BY NORBERT RUG
When I was growing up I was fortunate enough to have a few ponds near where I lived. One was behind a transformer station. This is the spot where I would go to catch pollywogs and leopard frogs. The fun was in catching these elusive amphibians and I practiced catch and release. I didn’t swim there much though. It was a shallow pool, not much more than knee deep and it would pretty much dry up by the end of summer, hardly conducive for swimming.
There was a pond on the property just across the street from my house where I would catch catfish. This pond was in the middle of a 100-acre farm that had gone fallow and was a spring fed pond. As such the water was always cold and not very pleasant to swim in. When I did swim there, I could feel the catfish nibbling at my toes. Catfish will eat almost anything that they can fit into their mouths so I guess they had to see if toes were edible. All that you needed was a rod, a reel and a can of worms to catch them. Catfish are good eating but because my mother refused to cook what I caught so what I hooked was released and lived to swim another day.
This pond was deep enough for a small boat. I found an old Refrigerator that I used as a boat using a branch to maneuver around the pond like a Venetian gondolier. On the back of the pond, I made a small shelter from some branches and two old metal Vernor’s Ginger Ale signs that I found. I would watch the dragonflies and the birds and animals stop by for a drink. Mostly songbirds and the occasional deer would stop by. One year ducks made a nest and raised their young at the pond. It was fun to see them grow up. Eventually, they tolerated sharing the pond with me. It helped that I would feed them.
These ponds were adequate but my favorite “swimming hole” was off Millersport Highway. It was at the back end of the property belonging to a construction company. It had a sandy bottom and had a shoreline of sand wrapped around it like a warm, cozy scarf. This was about as close as I usually got to go to the beach during the summer. I figure the company had mined the sand for use in their business. This pond offered it all. We would fish for sunfish, chase frogs, go swimming and sunbathe on the “beach”. The pond itself was about chest deep making it ideal for swimming but it was shallow enough to heat up quite quickly only requiring a few sunny days to warm to an ideal temperature for swimming.
I would grab a towel and go to a friend’s house. There I would meet up with a few buddies and we would head off to our swimming hole, trekking through the brush and fields toward our goal. Along the way we would go “grocery shopping”. I love the taste of Concord grapes and fortunately, we would pass near rows of grape vines on our route. I used to carry a folding knife with a hook blade that I used for harvesting grapes and I would always grab a bunch to eat on the way, cutting them from the vine. I would puck them one at a time from the bunch and squeeze them, causing the tasty flesh to pop into my mouth. I would then discard the skin and enjoy the delightful, sweet flavor. Even today I prefer Concord grapes.
A little further along on our route, we would come across a field filled with corn where we would grab a few ears apiece for later. There is a way to tell if an ear of corn is mature enough to eat without tearing back the husks. You just feel the end and if it comes to a sharp point, like a pencil, it isn’t ready. But if it feels rounded like a well-worn crayon it is time to eat it. There were also some tomatoes in another field along the trail which we would grab and eat like apples. Nothing tastes like a tomato ripped from the plant and eaten this way.
We would then follow the path thru the scrub brush and across a grassy field until we reached the swimming hole. There we stripped down to our shorts or maybe just our skin. The pond was far enough away from the road and behind enough foliage that it couldn’t be seen from the highway so it didn’t matter what we were wearing.
After a day of swimming, we would gather up some dried grass for tinder, small sticks for kindling and some firewood and build a small campfire. We would warm ourselves by the fire and roast the corn. It was delicious. As it got late, we would head back home before it got too dark to see the trail, besides, I wanted more grapes before dinner time. I loved my pond so much. It was a place of peace and nature. That pond still has its effect on me even after all these years. Whenever I have to go to my “Happy Place”, I go to my pond.
You can follow Norbert at WhyWny.home.blog