Things are different when you grow up on a pond. The sounds of water lapping at the shore, and the melody of the birds, and the faint whisper of a breeze are always there, but they’re invisible—inaudible—residing just far enough from your conscious mind that they’re like the air you breath; vital, but forgotten and unnoticed in the moment.
Some sounds, though, never fade into the background. The sound that a largemouth bass makes when it takes a popper off the surface demands your attention no matter what else you’re doing at the time. The sound of a boy, laughing as he tries to catch a frog, is much the same.
Then there’s the staccato drumming of bare feet, running down the worn gray wood of the dock, followed, after the very shortest of pauses, by the inevitable splash. Two splashes, really, because the boy and the dog are inseparable, and where one leaps the other always follows.
Finally, there’s the sound that defines the pond. It’s the subtle swish of an old wooden boat as it traverses the water, punctuated every second or two by the rhythmic splash of the oars and the unmistakable squeak of the oarlocks.
When you grow up on a pond, and when that pond has bass and frogs and snakes and lily pads and an old wooden boat with the paint peeling and a plywood seat worn smooth by decades of anglers…well, it gets into you. It seeps in, to the point where anything else is unnatural and has to be learned, and considered, and possibly rejected if it seems too different or too foreign.
A lot of us who came of age on ponds never learned to love the sound of an outboard motor. It’s too harsh, that particular sound is, and the cloud of exhaust fumes is too pungent and toxic. I should also mention that the world goes by altogether too fast with curved metal blades propelling you toward the far shore.
Motors, at least on a pond, are both too savage and too civilized; an innate contradiction like the rest of the modern world, and they feel like cheating, as if we’re grinding the past underneath our heels and sending our heritage—our most cherished traditions—down the coal chute and into the fire box.
When you grow up on a pond, with a dog and a fishing rod but without the stink of an outboard motor, it’s like growing up free, without television or cell phones or e-mail. It’s like…it’s like…Huck Finn, and pirates and Little League baseball with wooden bats. It’s like jitterbugs and hula poppers and the intoxicating smell of a nine-week-old puppy. It’s like freedom when that freedom is real, and earned, and appreciated, as opposed to the ersatz freedom that’s packaged for sale by greedy politicians to people who’ve forgotten what it feels like to be happy, or to have hope, or to feel the sun on their face with their eyes closed and their lips caressed by a smile.
I wish more of us had grown up on a pond. I wish more of us could hold on to that inner, sun-burned and sun-blessed child within. I wish more of us had been shaped by the pull of a largemouth bass, and the excited bark of a dog, and the scent of a fresh breeze with nary a hint of anything except God’s own creation on a gorgeous summer eve.
It seems so long ago. It really does. But it’s all still there whenever I take the time to remember. The creak of the oars. Summers that stretch on forever. The old man’s laugh. The dog, staring down at the bluegills swimming just below the dock. The bass, swirling on the surface.
Reality intrudes, of course. Work and bills and politics, not to mention the knowledge that we’re trashing this amazing world when we should be walking gently and healing the wounds around us. But those wounds, sad as they are, deep as they are, can still heal if enough people dedicate themselves to making the right choices.
Things are different when you grow up on a pond. We’re shaped and sculpted, in ways far more subtle than most of us will ever realize or could ever discern. We are blessed by those quiet waters, baptized in the ways of boats and bass and bluegills. Saved, sometimes, if we’re lucky. Water, if it’s clean enough and clear enough and pure enough, eventually wears down our rough spots. It washes off society’s inherent grit and grime and allows the light to shine through. Maybe it’s not too late after all. Maybe we can take another pull on the oars. Maybe we can still slip into a pond filled with bass and frogs and lily pads; filled with grace. Maybe there’s still hope. I like to think so.