Yesterday I rashly suggested doing something that Sue had mentioned as an abstract necessity the day before: cleaning out the garden pond. How easy it is to speak without understanding the meaning of our words!
We dug our pond many years ago. In three dimensions it is the shape of an ice-cream cone, and not much bigger, and it is lined with thick black plastic sheeting. It had half vanished under a huge aquatic plant, and a surface layer of green vegetable objects, like tiny round green leaves. Strange, this is the first time I've wondered just what these are, botanically. But yesterday, essentially they were litter.
We knew the pond was home to frogs and small brown newts. The frogs had been imported as tadpoles by a kind neighbour, then not much bigger than a tadpole himself. The newts must have generated spontaneously in the Lilliputian depths. As we ladled out the inky black suspension of mud onto the nearby flower beds, some of the mud would start wriggling, and we knew we had a creature to net and store in a large plastic bin, before our dog decided to deal with it.
The time came when the level of the liquid was close to the bottom. Sue put on rubber gloves and hooked out a quoit, a tennis ball, a ball that had once been attacked to a stretchy cord for the entertainment of dogs, a few large stones for anchoring plants, a jam-jar long ago used by the neighbour's child to deliver the ancestors of the frogs. Then I had to lie prone and scoop out the last of the gunk. Bits of the noisome ooze were all over the place by now, so I could forget about keeping it off my clothes. It was appearing on my face and in my hair. When the water had gone, what I was lifting out was all mud. And the last hold-out frogs and newts.
In the middle of all this, it started to rain, making the experience perfect.
Not wanting to get to my feet every time I removed an amount of ooze that didn't quite fill the small beach bucket I was using, I dumped it at arm's length from the pond. My wife protested feebly at this, but I was not in a receptive mood for any suggestions that might mean my having to work harder than I was. Today I learned that the pile I formed is going to have to be moved. Personally, I'm in favour of letting it rot down in place.
Eventually we declared the job done. Or at least, that there wasn't much point in going on, since the roots of the giant plant were holding on to a great mass of silt just like the stuff we'd taken out. Since we could hardly do anything about that without actually committing herbicide on the plant, the pond would quickly return to its previous state once it was refilled.
Sue went to our bathroom, which is upstairs, attached our hose to a tap there because these are the only taps in the house that the hose will fit, chucked the hose out of the window and turned on the water. Coming downstairs she found that the hose had managed not just to snake in through the open kitchen door, but had nosed its way onto an open bag containing her school work. I commented that this was a pretty drastic application of Sod's Law.
The pond has been refilled. Sue lay the bin serving as our wildlife refuge on its side near the water and the inhabitants immediately made their way home. This morning we checked it. The water is clearer – we can see an inch or two into it. The snout and eyes of one frog were visible – a solitary lookout, though we know there are a score of its kin in there.
In the middle of the wet, cold, smelly labour, I had told Sue that this was great. And I meant it. Most things are better than the great enemy, routine. And no way would I want to spoil this experience by letting it become routine.