The completely ordinary. The commonplace. The pond and stream that are in every town, spread across everyplace. There are good reasons to think about the pond that one day may become a parking lot. I fully love the shithole of a sluggish stream, where the water strider zipping across the surface is the insect of our childhoods, and we never bothered asking the question, of how the water strider did it, of how it kept from sinking in.
Every middle school in America has a pond or a swamp somewhere behind the gymnasium. In the swamp there’s an old engine block. The frame of a car is a hundered yards further on. During the spring the skunk cabbage grows, and by June the engine is covered up, the top of the car sticking out from the green. The swamp drains through the earth, under the soccer field, and ends in another pond further down by the high school.
Every courtship in high school takes place at the edge of the pond, the pond out by the varsity baseball diamond. And the boy tries to woo the girl, and they both throw sticks into the reeds, and stones out across the lily pads. They talk of turtles. “There it goes. It just went under. Let’s count to see how long it stays down for.” In the trees blackbirds sing. He wants to go up her shirt so badly his spit tastes like rust.
These ponds tend to have murky waters, muddy bottoms. Snapping turtles move like slow tanks, kicking up mud trails behind them. Bullhead catfish. Bluegill sunfish. Largemouth bass. Boys and girls cast to them from wide-open banks. Fishing seems easy because the ponds seem so small. But the briars make a good cast to the edge of the pads almost impossible. Only a quarter of the pond is every fished, fished properly, carefully. The rest is nearly untouched.
In the winter skates and pucks. Remember how your fingers burned as you tried with all your strength to tighten up your skate’s laces? You didn’t want your ankles to bend, to be seen by the girls, with your ankles hitting the ice. But you learned how to do it. How to turn and stop, how to skate backwards, how to shoot the puck so it lifted off the ice and went sailing, and in your head, the crowd roared.
I love these places. I have given my DNA to them. A bloody finger from the rip of a hook. They are not beautiful places. They are the opposite of the Brooks Range in Alaska, or a coral atoll rising steeply from a Pacific ridge.
Maybe it’s the same kind of thing as seeing a small baseball diamond. You drive past. You see the wire backstop. There are no dugouts, just benches. No concession stand. No flood lights. There isn’t a fancy scoreboard with red neon showing runs, balls and strikes. It’s the diamond of every town. The infield needs more sand. But as you drive by and see the diamond going past, seconds of motion, of time, flashes down and triggers the memories inside your head, and like a kid you smile and smirk and feel like a tree that becomes an acorn again.