|At the Pond|
The idea to build what what came to be named the Tea House arose from a sense of deficiency. I had never built a complete building, only completing carpentry and wood-working projects. If I was in my own eyes to become anything more than a jake-leg carpenter I would have to build without assistance a complete square free standing building, no matter the size. Also, I needed a place to observe the activities about the pond and there may have been a deeper reason: men, I have heard it said, need three places to go to attain a sense of contentment, otherwise we stalk about the house rattling the car keys and change in our respective pockets. As we have a home and I have a shop, outfitted with thousands of tools, the Tea House completed the male psychic trinity and building it did improve my self esteem....no longer a jake-leg.
Long before the Tea House and shortly after the newly constructed pond filled with water the existing fauna and flora had to be enhanced. Which means I put in some fish, raised some ducks, and brush hogged around the pond. First, hybrid bream fingerlings were purchased from a nearby fish farm. Bream are game fish, and more importantly, a school of bream should be established before large mouth bass are added to a farm pond. Two years after the bream were introduced I caught bass from my other two small ponds and turned them loose in the new big pond. Next, five sterilized grass carp were added for weed control. And the next step for an eco balanced pond was to fell small pine or cedar trees into the edge of the pond, thus providing newly hatched minnows a place to hide. Finally a pond needs ducks.
We ordered baby ducks, a dozen Mallards and a dozen domestic whites, from the Cackle Hatchery in Lebanon, Missouri and when they arrived we placed them in the smoke house, a sealed 8 by 12 foot building. Ducks are easy to raise. Clean water, clean food, heat lights and wood shavings on the floor and that is about it, except for making sure their butt holes don't get stopped up. I built a chicken wire fence so the critters could explore the great outdoors, but each night they were safely locked inside the smokehouse, as varmints dine on duck. The process is usually uneventful, but there was one memorable day.....memorable, that is for Vicky. Our neighbor has a brace of Greylag domestic geese and they came over to perform guard duty for the ducklings. They patrolled the parameter of the fence and repeatedly honked. One morning Vicky noticed a duckling was caught in the fence and went to the rescue. As she bent down to extricate the frightened duckling the geese attacked. She fought them off, but the bruises, welts, and scratches covered both her arms for weeks afterwards.
Flying is instinctive for mallards, but not landing. Whenever the fledging flyers took flight we would hurry to the big pond to watch the show. Sometimes they hit the water and tumbled tail over teakettle and other times they overshot the landing zone and rolled up on the shore. The shows only lasted a few days until they learned to circle and make smooth landings.
I mentioned the neighbors two vigilante geese. Well, at one time she had a flock of wild turkeys, mallards and geese that numbered over 100 birds. By the time we purchased our ducks, the neighbors flock had dwindled to the two geese and one mallard drake. The flock was able to steer clear of coyotes, until nesting time. I guess the coyotes ambushed both male and females when they were on or guarding the nest. A similar fate befell our ducks, the coyotes picked them off one at a time. The few white ducks that avoided coyotes, became found of sleeping on the warm pavement of nearby Highway 73 and were eventually flattened by log trucks. Life in the country is not always bucolic.
An example of non-bucolic is bees, the Carpenter Bee bores holes and make tunnels in the wood to raise their young and to over winter. In Spring they act with bravado, buzzing about your head and chasing birds, but they are harmless. On the other hand, the Bumble Bee, which closely resembles the carpenter bee but nests in the ground, can bring you to your knees. I could go on about the dangers of country living; but you just have to experience it, like living in Japan and learning to look right when you cross a street.
As I had the pond constructed I felt it was my prerogative to set the rules. My rules are simple: no snakes and no green head turtles. I don't have truck with the serpent kingdom and turtles poach the fish. Getting rid of snakes was easy, except on one occasion. I shot a water moccasin sunning on the bank and then discovered it had two companions that came after me. The last one advanced to the end of the rifle barrel before being dispatched. But, turtles are an ongoing nuisance. I was in the local hardware purchasing .22 shells when the proprietor asked me what I planned to shoot. I told him the turtles in my pond and he, mock serious, replied , "Don't you know turtles are an endangered species?" I said, "You better believe they are endangered, I plan to blow their little green heads off." As long as there is habitat, there will be turtles. Long after I am dead and gone the turtles will dominate the pond, unless the next owner is vigilante. Endangered my foot.
The Greylags and the Mallard come to the house almost daily and demand handouts, but otherwise hang out on the big pond. Their presence there entices wild ducks and geese to drop in for visits, especially during migration. The Mallard has attracted a number of female companions, but they eventually move on leaving the place bound dude to himself. He does not seem to miss them when they are gone. I have observed no periods of duck depression. The Mallard, unoriginally named Daffy, was part of a flock of Mallards belonging to man called Shorty, long deceased, who brought them to the area almost 30 years ago. I don't know the life expectancy of a Mallard, but Daffy may be the oldest one in the world.
Behind the pond is a pine copse where I saw a cow beginning to calf late yesterday. This morning I went out first thing and being unable to locate the cow went on to the the gym for my daily regimen. Afterwards I resumed to search and found the calf dead and deformed. The thing had no eyes and no ears. The cow was nearby and seemed in good health, so there was at least one bit of good news. Buzzards were on the scene. Yuck. I think I'll go work in the garden.
So finally the construction of the pond paid off. Catching and releasing bass is an option when the weather is favorable, watching the changing sunlight or moonlight on the water is gratifying, and just sitting at the Tea House is a daily inactivity.
Another setback at the Tea House.
Under the porch is a straight back chair. One fine day in June I was sitting in the chair when I heard something large moving around above my head. First I looked on the roof and found nothing, then I opened the door and looked inside, again nothing. To close the door I had to reach the latch wire at the top of the door near the eaves of the building. My hand was suddenly a few inches away from a snake under the eves. Its ugly head was bigger than my fist. After making an incredibly fast leap backwards for a man of 78, I sent a few choice curse words in the direction of the snake then went to the golf cart parked nearby for a pistol. When I returned the thing had not moved and was stating at me with cold yellow reptilian eyes. It was dispatched with one shot. Then I dug the thing out with a boat paddle and stretched it out: over six feet long. For the next few days I was on high alert around the Tea House because snakes like these usually are found in pairs. Sure enough a few days later I saw the mate slithering from the ground into a place under the cedar siding. Snake number two was also dispatched and thankfully proved to be much smaller.
The time spend sitting at the Tea House has been reduced to nil. The dreaded copper headed water rattler, as described by Louis Grizzard, has ruined my play house.