(or how we learned to love microscopic Life!)
There have been many joyous times in my life, but none have quite matched the "building" of the small pond on my husband's sandy land and our introduction to the many forms of life that now live in this magical place.
Homer dreamed of this pond when he was a boy, saving the dream for when the time was finally right. He waited for me, and together, we created a miracle. He dug the pond, one shovel-full of sand at a time, creating an oasis of new life in the center of the South Carolina Piedmont region. He carried water lilies and reeds from a nearby creek and as far away as a Bamberg county swamp. He spent afternoons loading huge rocks, flagstones, and water-carved driftwood into the back of his old pickup truck, then placing each in just the right position in and around his new pond. In addition to several plastic liners, he placed octagonal tiles over the entire area giving the base of the pond small crevices in which small creatures could hide. We also poured buckets of swamp water into the gaping hole, keeping a gallon back to study under the microscope. That was when we discovered a universe of life swimming under the lens. We watched life and death struggles between darting paramecia and the rabbit-eared Cyclops. Nematodes appeared suddenly monstrous leaving us unable to reconcile these alien creatures with the tiny drop of water under the microscope. One evening, while gazing at the water with the light of a flashlight, I noticed that the bowl was filled with tiny, pale, swaying creatures. Pulling out a library book, I discovered the Hydra. Holding a magnifying glass up to the bowl I saw strange creatures that clasped one end of their cylindrical bodies to the smooth glass and spread ghostly tentacles outward in search of prey. I watched as unsuspecting water-fleas darted into the stinging arms only to be drawn inside and eaten. As I observed the Hydra, I noticed what appeared to be small, round egg sacs scattered throughout the bowl. Accidentally jarring the table, I saw all the sacs contract inward. Frantically looking up these curious creatures in the library book, I discovered they were freshwater jellyfish - an animal I had no idea even existed!
There were also larger animals that we discovered in local small ponds, so unusual and beautiful that they could have been born on another world. Our favorites were the graceful, translucent fairy shrimp that appeared to fly backward through the water. These crustaceans we discovered in a vernal pool on a sandy country road after a rain storm. We have since learned that these unusual creatures live their entire lives in these small pools. In addition to the fairy shrimp, tiny water-fleas, surface swimming water-boatmen, crayfish, tadpoles, unidentified eggs and larvae all eventually found their way into our nets.
Vernal Pools - Bamberg, SC
Then came the rather formal moment when we released our creatures into the pond, hoping each one would add to the balance of life in their new environment. Later when we would look at the finished pond, our minds drifted below the surface where we imagined the Hydra sending slender arms out into the darkness in search of the tiny pulsating jellyfish.
One of the many unexpected joys that came from the dumping of rich water brought from other places into our little pond, was the pair of leopard frogs that grew up in their new man-made world. First spawned in the swamp, they swam as tadpoles before being captured in Homer's gentle net and brought here in a bucket. These are swamp frogs now thriving in a tiny kingdom of white moths and lily pads in the midst of scrub oaks and sand. Bull frogs have also hatched, grown up, mated and produced yet another generation of pond animals.
The pond also attracted bats, butterflies, dragonflies and many more insects. The bats dive in organized circles over the pond, missing our heads by inches. In the darkening evenings it is so quiet that we can hear their soft flutterings stir the air like velvet. In the spring and summer the bats are joined by the harsh and haunting cries of the Whipporwills. These birds begin their territorial cries to each other deep in the woods in early spring - a signal that the last frost is past.
After the pond was established, we began to plant flowers, herbs and anything transplantable around the water's edge. Daffodils, Daylilies, ferns, azaleas, mint, sage all found their way into this new small world.
It is amazing to me that by adding a little bit of water to an arid, sandy area we were able to attract so much wildlife. Chickadees, Cardinals, Catbirds, Mockingbirds, Goldfinches, Juncos, Blue Jays and the far-calling Night Hawks all join us by Homer's pond creating a micro-cosmos of teeming life. They all feel like family.
(Note: this was written in 1995. We have since moved from South Carolina to the mountains of North Carolina and plan on building another pond this summer - 2006! We miss our pond, but will always remember the joy of watching creation unfold in our backyard.)