[Written for Orion Magazine’s “The Place You Live” section. Click here to check it out there.]
I live between two ponds, connected by a slow, sedge-lined creek. Cardinal flowers adorn the banks in August, and pointy-tipped tree trunks tell beavers’ tales. Sometimes the creek floods, the spillway roars, and the sedges wave and bend in the torrent. Sometimes, on nice days, strangers park just off the paved road and fish from the bridge.
The pond to the northwest is hidden from the road on private land. Adolescent-inspired urges take me there, to trespass and feast my eyes upon the private water and shoreline when the need hits. Daily, however, I visit the other pond that sits to the southeast, alongside the road for a quarter of a mile.
I meet neighbors on the bridge and we marvel at the prehistoric colossus that is a snapping turtle. My dogs swim with the otters, and we keep them out of the water when the beaver are around. “Beaver’ll drown a dog,” old one-armed Rocky from up the street wheezes.
This corner of the Catskills takes its biodiversity seriously. Water snakes and milk snakes, black snakes and garters, red efts by the triple digits in the driveway, and painted turtles, snapping turtles, red-backed salamanders, spring peepers and leopard frogs let me know they’re here. Listening through the open windows I realized red squirrels and kingfishers sound alike, as do certain owls and foxes. Nothing sounds like the coyotes at dawn, though.
My daughter waits for the school bus a few feet from the pond, iPod plugged in and cell phone safely tucked away in her Coach purse (that I didn’t buy). She watches the otters play in the dim 6 a.m. light, and tells me when she’s been joined by a black bear. She doesn’t bother to mention when she sees a heron or loon; they are not noteworthy the way the mammals (mink, otter, beaver or bear) are. When I was 16 I would have given my eye teeth to wait for the school bus entertained by a trio of river otters.
Nonplussed, she asks for a ride to the movies in Kingston on Friday night.