Introducing: Sky Pond

Primordial soup, and surroundings

Sky Pond is Edgewood’s primordial soup. Here’s who lives in, on, around, and over the pond: protists and other mysterious single-celled beings, algal muck, spatterdocks, lake limpets, leeches, whirlygig beetles, bladderworts, mergansers, damselflies, water stick insects, hornworts, mares eggs, cattails, freshwater sponges, islands, scuds, fishing spiders, beavers, canoes, fireflies, wild rice, sandpipers, spotted frogs, calla lilies, ostracods, water voles, fringed heartworts, olive snails, muskrats, Barrow’s goldeneyes, spike rushes, fingernail clams, giant water bugs, little brown bats, mayflies, tadpoles, the nesting catbirds who sing through the night, and lovely reflections of the sky.

The Diva

Sky Pond really sings. In winter, when sudden waves of arctic air shock their way in to the valley, cracks in the ice proliferate suddenly with a resonant SNAP! In spring, bubbles melt from the ice with hushed gurgles and sighs. That’s when the spotted and wood frogs croak, quietly, getting their business done as quickly and inconspicuously as they can. On warmer days later, aroused toads locate themselves and each other with louder vocalizations that sound, not inappropriately, like giggling. And then the mating chorus frogs spend a month in crescendo–hundreds of voices, powerful from such small bodies. Pondside mornings in June are a tangle of bird song while the drier uplands elsewhere in the valley are quieter, with fewer species to hear. In the darkest hours through the short northern summer night, Lincoln sparrows pierce the quiet with sudden outbursts as if singing in their sleep. Late in summer, the cranes become conspicuous again, once their young are less defenseless. The cranes’ calls are so loud and clear that all the other sounds vying for attention become null for a while. As autumn sets in, migrating wanderers fill in for the songbirds who have already left. That’s when marsh wrens and great blue herons, or an occasional Baird’s sandpiper arrive, or the rare greater white-fronted goose just come down from the arctic tundra. And all through spring through fall, the beavers slap their tails. Something worries them, or maybe they slap just for the pond-owning joy of it.

Potamogeton (Greek for ‘river neighbour’). Watch out for naiads.

Sky Pond is a series of springs where the water floods up stagnantly, lingering a long time before seeping away into the swampy forests to the west. The largest of the springs can be viewed by leaning over and looking down from the rim of the canoe (but be stationary a while to stop the reflections from jostling so you can see clearly). The big spring is just a running-leap dive from shore near our parsnip bed. This spring fountains out so much fresh, cold groundwater as to form a large gap in the usual submerged vegetation, a sort of chasm with swags of some sort of pea-soup coloured goo. You’d think a couple of biologists would have a scientific name for the goo organism, but we don’t. This and some of the other springs weaken the winter ice from below, so be careful where you walk on the frozen pond!

It was the beavers who blocked off the spring flow to make a pond, starting who-knows how many beaver generations ago. The main beaver dams form the northern border of the Sky Pond wetlands. Beavers are are offended by even just a weepy bit of outflow, so they’ve chinked up the low-shore spots elsewhere around the pond margins. Trevor and his hired machines augmented the dams with a more southerly, artificial one that forms our main crossing. From this causeway, you can see the main dam to the north. Dam dimensions: total length over 270 meters long and variably 5–8 feet high. Quite a major construction, better than the hired machines could do.

Until 2019, the beavers had been absent from Sky Pond for a few decades. Their dam was in disrepair, leaking badly, and the pond levels were dropping to a level we didn’t like. Hence the machine-made causeway dam to try to keep Sky Pond from becoming a marsh, as abandoned beaver ponds tend to do. While the dams were leaking, many aquatic organisms were stranded and dead, and others took advantage to grow up from the dried peat and exposed mud.

So it goes in the radically fluctuating world of beaver pond cycles. I tried once to fix the main leak in the dam, with Purple’s help (Purple the dog, who had beaver-coloured fur and a castorian eagerness to move logs). We stuffed logs, mud, and sedge leaves into the underwater drain. It was muddy work with thoughts of unseen leeches. Purple was proud to show me how large a log she could move by the strength of her jaws and leg muscles. It’s amazing how strong a small dog is. Beaver work is hard work, and after a couple hours, we gave up. No leeches found their way to us (not a big deal, really; I know from experience that an attached leech is far less awful than the thought of an unseen leech trying to get me).

The leak continued. But two years later, the beavers returned, repaired the dam, raised the pond levels too high (from our perspective), and caused us to place wire mesh around the trunks of the trees we didn’t want cut down. Using the various shrubs and young tree stems, the beavers have constructed two new lodges, one of which is a sort of lean-to on the flanks of the causeway. In the coldest times of winter, we know they’re inside the lean-to lodge because we can see their crystalized breath as hoar frost lining their air vents.

Air-vent beaver breath hoar frost

And so it goes with introductions: a light and (I hope) inviting preview. Sky Pond is an assembly that includes the most diverse habitations and residents of Edgewood. We (the humans and dogs, that is) look at, listen to, canoe on, and occasionally submerge in this primordial soup of stories and thoughts. Without Sky Pond, we would be very different in mind and body. Body, literally, since so much of the food we eat grows from the pond muck-enriched gardens. Mind, because we would be poorer in stories if we didn’t live with a pond. As lichenologists, we (Trevor more than me) theorize much about systems, synergies, and symbioses. But Sky Pond gives us maybe even more evidence of the complexly layered nature of life: systems-of-systems-of-systems.

Many future blog entries will relate the events and beings from Sky Pond, from our bowl of primordial soup. Stay tuned…

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