Plop! (Part 2)

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s
inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

––Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Last summer, the hottest ever recorded throughout the United States and a time of severe drought in most of the country, brings less drastic but still unpleasant hot weather to Vermont.  Edith and I find the heat tiresome despite knowing how much worse the situation is nearly everywhere else.  Late in August, however, the dry warmth gives me an idea.  Why not simply drain the pond and leave it empty for a while? water plants The algae would die in the dry heat.  That in turn would solve most of the problem––or would at least roll back the process of eutrophication.  When I cross paths with Jeff Moran again, I present this scenario for his input.  “Yeah, you could do that,” he states in his gravelly baritone.  He even offers an approach that would be simpler and cheaper than using the rented pump I’ve proposed for managing the task.  “Just put a one-inch hose into the pond, start a gravity feed, and siphon the water over the edge and down the hillside.”

That’s what I set out to do.  At the local hardware store I purchase three twenty-foot lengths of flexible plastic hose and some coupling devices to link the pieces.  My plan:  immerse the hose in the pond to fill it, drag one end up the bank, and throw that end over the down-hill side to get the water flowing.  In practice, the task isn’t quite so simple.  The pond’s shore is steep and slippery.  Just reaching the water’s edge is much trickier than I’ve expected.  I could easily slide into the pond and have trouble getting out.  Rather than risk a messy and potentially dangerous situation, I find a long branch, tie it to one end of the hose, throw the rest of the coil into the pond, and use the branch as a handle to dip the open end.  By repeatedly scooping water into the end, I plan to fill the hose until it sinks altogether.  hoseThen I’ll cap the open end with one hand, drag it up the hillside, fling it over the edge, and start the flow.  But this approach turns out to be far more difficult than I’ve expected.  Filling the hose is hard.  Dragging it up the slope lets most of the water drain back into the pond.
I never succeed in starting the flow.

After brooding over this initial fiasco,
I abandon the effort and go to bed.  An insight dawns as I fall asleep:  I’ll run a garden hose down to the pond.  Using it to fill the exhaust hose will be quick work.  How quick?  The next morning, all I have to do is pirate every length of every garden hose from every part of the property, purchase another hundred feet of hose from the local hardware store, connect all these separate segments, and run the assemblage downhill from the house to the pond.  Not so quick after all.  My initial experiments are promising, however; filling the siphon hose takes only about two or three minutes.  The problem is what happens next:  getting one end of the hose up and over the pond’s rim without letting the water inside it drain back into the pond.  Trying this on my own doesn’t work, so Edith and I attempt a two-person gambit.  She stands near the pond; I stand near the edge of the hillside.  Holding the hose to form a large U, we succeed in filling it.  Edith then throws her end of the hose into the pond at exactly the same moment that I throw my end over the hillside.  Water gushes out of the outlet and down the hill.   Eureka! . . . sort of.  After a minute or two, the flow diminishes to a trickle.  The trickle soon stops.  We try the sequence again.  No go.  We try yet again.  No go.

Plans A and B have now achieved the same result:  nothing.  The pond continues to fill from the spring and drain from the outlet.  A few minnows dart about near the shore.  Now and then a frog belches somewhere along the shore.  Dragonflies hover among the irises.

dragon fly 2

◊    ◊    ◊

Months pass.  Summer eases into autumn.  A book that Edith and I acquire—Tim Matson’s Earth Ponds:  The Country Pond Maker’s Guide to Building, Maintenance, and Restoration—confirms that our concern about eutrophication is valid and that attempting to slow the process will be worthwhile.  “Taking the water out of a pond can be an effective vegetation control method,” Matson writes in a chapter about controlling weeds.  “Algae and aquatic weeds cannot live without water, and when the pond is dried out, much of the vegetation dies.”  Even a partial drawdown can make a difference.  But Matson goes on to state that algae and weeds “are more effectively eradicated after complete drainage during both warm and cold weather.”  [1]

These comments inspire a further gambit.  Mid-November, during an unusual dry spell, I decide to roll out the artillery.  From a local rental joint I acquire an industrial-strength pump for the weekend before Thanksgiving. wacker It’s a Wacker Neuson—a gasoline-powered diaphragm pump that, in the words of the manufacturer, “can move anything that flows.”  Most often used for draining construction sites, this machine is probably underpowered for drawing down a pond, but running it for a few days seems a worthwhile experiment.  I tow it down the hillside in a little wagon hitched to our Husqvarna lawnmower.  I set it up with the twelve-foot “hard hose” immersed in the pond and the thirty-foot canvas outlet hose draped over the pond’s southern rim.  Starting the pump without difficulty, I watch with satisfaction as it begins to work.  The black rubber intake hose, immersed, jolts in the pond from the force of the pump’s suction.  The outlet hose quivers and pulses as water heads uphill and over the edge.  I walk up to the rim and see the nozzle gushing onto the slope.  Surely this device will make quick work of the task.

Six hours later, I can tell that my optimism has been foolish.  The surface of the pond has dropped by only five or six inches.  While it’s true that the circumference of the pond will gradually constrict, accelerating the decline in the water level, it’s also true that the process is taking much longer than I had expected.  I have a belated impulse to estimate the pond’s volume.autumn pond  I find some calculators on the Internet and quickly run the numbers.   The answer:  roughly half a million gallons.  An old pump like the Wacker Neuson can move about eighty gallons per minute.  Running twenty-four hours a day, the machine would take more than four days to eject half a million gallons.  But I can’t run the pump all day and night; limited daylight in November will give me only nine hours.  Sixteen days of pumping is more like what I’ll face.  The pump’s rental fee is forty-eight dollars per day.  This will be a ridiculous expense.  I conclude that the experiment has been worthwhile, but less to remove the water from the pond than to drain the delusions from my own mind.

Plans A, B, and C have now failed.  I resort to Plan D:  I give up.

◊    ◊    ◊

My mind is like the autumn moon,
As fresh and pure as a jade pond.
But nothing really compares with it –
Tell me, how can I explain?

—Han-shan (T’ang Era,
8th-9th century C.E.) [2]


Nanzenji Temple, Kyoto, Japan. Photo credit: “A Man with a Camera,”

 Timothy Egan comments on this Chan (Chinese Zen) poem:

The moon and pond each carry both general and Buddhist associations. . . .  The moon and pond form a polarity with the multivalent enlightenment message.  On one level, the bright round moon obviously alludes to the light of prajñā wisdom that dispels ignorance. . . .  The shining jade pond is a combination metaphor:  as the Awakening of Faith has it, still water is the enlightened mind, revealed when the wind (of ignorance) dies and the waves (modes of mind) cease . . . ; the water then becomes a bright mirror, reflecting things as they really are. . . . [2]

Does this commentary, or the poetry behind the commentary, or the sutras behind the poetry, suggest that I—or anyone else—will benefit more fully from meditating at a pond’s edge, or by meditating upon the pond itself, rather than by focusing on a less beautiful place?  Am I more likely to advance toward insight while meditating there than, say, near the compost heap . . . or in the basement?  Is a locus of beauty and calm inherently more spiritual than a plain, uninteresting place?  Is it possible, even, that the compost heap or the basement would be a better bet as I attempt to disengage from the senses during meditation?

To all of these questions I can only answer:  I don’t know.  I do believe that attending to the pond is worthwhile in its own right.  Perceiving the pond as a locus of meditation inspires me to protect it, and perhaps some day the pond will return the favor.


*     *     *


[1] Matson, Tim.  Earth Ponds:  The Country Pond Maker’s Guide to Building, Maintenance, and Restoration, 3rd edition.  Woodstock, Vermont:  Countryman Press, 2012.

[2] Egan, Charles.  Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown:  Poems by Zen Monks of China. New York:  Columbia University Press, 2010.

2 thoughts on “Plop! (Part 2)

    • Hey there, Cedric and Tami– Thanks! The pond’s “care and feeding” has been a minor comedy of errors. Stay tuned! The plot has some twists and turns in future installments. Best always– Ed

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