Here at the farm, we have a vernal pond that fills each spring and which we nurture, as it nurtures its own inhabitants.
It’s a small pond — no more than 60 or 70 square feet. It’s filled not just by melting snow but also from one of the natural springs that are scattered over the low-lying lands of the property. The pond sits in front of the old pony barn, which was built by our Norwegian neighbor during the first winter he lived here, over 40 years ago. Come spring, he discovered that the barn he had built during that hard New England winter was sited in soft, wet earth. As he says, “I built it in the wrong place.” And he laughs because he knows what’s important in life.
Although the pony barn has a perfect set of stalls for six Fjords or Welshes or Morgans or Arabians, it doesn’t house any ponies or horses. As far as I know, it never has. It doesn’t sit empty though (thanks to pallets, planks and plywood). It houses things that old house restorers like us collect, along with an assortment of treasures that could easily lead crisp suburbanites to accuse of us of being hoarders.
There are things that don’t get thrown into a dumpster because we might repair them some day…like that beautiful set of 1930s wicker chairs. There are unfinished projects (it’s a farm)…tools to make them with… and an antique radio to accompany the work, should it ever get done. There’s a collection of the oversized industrial antiques that are so trendy now that they’d pay for a season of A-rated shows if we sold them at Brimfield. I bet we don’t make it to Brimfield this year, either.
If we ever want to fire up the forge again, we know where to go to get the iron and tongs. With all the weight inside it, it’s a wonder the pony barn doesn’t simply sink into the ground, but it was well built, and has been well supported through the years by everyone who’s lived here.
The first Christmas we lived here, my Irish-Yankee horsewhispering boyfriend called me upstairs to look out one of the eyebrow windows in the back bedroom — the best place to see the pony barn from inside the house. He had constructed a present for me out of bright green rope lights, and it nearly covered one facade of the barn. “Oh my goodness,” I said, “It’s the Christmas wombat!” It was supposed to be a pig, he told me. He hadn’t gotten the ears quite right. Still, as much as I love pigs, the last thing I wanted him to do was fix the ears.
The vernal pond creates its own excitement each year. We look forward to the time when the ice melts and the pond fills with water, the leaves and twigs and vegetation scattered about inside it.
Soon, the din of wood frogs fills the air, so raucous that it makes us laugh just to hear it. If all the frogs had those push-button lighters, it would be like the end of a Grateful Dead concert in the late 70s.
It’s always easy to see the eggs that are laid by the wood frogs — they look like mounds of black, large pearl tapioca. It’s much harder to spot the frogs, so well camouflaged are they. When we do spot them, it’s a thrill, and they look back at us as if we are not quite as smart as they are.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet my frogs:
We’ve been having a drought. Normally, the vernal pond would dry up and its inhabitants become food for raccoons and other wildlife here. We don’t want that. So we fill the pond from the hose, and that works, even though the water is quite cold. The pond is now teeming with tadpoles. The frogs are quiet and quite tame (so are the spotted salamanders but I didn’t get a photograph of them this year). So much so that we walk by and say “hello” and they stay put.
The other day, my Yankee-Irish horsewhispering boyfriend stuck a twig out towards one of the frogs, to see what would happen. The frog took two hops forward and aggressively bit down on it. The pool is now teeming with tadpoles. I’m sure that when they grow up, they will be talented singers and camouflage artists and dancers, just like the generation that preceded them.