By Mary Chavez
Above, Mary Hughes (Chavez), left, with her sister Diane, pretty in pink. Photo courtesy of Mary Chavez.
When I was growing up, the computer chip hadn’t been invented yet, and the future home of Microsoft was acres of woods. Our backyard in Bellevue bloomed with trillium flowers in spring, and a chorus of frogs sang in summer. Back then I could walk, bike, and go places without a parent and without worries.
My friends and I would board Jason, a chestnut colored quarter horse, and head to the Prairie Market for sweets and pop. One or two girls would ride and the others would walk as Jason meandered through the foxglove-lined trail that ran behind our white, picket-fenced house.
Besides being a patient walker, Jason the horse was a strong and valiant swimmer. We decided during the warm summer months that we all, Jason included, should take short dips in the large pond in front of our home. Somehow Jason managed to tolerate three girls hanging on to his mane, riding bareback, and making a lot of chatter as we fell into the water laughing hysterically.
Set in a buttercup field, the pond sparkled in spring, surrounded by pussy willows, soft to the touch and perfect for cutting wands for adventures. As temperate weather blew in, the pond came alive with ducks, salamanders, frogs, and all manner of colored dragonflies, garter snakes, and frogs. Each spring the pond swelled with underwater springs and grew to twice its winter size.
Mary Chavez is a professional musician in Spokane, WA where her band, Pink Tango, plays regularly around town.
One summer my father decided to stem the tide of the annual flood. This was, of course, well before concerns over wetlands, mitigation, and EPA statements and permits had arrived. His plan was to deepen the pond in order to stock it with trout and other species. In preparation for the new and improved pond he began to drain it. As the water began to go down, my nine year old alarm levels went up over the salamander’s scurrying in search of the cool, wet mud now fast disappearing from our pond edges. The salamanders were shiny with beautiful brown bodies and orange and yellow tummies. I was as fond of them as I was of the ducklings that paddled in S-formation following parents through seas of cattails and floating skeeter bugs.
This filling and draining of the pond went on for weeks. My father would scratch his head and wonder why it was taking so long to drain a small pond of water. His day of understanding came though, when he picked up his mail and water bill. Without his knowledge, I had been pulling the garden hose down to the edge of the pond to water the salamanders. Despite the high water bill my father seemed to sympathize with my “save the salamanders” campaign. This was before Greenpeace and PETA were created. My father, he with an REI card number below one hundred, was a mountaineer, and he had spent some time living in a monastery during his youth. His understanding of ethics could sometimes trump parental guidelines about appropriate use of the garden hose.
The salamanders made it somehow through the pond upheaval. The hatchery trout arrived one day, and so did more wild birds. After all the expense and hard work, my father’s fishing dreams were eaten up in a matter of months by blue shimmering pairs of heron that dove headfirst to retrieve the hapless trout.
The pond I grew up on still grows pussy willows, harbors tadpoles, and floats ducks. Horses still canter through Bridle Trails State Park. The cedar trees still sway their branches in the wind and children still swing on their boughs. Some places retain their magic regardless of time and change. I can still walk into the place of my childhood and feel the terrain of my home without having to set foot upon the grass. My memories of that beautiful place and time are a gift I take with me wherever I go.