Lessons Learned From a Pond

If you think back to your childhood home and neighborhood, did it influence your personality? I spent my teen years in a house that overlooked a duck pond. The pond and surrounding farm area not only educated me about the joys and harsh realities of life, but they helped form my character.

My parents held jobs but also gardened and raised fowl and rabbits for meat. We kept dried corn cobs in a corncrib. I liked to think of it as my special hideout. I was inside one summer day when I heard a creature tunneling under the corncobs. Catching sight of the rat’s beady eyes and long tail sent me scurrying out to tell my parents. My dad investigated and found numerous rats tunneling and living in the corncrib. He set traps and later got others to help him shoot or club them. As in life, it took a team effort to eliminate the problem.

Living by a duck pond exposed to the need to butcher animals, some of which were my pets. There wasn’t any room for sentiment when the family needed to eat. Dad spared me the actual killings, but I had a vivid imagination. When I heard the grinder, I knew Dad was sharpening the ax. Squawks and flapping wings would conjure up the image of the first chicken’s head on the butcher block.

Dad and my brother also butchered geese and ducks. Dad would bring the limp birds to the basement, where my mother, sister, brother, and I would dip them in a pot of scalding water with Ivory soap added to loosen the feathers. Then we’d pluck them. It was a back-breaking chore and established a work ethic that I’m thankful for today. 

After the plucking, Dad would gut them. As he removed various parts, such as the intestines, heart, and gizzard, he would identify them. I recall him taking the time to slice open a gizzard once and show me the gravel the duck had ingested to help grind up its food. For fun, he’d also squeeze the esophagus—he called it the quacker—and the sound always made me laugh. Work, I learned, doesn’t always have to be grueling. With some creativity, it can be fun.

Hatching duck eggs in the spring introduced me to the wonder of new life. When the eggs were ready to hatch, I’d hold them up to my ear to listen for quacking, thrilled with the growing creature inside.

Life by the pond taught me to prize patience. I had a surefire method for catching turtles. I’d place Dad’s musky net in the pond, take some of the day-old duck bread, and sprinkle it a few yards from shore. Then I’d hide in the tall weeds and wait for a turtle’s head to come closer . . . closer . . . closer. When it was above my net, I’d quickly raise it. Ta-da!

The killdeer who always nested near the pond taught me about parental commitment and sacrifice. I would challenge myself to find her spotted eggs, which she laid in a ground nest, usually on a patch of gravelly soil that camouflaged them. If I got too close, the parent would perform a “broken wing trick,” trying to appear injured, so I’d follow it instead of harming the eggs or chicks. The killdeer were a great role model for the type of parent I hoped to be.

The pond also taught me joy can be found in simple, inexpensive things. I built a secret fort inside grapevines and “carpeted” the ground with pretty green moss. I spent many pleasant hours inside that fort, imagining or reading. In the winter, my siblings and I would invite friends, shovel the snow off the ice, build a fire in our basement fireplace, pull out the box of old skates, and heat a pan of hot chocolate. We’d skate at night under a spotlight with a color wheel that cast shades of red, blue, and green over the ice. It was magical.

The pond trained me to be inventive. We didn’t have a boat, so a girlfriend and I pulled the old stock tank into the water. We climbed in with paddles to see if it would float. It did, but when it started to tip over, I bailed. My friend and I had to swim to shore.

Living by a pond showed me that each season has its charm. Summer meant precious, carefree, lazy days reading Trixie Beldon novels under my favorite elm tree. Fall meant chores, but helping the family was rewarding. Winter meant magical moments of sledding and skating parties. And best of all, in the spring, I got to listen for the return of the red-winged blackbird. I still thrill when I hear the male’s conk-la-ree call announcing spring is here. 

The pond taught me to relish each day, a lesson I still hold dear today.

I was fortunate to have been blessed with a wonderful childhood and to have had great influencers, one of which was a duck pond.

5 Replies to “Lessons Learned From a Pond”

Sandra Nichols

what a lovely tribute to a magical childhood setting and time.

Thank you, Sandi. It truly was magical.

Debbie Gille

Love hearing about your childhood. Our childhood is what frames us as adults……keeping a little of the childlike character in our lives.

Your comment made me think, Debbie, about the childlike characteristics I still have. I’d read that if an older person is seeking happiness, they should remember what they enjoyed as a child and do those things again. I loved being outdoors and I enjoyed pets. Those things still make me happy today. Thanks for reading.

Debbie Gille

I feel the same way…thanks for writing and reminding my “I am on the right track”.

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