Welcome to the latest blog on February 12th 2020.
Before I turn to the main subject of this week’s blog, I have some new photos for you of the marina where Olivia is currently moored up, sadly neither of them with Olivia in the shot.
As you can see it is cold! Temperatures dipped to minus eleven last night – very glad we’re not there to experience that. My family back in the UK had minus seven on Wednesday – seems a good time to be in south-western France, particularly as we have had a dry day, even a sunny morning, although it will be short-lived as the rain due back in again tomorrow.
So, onto the subject matter for this week which is all about ponds. Our pond was a sad, dead space when we moved in. The water was invisible, smothered under a thick blanket of weed. A small area of wooden decking was rotting away quietly on one edge and the rest of it was just a tangle of brambles.
The weed and the brambles have been banished, although it will be a lifetime’s work to keep them under control, the decking has been replaced and now the pond is full of life, so much so that I have to keep coming out at night to see what’s going on. I crouch down quietly on the edge of the decking in the dark, turn on my head torch and see what delights await me tonight. The frogs are up on stage first, three of them, either swimming idly along the edge of the pond or simply floating, long back legs splayed out behind them, looking ungainly and undignified to my human eye.
The torch never seems to bother them, they just keep on doing whatever it is they’re doing, happy for me to stare at them. Sometimes they stare back at me, and I wonder what they see, a shadowy shape with a bright light in the middle of its head.
Obviously I know what frogs are, but I actually know very little about them. As with so many of the animals, birds and insects that share our land, my knowledge is superficial. As these various creatures walk, fly or swim into my life I feel a need to know more about them, their habits, what they eat and who eats them, and so, all too often, I find myself back indoors, eyes glued to a screen, scrolling through a mountain of information. This time feels different. Perhaps it is because we are out here in the dark together, just us, an intimate, private experience, but this time I don’t feel the urge to plug the gaps in my knowledge by reading about someone else’s experience or research. I pretend I am seeing them for the first time, that no-one has seen them before me and that they are my discovery. In this temporary, make-believe world there is no prior knowledge and for once, Google has nothing to offer me other than a gloriously blank page. So what I see and observe through my own eyes will be how I learn about them and it will a gradual learning curve, spread over days and nights and the changing seasons.
Out of the corner of my eye there is a flash of movement, pulling my attention away from the frogs. A newt is hiding under a strand of pond weed. It’s a big brown one with what looks like a distended belly, and it is soon joined by a smaller, skinny black one who often shadows it. A few nights ago I saw a much larger creature cruising below the surface, roughly eight inches long and similar to a salamander but duller in colour, without the distinctive fluorescent yellow markings. I only saw it for a second or two and then it was gone. So much goes on down there in the depths, hidden from my eyes and forever a mystery. It pleases me for it to be that way. In this information age it feels at times as if we know everything about everything and there are no secrets any more. In many ways knowledge is a good thing, but maybe the balance has swung too far in one direction. And so I stand there in the dark and relish the thought of the hidden world at my feet.
However this pond is much more than just a habitat for other creatures to live in. It’s also a mirror, a reflection of all that surrounds it. On a still day, with no hint of a breeze to ruffle the waters, it turns my whole world upside down, re-created with perfect symmetry. I can see two hazel bushes, one rooted to the ground, one floating on the water, their winter catkins hanging down like earrings.
The hollowed out tree trunk that I put there to try and hide the black plastic liner on the edges peers down at itself, admiring the patterns in its bark.
It is also a favourite place for Spot the cat, who is too comfortable to worry about what her reflection might look like. And besides, she knows she is beautiful.
And floating in the middle of the water are the clouds, on some days vast, billowing cities in the sky, on other days insubstantial wisps of spun candy floss. It makes me realise how rarely I look up, right up, into the sky and how much I am missing. At sunset the pond becomes a different place entirely, red and gold against black.
My pond has one last favour to bestow upon me. It is a place of rest, of repose. Simply gazing at the water allows my busy mind to empty out. If I am vexed by a particular problem I can sit by the pond for half an hour and find it has teased out all the tangles of my indecision and I can see a way forward. It was always one of the great joys of being on board Olivia, sitting on deck with nothing to do but watch the water passing by. I miss being surrounded by water, the sense of constant movement, the way it reflects all of the life around it and so is endlessly fascinating, but this little pond, with all its inhabitants, goes a long way to filling that gap.
And that is all for this week. I hope you might find time to commune with a bit of water soon, be it a pond, stream, river or the sea. See you next week and by then let’s hope the temperatures have risen a little for those of you in cold places and the rain has disappeared for the rest of us who are getting wet on far too frequent a basis.