We have a pond near our front door. Constructed from scratch using a big hole, concrete and some plastic pond liner, it is deeper than most of the pre-fab ponds you can buy from a hardware store. A nice deep pond is essential if you want to be able to have deep water plants and a range of aquatic life – especially if you want to attract natives of the type who go “bok” and munch on mozzies and flies for you.
Although the pond surrounds are rectangular slate tiles (reused leftovers from a friend’s renovation), and hence fairly regular, the pond itself quickly became a messy, organic and entirely living system in its own right.
The garden beds around the pond have been filled with plants that droop and dangle, which should trail over the edges of the pond once they have grown a little more. This provides excellent habitat for creatures who go “bok”, and indeed we have tadpoles playing hide and seek in there even as I type.
The whole family has been enthralled by the pond project from the beginning – there was much enthusiastic flinging of dirt in the digging stages – but the advent of beasties in the pond has sparked a whole new level of fascination. Our own kids, together with every small person who visits, are captivated by the tadpoles. Watching them appear from under lily pads, and spotting a wiggling tail peeking out from under a rock, has become our most popular game.
An announcement of “I’m just going out to look for taddies” always creates a stampede at the front door. It has been amazing watching them grow from tiny fish-like beings to big guys with legs visibly frog kicking. This week they have suddenly become very shy, but an occasional leaf rising above the surface of the water suggests that perhaps they have started to breathe. There is something incredibly magical about metamorphosis – the idea that creatures can grow into something entirely unlike their present selves is, I think, as close to true magic as we ever come.
But it’s not just the metamorphosis, or the enduring appeal of frogs, that is fascinating about the pond. I can sit and stare into it for hours, even without the tadpoles. There are a host of insects, plants and other wildlife that have colonised it, with very little intervention or control on our part. We have water snails, water boatmen, and of course mozzie wrigglers (although there seem to be far less of those since the taddies arrived – Go get ’em, guys!!). Like the tadpoles, I suspect that many of our guests arrived as stowaways on the various water plants we bought, but since the plants are all natives, I’m perfectly happy with that arrangement.
Staring into the depths of the pond brings a tranquillity that is hard to find in a chaotic working & parenting life. It’s easy to get caught up in the woes of tantrums, school pickups and work stresses. Midnight Oil’s “curse of big cities. Traffic, tolls and deadlines” can really make life a struggle. But there is something about connecting with nature – whether by staring into a pond or walking through a bit of bushland – that speaks directly to a primal part of my soul.
It was over 200 years ago that William Blake wrote:
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
Kids get it. Every day when we do the school pickup the rainbow & musk lorrikeets fly by, screeching loquaciously, and every day all the kids stop, point and exclaim over how beautiful they are. Show them a gecko, or a possum, and they will be enthralled. Let a dog come strolling by and they will clamour to be allowed to pat it, adore it, and generally worship it with heartfelt enthusiasm.
I suspect the entire school would spontaneously combust if anything more exotic should appear on the grounds, like a horse, or perhaps a kangaroo. The day a possum was spotted resting on the roof of one of the playground shelters, the kids could barely be prised off the windows with a crowbar all day. It was just sitting there. Not doing anything interesting. But they were riveted by the chance to see it up close. A pair of Tawny Frogmouths roosting in the park had the same effect.
David Suzuki recently commented that environmentalists had made a mistake, describing the environment as a separate thing. He intuitively understands, as children do, that we are fundamentally a part of the world we live in. We are animals, utterly dependent on earth, air and water, as much as any other creature in the world.
We are surrounded by bizarre and magnificent creatures, even in cities. Yet we spend our whole lives insulating ourselves from the world. We build climate controlled claustrospheres and pretend that we have control over our world. Our work buildings don’t even have windows we can open. Our houses are growing bigger and bigger, with less and less garden around them. Our cars have automatic climate control, and we park inside our garages and go straight inside, without ever having to acknowledge the world we are trying to hard to be separate from.
On some primitive level, though, we do understand that the natural world is fundamental to us. That thrill we get from flowing water, from wild animals, and from the flight of colourful birds reconnects us to the world, and hence to ourselves. Do yourself a favour and ogle a tadpole today. You’ll be amazed how good it makes you feel.