Grace Pond

When I was coming of age as a fiction writer in the early 1970s I somehow found the time to go fishing. I was a mad fly fisherman, specializing in ponds. I had a little aluminum johnboat that I would toss in the back of a pick up truck. I fished in the more than a dozen ponds within ten or fifteen miles of my then home in Swanzey, New Hampshire. My favorite pond was Bolster Pond in Sullivan. I liked it because it was NOT a trout pond, which meant that I always had the place to myself. There was only one camp cottage on its shores, and I never saw its inhabitants.

I would fly fish, occasionally catch a decent-size smallmouth bass, and once in a while a pickerel, but lots of perch. With pliers I would break the barbs off the hooks, so it was easy to catch a fish, bring it in, flip it off the hook and back into the deep. In those days I rarely kept the fish I caught, not because of culinary or philosophical reasons; I was just too lazy to clean and cook them. I will say, though, that no fish tastes better than perch.

I'd like to take a moment here to explain the difference between a lake and a pond, a strictly local definition that I grew up with in the Keene, New Hampshire, area. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized my definition was not universal. In the definition I picked up as a boy, a lake is deep with clear water that in its depths stays cold enough to support cold water fish such as trout and salmon. A pond is shallow with tea-colored water, and maybe lily pads and reeds. The water is warmer, no place for a trout, but just fine for bass and hornpout (which is our name for the local catfish). Lakes tend to be larger than ponds, but not always. The word "pond" can also be used to define a water body behind a dam. Since almost all local lakes were dammed (for water power), you can often find a phrase in a local history defining, say, the pond behind the dam in Dublin Lake.

In writing the Darby books, I created Grace Pond, a composite of all the ponds that I fished, though it my mind it looks most like Bolster Pond, but with lots of new development around it. Grace Pond straddles an imaginary line between Center and Upper Darby. It's a crowded environment by Darby standards, but surrounded by the deep woods of the Salmon conservancy trust lands. A narrow dirt road rings the pond, where one will find small, quaint cottages, rustic camps, but also newer houses and even a few condos that resemble structures built in Anywhere, USA. This mixture of structures that reflects the tastes, experiences, and roots of their inhabitants is a breeding ground for conflict, though I have yet to exploit those possibilities in my fiction.

I had a wonderful experience on Bolster Pond one day back around 1973. I watched a great blue heron catch a fish, struggle to get airborne with the fish crossways in its mouth, finally gaining altitude, circling the pond, and settling into its nest high up in a dead pine tree in the shallows of a cove where it fed the fish to a chick. Decades later I translated the experience into a poem in, which appears in Howard Elman's Farewell in the voice of F. Latour (a.k.a. Frederick Elman). Note that Latour navigates in an aluminum johnboat like the one I owned back in the day. Also, I spelled johnboat differently in the poem than here. Different dictionaries show the word spelled in different ways.

Interstices Between Dark Matter and Us

I put my son in the front pack baby carrier

for a walk in the woods headed for Grace Pond What do you see, boy?

I read his answer in the thought he sends me. Spider webs in ferns, in trees, in the interstices between the comet dust that makes up

the rings of Saturn

and the loved one who left us too early. Give me water, father, give me water.

I tip a moose wood leaf toward my son's mouth, and droplets of dew quench his thirst.

When we reach Grace Pond I place the baby carrier on the stern seat of the John boat and tie it down. I row out into the pond to the cove

full of lily pads and the grey skeletons

of dead pine trees rising out of the shallows like big ideas that just don't work.

We've come to see the heron. She walks on her stilt legs until she finds a station.

She stands motionless waiting for the judgement. I hold the oars so they don't part the waters.

My son sends me a thought.

I answer with my own thought: I'm thinking of your mother, too.

The heron darts her beak into the water

and comes up with a yellow perch. Fish crossways in her mouth she begins a laborious takeoff,

tucking her stilt legs behind her,

huge wings slapping water as she strains for a height, finally rising on an air current,

circling back into the nest at the top of a dead pine. I look through the binoculars

and see a chick's open mouth. I let out a celebratory whoop.

My son throws up his hands and imitates my whoop, his first word.