Capital P is for Pond— Or Is that Pirates… The MisAdventure Series

 

Resting on top of tombstone in Diamond Springs, CA

There came a time when the Graveyard was too small to accommodate my wandering ways, about 65 years before this photo was taken. Both the Graveyard and I have changed a bit.

 

There came a time when the Graveyard wasn’t large enough to satisfy my wandering urges. I had crawled under the lilac bushes, climbed all of trees, found most of the downed tombstones— and even visited the new graves on the opposite side of the Graveyard. It was time to expand my horizons.

All of Diamond and its environs were fair game. I started close to home and gradually worked outward. At first I tagged along behind Marshall and our friends; later I spent a great deal of time alone with only the dogs for company. It was a Capital World. For example, there were a number of ponds in the area. Oscar ‘Ot’ Jones had one on his ranch for cattle; Caldor had one where logs waited for their appointment with the buzz saw; Forni had one over the hill from his slaughterhouse, and Tony Pavy had one that was supposedly off-limits. But there was only one Capital P Pond, the one next to the Community Hall. If I told Marshall, my parents or my friends I was going to the Pond, they knew immediately where I would be.

Mill pond

This was one of our ponds, the mill-pond where logs waited for their appointment with the buzzsaw. Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the Capital P Pond. But it was fed by water from here. Neither of the ponds exist today. Marshall liked to walk out on the logs.

It was a magical place filled with catfish, mud turtles, bullfrogs and pirates. Although the Pond was small, it had a peninsula, island, deep channel, cattails and shallows. In spring, Redwing Blackbirds nested in the cattails and filled the air with melodic sound. Mallards took advantage of the island’s safety to set up housekeeping. Catfish used holes in the bank of the peninsula to deposit hundreds of eggs that eventually turned into large schools of small black torpedoes dashing about in frenetic unison. Momma bullfrogs laid eggs in strings that grew into chubby pollywogs. When they reached walnut size, tiny legs sprouted in one of nature’s miracles of transformation. Water snakes slithered though the water with the sole purpose of thinning out the burgeoning frog population and I quickly learned to recognize the piteous cry of a frog being consumed whole. Turtles liked to hang out in the shallows where any log or board provided a convenient sunning spot. They always slid off at our appearance but a few quiet minutes would find them surfacing to reclaim lost territory.

By mid-summer the Pond would start to evaporate. The shallow areas surrendered first, sopped up by the burning sun. Life became concentrated in a few square yards of thick, tepid water, only inches deep and supported by a foot of squishy mud. All too soon the Pond was bone-dry with mud cracked and curled. Turtles, snakes and frogs crawled, slithered and hopped away to other nearby water. Catfish dug their way into the mud and entered a deep sleep, waiting for the princely kiss of winter rains. Ducks flew away quacking loudly, leaving only silence behind. Fall and winter rains found the pond refilling and then brimming. Cloudy, gray, wind-swept days rippled the water and created a sense of melancholy that even an eight-year old could feel.

But melancholy was a rare emotion for the Pond.  To us, it was a playground with more options than an amusement park. A few railroad ties borrowed from Caldor and nailed together with varying sized boards made great rafts for exploring the furthest, most secret corners of the Pond. Imagination turned the rafts into ferocious pirate ships that ravaged and pillaged the far shores or primitive bumper cars guaranteed to dunk someone, usually me. In late spring, the Pond became a swimming hole, inviting us to test still cold waters. One spring, thin ice required a double and then triple-dare before we plunged in. It was a short swim. Swimsuits were always optional and rarely worn. I took my first swimming lessons there and mastered dog paddling with my dog Tickle providing instructions. More sophisticated strokes would wait for more sophisticated lakes.

Tickle as a pup with my sister Nancy Jo.

Frogs and catfish were for catching and adding to the family larder. During the day, a long pole with a fishing line attached to a three-pronged hook and decorated with red cloth became irresistible bait for bullfrogs. At night, a flashlight and a spear-like gig provided an even more primitive means of earning dinner. The deep chug-a-rums so prominent from a distance became silent as we approached. Both patience and stealth were required. A splash signified failure as our quarry decided that sitting on the bottom of the Pond was preferable to joining us for dinner. Victory meant a gourmet treat, frog legs. Preparation involved amputating the frog’s legs at the hips and then pealing the skin off like tights. It was a lesson I learned early; if you catch it, you clean it. We were required to chop off the big feet as well. Mother didn’t like being reminded that a happy frog had been attached hours earlier. She also insisted on delayed gratification. Cooking the frog legs on the same day they were caught encouraged them to jump around in the frying pan. “Too creepy!” she declared.

Catching catfish required nerves of steel. We caught them by hand as they lurked with heads protruding from their holes in the banks. Nerves were required because the catfish had serious weapons, needle sharp fins tipped with stingers that packed a wallop. They had to be caught exactly right and held firmly, which was not easy when dealing with a slimy fish trying to avoid the frying pan. But their taste was out of this world and had the slightly exotic quality of something that ate anything that couldn’t eat them.

Next Friday in MisAdventures, we will visit the other great ‘wilderness’ of my childhood: The Woods.

TOMORROW (Saturday): It snowed here. Join Peggy and me on a walk through our winter-wonderland.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: Dropping into the depths of the Grand Canyon we find a huge sandstone cavern and an ancient Native American granary.

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Essay POST: We leave Dawson Creek and begin our journey up the Alaska Highway.

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31 comments on “Capital P is for Pond— Or Is that Pirates… The MisAdventure Series

  1. Your childhood sounds idyllic in so many ways, even if not in all ways. I remember summer holidays (6 weeks) of running wild at the beach, and in the bushes and dunes at the edge of the beach, but then it was back to the city. My love of nature came later in life, but clearly for you it was instilled very early.
    Alison

    • It was three months for us Alison. And each day was to be treasured, filled with exploration and reading. Pure adventure and escapism. A beach would have been, fun too! We were lucky that my mother’s parents lived down on the Central Coast of California. That was our beach opportunity… –Curt

  2. Nicely well told tale of memories, Curt. We only ever ate frog legs at a Chinese restaurant here in Sydney. They were lovely.
    Baby smoked eels are very nice too. We, as very young children used to go fishing by hiring a rowing boat and would spent early hours peering over the edge of the boat at our floating lures. They were the best of times.

    • The best of times indeed, Gerard. Bobbers bobbing signifying a bite always created great excitement!
      Don’t think I have eaten smoked baby eels, but if I find them on a menu I’ll be sure to try them. –Curt

  3. Great memories Curt, reminded me of a Tom Sawyer tale. Water always has a special fascination, we used to spend hours by the canal, fishing, building rafts from borrowed material from a building site and swimming. My mum would have been horrified if she had known I had been swimming and so am I now!

    • Those canals weren’t the freshest of water, as I recall. But how could a little kid resist! By mid-summer the Pond was definitely something you wanted to stay out of. But I didn’t.
      There was a long list of activities that would have horrified my mother. Sounds like your ‘borrowing’ was similar to ours, Andrew.

  4. LOL. Never ate cat fish before. Thought they were reserved for the cats… heheh.
    Yeah, we wish we had a nice unpolluted pond near us for our childhood… nah that was not to be in our little red dot full of people… walking on them logs, sounds fun but pretty risky too!

  5. I feel I’m reading fiction … I become carried away with these pieces and always surprised as they come to an end! Wonderful memories although I was squirming at the description of eating frogs legs and catching catfish by hand!! Impressive!

    • Thank’s Annika. Part of the fun of having good stories is the opportunity to share them. Frog legs are tasty. Not much meat, however. And we really became careful in catching catfish after we had been stung a few times. 🙂 –Curt

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