If you were at the memorial service you heard Taylor Ellerbee read the words of Peter's email about the pond:
My other favorite hang-out space is the pond. When I was looking for country property in 1978, the highest priority was a place where a pond could built. This came true after Susan came out here (and never left!) in 1981. The feeling of jumping in on a hot day and finding the cool below, or going in on an early spring or later fall day and drying out in a bright sun, is indescribable. Throw in a few dogs and it gets even better.
Our weed-eater has been broken and while waiting on a part to come in, the weeds have taken over both on the shore edge of the pond that I can't reach with the mower and in the water, where long red tendrils bearing bright green leaves reach urgently towards the center of the pond. I know that the tall weeds and invading vines would worry Peter, so I tackled them this weekend.
In lieu of mechanization, I supposed that I could cut the weeds the old-fashioned way, with a swing blade. But even with a new tool sporting sharp tempered cutting edges, I only lasted through about 40' of thick grass before my arms gave out. "But it's not an aerobic workout," Peter used to love to say about any exercise I did (to taunt me). At one point I stopped and said out loud, "Peter, THIS is aerobic."
|CLEAN SHORELINE - AFTER|
|SHADY ON PATROL|
|SHADY ON THE NEW SHORELINE|
The red water-vines could be as thick as a finger and some reached 8 to 10 feet out into the water. I used the fork to pull them towards me, then gathered them into a ball, much like you might gather the moving the legs of a small octopus. Once contained into a mass both larger and heaver than a bowling all, I tossed it up onto the shore where, tomorrow, once it has dried a bit, I'll gather it all into the front-end loader and dump it where it can't find its way back into the pond.
Peter used to describe himself as a "swamp thang" when he did this job - working from a more prone position, belly down on the surface of the water. I tried to maintain my footing, which was quite difficult bare-footed on sharp rocks. Several times I let myself fall backwards into the pond when I lost my balance.
I realized as I worked that the plants and the vines at the water's edge have the intention to fill in the pond. I could see where the vegetative life had, indeed, extended the shoreline inward, just as new growth at the edge of a field will gradually fill the field and turn it back into forest. Peter complained about the shrinking lanes around the edges of our pastures. I spent much time this winter cutting back that growth. It occurred to me that this isn't any different--just wetter.
The work was easier today with proper footwear, but both afternoons I slogged back to the house feeling much like I did the first time I ran 10 miles all-at-once. I decided that these 5-6 hours were worth logging on MapMyRun, because it was a workout, and it WAS cardio.
Scrolling through the list of workout options, I chose "rowing" for the hours I spent pulling the weeds from their deep rooted homes along the shore, and I chose "kettle ball" for the remainder of the time that I hurled each gathered biomass up onto the dam above me. My CrossFit friends would be proud.
In the future I'll probably schedule work-days to get help from the friends who use the farm and the pond. Doing this work with a group of friends could be fast and fun, and I imagine a cook-out afterwards. This weekend, though, the work alone was meditative and thoughtful. It was at times sad and somber...missing Peter...and at other times joyful--recalling the building of the pond (dynamite was required) and all the times we'd spent there with family, friends, and dogs.
An old song came to mind...one that Peter and I both loved. Written and sung by Laurie Lewis, it was on our "Sunday Morning" playlist. The words seem especially poignant now, and as I slithered along the edge of the pond, feeling rather reptilian in my toil, I knew I was attempting to fill Peter's empty place. I wonder who will fill mine when that day comes.
Have a listen: Who Will Watch the Home Place - Laurie Lewis
Who will watch the home place
Who will tend my hearts dear space
Who will fill my empty place
When I am gone from here
The pond was many things for Peter, but primarily it was where he swam his daily laps faithfully, week after week, month into month, until the falling temperatures sent him, finally, to the SportsPlex in Hillsborough. Near the end of his life a shoulder injury unrelated to his disease curtailed his swimming. I honestly believe he'd have lived a little longer if he just could have kept logging those laps.
The last part of what Peter wrote to Taylor was this:
I tell friends that if they want to make me feel better, tell me that you're taking care of yourself through good nutrition but especially with exercise.
Wherever Peter is these days, I hope that my work on the pond made him feel better. When I finished the long northwest shore today I packed up the tools and headed to the house, opting not to swim laps because the weeding had been so much work. I could almost hear his voice and see the twinkle in his eye as he told me, "That's not cardio!" I squared my sore shoulders and smiled back, "Oh yes it is!"
Thanks for reading,