A couple of years out of college, I was still living with my parents in Point Clear, but I was ready for a place to call my own. I didn’t have the money to build a house, but I decided a small piece of land would be a good start. I soon found a wooded lot on Fly Creek with what looked to me like a shallow pond at the foot of it.
“Why has it been on the market so long?” I asked the real estate agent.
“Because of the swamp down there.”
“You mean the pond?”
“Well, yes, ” she corrected herself.
This confirmed my suspicions that the price of the lot and the time it had been for sale were all because no one had my vision. I imagined a small house overlooking a fish pond where I could write and be like Thoreau.
After purchasing the property, I asked Dad to come over and advise me on some boundary line issues, but I really just wanted him to see my pond for himself.
“Son, ” he said, “that’s no pond. That’s an old oxbow that’s filled in with mud. There’s nothing but snakes in it.”
I wasn’t deterred. I visited in the evenings after work and sat there and imagined all my pond could be. I watched snakes glide through its shallow, grassy water. Little minnows rippled the surface and turtles watched me from logs. Occasionally, when the creek rose, water flowed in and left small bass and bream to dart about the reeds. But it wasn’t deep enough to hold them. It wasn’t perfect yet.
That weekend I got a shovel and began to dig. My hands were soon blistered, and my back ached from lifting the large chunks of gooey mud. At the end of the day all I had was pain and a pond full of ugly divots.
The next weekend I drove to the building supply store and rented a small backhoe. I managed to scoop a few shovel loads of mud from the very edges, but the arm didn’t reach the middle. I realized my efforts were once again in vain and my pond even more scarred.
So I began weighing my options.
Twenty workers hired from Labor Finders digging for one day … Can’t afford that.
A cable stretched over the pond with a clamshell dredge on a pulley … Where can I get a clamshell dredge?
A real backhoe, like the kind I see building shopping centers on the four-lane … Would tear up the driveway. Too many trees. Can’t get it down there.
A trash pump! Yes!
I rented the trash pump and invited my younger brother, Reid, to help me. We flopped about at the end of a fire hose for half a day, slurping chunks of mud and spitting them on the bank. But to keep a trash pump flowing requires that whatever you suck up is two-thirds liquid. About noon the pump shut off, and I wiped the mud from my eyes to see that I’d sucked my pond dry. The turtles were crawling away and minnows flipped about like little pieces of muddy glass. I quickly turned the pump around and pumped water from the creek back into it. By the time my pond was restored, it was late in the afternoon, and all I had to show for my efforts was a giant puddle of chocolate milk.
A couple of months went by. All of my leads on clamshell dredges dried up. I was getting discouraged. Then I thought of the little track hoe sitting in front of the rental place. Tracks! I thought. Something with tracks can go anywhere! I can drive it straight into the middle and dig my pond as deep as I want.
I rented it and drove it in. I worked in a circle, scooping buckets of mud from around myself and dumping them on the perimeter. For a short time it seemed things were working, that my pond was becoming perfect. But all the while my track hoe was sinking inch by inch. Each shovelful pulled it deeper. Then I realized that the muffler was gurgling. I tried to drive forward, and the tracks spun. Backward, and the same result. I lifted the stabilizer arms and slapped them back down into nothing. I tried to pull myself out with the shovel arm, but the machine didn’t budge. I tried everything at once, resembling a crazed-looking mechanical bug flailing for life in a tar pit.
Eventually, the engine went underwater and died. I climbed off with a sick stomach, dreading the phone call I was going to have to make. And it wasn’t the rental place I was scared of — it was Dick Turner’s wrecker service.
I’d had a couple of run-ins with Nasty Dick, none of them pleasant. (Recall “Point Clear Towing, ” April 2016.) He was always in a bad mood and famous for taking it out on his customers. And Dick seemed to have a special place in his heart for me, one of his longtime patrons.
As Dick winched the machine from the muck, he let me have it. I was the stupidest kid he’d ever met. If I were his son, he’d wear me out. If he were the rental company, he’d sue me.
Nasty Dick left me standing in the yard next to the track hoe. It was pasted with mud and dead minnows, and deep gouges led down to the pond as evidence of what happened. I didn’t want to be there when the rental company retrieved it.
When I returned back from work on Monday evening, the tracks of some larger piece of equipment were pressed into my lawn and the track hoe was gone. A bill was taped to my door.
It would be years before my swamp was perfect again.
Text by Watt Key