A Cape Cod Notebook 6/26/07

listenLost Pond

By Robert Finch

There's a pond I know- let's call it Lost Pond- that's never crowded, not even on the hottest summer weekends. The pond is not remote, or undiscovered, or officially protected. Some of its relative neglect is due to its largely hilly shoreline and limited public access, but the real reason for its lack of human presence lies in the nature of the pond itself. Lost Pond is a eutrophic pond, a scientific term that literally means "good growth." Though it's fairly large, its waters are shallow and warm, rich in plant nutrients and organic matter. Such ponds generally have little appeal for swimmers, and Lost Pond is no exception.

Even the residents of the houses along its shoreline don't use it much for bathing. They prefer to drive several miles to some other, less fertile pond or ocean beach where they don't have to share the waters with so many other forms of life. The pond's most regular visitors are fishermen, who are lured by the abundant native fish- white and yellow perch, pickerel, small- and large-mouth bass, bluegills, pumpkin seeds, sunfish, pond suckers, bullheads and others.

Lost Pond is uncommonly full of life at all seasons of the year, but it reaches its flood in summer. Then the shallows along its shore are thick with polliwogs basking in the luke-warm water, small black ones an inch long and the much larger second-year bullfrog tadpoles, their rear legs already well-formed and kicking. Usually a banded water snake can be seen weaving casually among the purple-spiked patches of pickerelweed. Painted turtles rest on half-submerged pieces of driftwood or dive suddenly beneath floating lily pads. And all along the shore, stands of highbush blueberry, virburnum, azaleas, and other shrubs form impenetrable wet tangles within which the splashings, ploppings, gruntings, and chirpings of unseen life are constantly going on.

The pond, as I said, enjoys no special protection or isolation. By a combination of luck and the very biological richness of its waters, it has thus far not suffered the fate of many similar ponds whose shorelines have been scraped, strangled, or smothered by excessive human development. It is ringed only sparsely with houses, which have for the most part kept a respectful distance back from its edges, and left the dense screens of oak trees intact. The residents seem uncommonly aware of the great natural gift they have received. They have not replaced the lush and erosion resistant natural plant cover of its slopes with manicured, heavily fertilized lawns that drain phosphates into its waters.

Of course, I realize that Lost Pond remains susceptible to future exploitation, overdevelopment, and misuse. It is also vulnerable to factors beyond individual control, such as acid rain, or the leaching of toxic elements from the old town dump nearby. Still, for the moment at least, its waters remain essentially undisturbed, its extraordinary plant and animal diversity flourishes in unredeemed, heathen health. Its cup of life runneth rank and over. Here, on its shore, one may still stand and put the electric human summer at a distance; the spirit may still go out and claim such pools of peace for its own.

Broadcast on June 26, 2007