I don’t think she likes her new flock mates, but to be honest, neither do I. They’re different, just wild nameless chickens if I’m being honest. But Quigley is a chicken worthy of a name. May her feathers fluff for many years to come!

Quigley
Quigley and Natalie ten years apart.
Quigley and her best friend, Charlie.