A New Year, a New Pond, and New Possibilities

My New Year’s Day destination

Whether this water-filled depression truly is a pond, I can’t say. It may be akin to a vernal pool, filling and drying as conditions change. Whatever its nature, I’ve passed the spot for years without being aware of its existence, until autumn helped to open the view and a pathway to its edge became visible.

Of course I named it immediately, and if the name ‘Walden West’ seems too obvious, it felt appropriate. I’ve never seen a New England pond, let alone Walden itself, but certain characteristics of this watery depression and the woods surrounding it — isolated, self-contained, unpublicized — suggested it as the basis for a year-long project dedicated to documenting the nature of a single place and its seasonal changes.

Vibrant poison ivy at the water’s edge

When I discovered the spot last Sunday, frustration limited my explorations somewhat. I’d been distracted, and set off for the day without putting a card in my camera — a fact I discovered only after attempting to capture the view shown in the photo at the top of the page. Two hours from home and an hour away from being able to purchase another card, it seemed that photos of my new spot would have to wait.

Then, I remembered my camera phone, and Sunshine came to the rescue. Once I’d learned to keep my fingers away from the lens and queried the search engine a dozen or so times, all was well.

Lichen (possibly Usnea spp.) on a fallen limb

Today, I’ll be returning to my ‘new’ pond; it seems a perfect destination for a new year. With a card already in my camera and an open path awaiting, new discoveries are inevitable: a truth that Thoreau, that other Walden-lover, knew so well.

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct.
It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!
I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

 

Comments always are welcome.

81 thoughts on “A New Year, a New Pond, and New Possibilities

  1. That will be an interesting project to see the changes throughout the year. I lived in CT for a couple of years and ponds were everywhere and full of giant snapping turtles. We were told not to put our hand in the water. I do take many photos with my cell phone and I’m sure you can tell, but it’s what I have in the moment. Have a great New Year and may you find many new discoveries.

    1. I had a full day there today, and I’m glad I did. I have a feeling things will be very different in a day or two. The front just made it through Austin, so it won’t be long.

      It’s funny that I don’t remember ponds from my years in Iowa. I just read a current article that puts their number at 110,000, so I clearly missed out. When we fished, we went to rivers or lakes rather than ponds; maybe my folks didn’t know any pond people. Down here, I learned to call what looked like ponds to me ‘tanks,’ but the ones I encountered were mostly man-made. Since I’ve spent most of my time around bays, bayous and marshes, and the larger freshwater ponds in the refuges, it’s going to be interesting to learn what I’ve found!

  2. I will look forward to more excursions with you later in the year. All the very best for 2022, Linda.

    1. A happy New Year to you, David. Although our natural environments differ in some significant ways, I suspect we take similar pleasure in exploring them. I trust you’ll be continuing to lead your own excursions in the coming year, and I’m looking forward to them. One of these days, Lily is going to become a co-leader with you and Miriam, given all the knowledge she’s surely soaking up!

  3. I’m looking forward to seeing Walden West through the seasons in the coming months, and, may I say how impressed I am with your willingness to commit to travel a few hours, repeatedly, to document your discovery. Happy New Year!!

    1. Believe me, one or two hours to a refuge beats most trips into Houston on the freeways. Between accidents and construction, it can take more than an hour to go twenty-five miles.

      Another oddity of life in this state is a result of it being so big. People don’t think of distance the way they do in other states. I began learning that lesson when friends in a new town said, “Why don’t we run into San Antonio for dinner?” Everyone thought it was a great idea; San Antonio was two hours away. Of course, there’s this tidbit, too: it’s 790 miles from Chicago to NYC. Across Texas, east to west? If you drive I-10 from El Paso to the Louisiana border, it’s 880 miles. What’s a couple of hours among friends?

      I made my first trip today, and it was well worth it. Photos will follow!

      1. That’s funny, literally, and it puts how we live our lives in perspective, doesn’t it?

        We’re about two hours from Toronto, and when we moved here one of the first things we noticed is going to the store for a litre of milk is a 20 minute drive, not a stroll to the corner. Two hours for dinner, though, means a great excuse to book a hotel room and have a weekend getaway.

  4. New Year always brings those “resolutions,” whether it is to get outside more, or eat differently, or any of thousands of new “paths” of intention…then after a few days, or maybe weeks, our minds take us back to those old “paths” of familiar comfort.
    They say that it takes 6 weeks to break old habits, or to form new ones…hopefully it does not take you 6 weeks to beat down a path to your new pond.
    Happy 2022!

    1. It occurred to me today that the path’s already formed. While I have a new spot to visit, it’s not so far from places I’ve been visiting regularly for several years. That’s part of the fun: finding someplace new, and beginning the process of learning about it.

      I’ve been thinking of doing something like this since first reading about Chris Helzer’s square meter photography project. I’d thought to find a prairie spot for myself, or perhaps to choose a place in the Big Thicket, but nothing seemed ‘just right.’ When I stumbled on this place last weekend, it took about a minute for me to realize this was the place. Funny, that.

  5. Thoreau had a way with words: “make a beaten track for ourselves.” I’ve often thought about that, without phrasing it so well. Down to our DNA we are who we are, and some ways of thinking and behaving seem natural to us, while others don’t. And yet with time and intent we do sometimes find not just different but better ways.

    On the subject of cameras, I always have extra batteries (of two kinds) and an extra memory card in my camera bag.

    1. Like you, I make a practice of carrying extras: batteries, lens cleaners, and a memory card in my camera case, and extra lens caps in the car. Unfortunately, when I forgot a card last year, and used the extra, I forgot to replace it. Now, I’ll go back to being prepared: until the next time.

      On the other hand, if I’d had a card in the camera, I never would have pulled out the phone. I went back to my camera today, but now I know I have an option I can work with if necessary.

      Your comment about who we are ‘down to our DNA’ reminded me of the concluding lines of the poem you’ve so often quoted:

      “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
      We are not now that strength which in old days
      Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
      One equal temper of heroic hearts,
      Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
      To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

  6. It looks large to be a vernal pool, but its depth may be more important from an ecological standpoint than its surface area. Do you plan to get your feet wet? Will be fun to see what you discover. Happy New Year!

    1. No wet feet for me! I wear knee high boots as often as hiking boots when I’m down on the coast since there’s a lot of wet territory: ditches, mudflats, and such. Today, the pool clearly had dropped a bit: evaporation, perhaps. I don’t yet know if it fills from rainfall, or from the water table rising. I don’t think it’s fed by a stream. So much to learn! A good rain or extended heat will help clarify things. There’s a large freshwater pond in one refuge that I’ve seen go completely dry; it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with this one.

    1. You certainly are the master of pool photography — I thought about you and the reflections you’ve shared when I found this one. I’ve not yet seen this in sunlight; it will be interesting to see what more light reveals.

  7. What a wonderful discovery, Linda! I’m looking forward to further pictures.
    I wish you a wonderful 2022, with lots of photo opportunities, but, above all, in good health,
    Pit
    P.S.: sometimes smartphones can be a blessing, can’t they?

    1. I’ve always made the move to a new technology when I recognize a use for it, and that’s exactly what happened in this case. I’m not much of a gadget person, but I’ve grown somewhat fond of my little phone: I don’t stream movies or play games with the thing, but it serves my purposes.

      Everyone’s ready for a better year. I’m looking forward to following your explorations around our state!

    1. Of course, once I pulled out the phone, I realized I didn’t have a clue how to make it ‘go.’ Thank goodness for those people who’ve filled the internet with articles that answer “How do I [whatever] with an iPhone 11?” What a world, especially for one who grew up with a phone with no dial, four-digit phone numbers, and operators who said, “Number, please.”

      Who knows that the next year will bring. I hope it’s a good one for us all!

  8. A worthy objective, Linda. I reread Walden every couple of years as a form of grounding. I grew up with a pond, which we named imaginatively, the Pond. It was a capital place to visit and play. It taught me much about nature. Lessons I have never forgotten. It’s gone now, sacrificed to a gas station. I can only wish I had photos. It lives on in my my mind, however. (And on in my blog.)
    The trail, too, will provide you with something to observe. I’ve loved the one I built up into the National Forest behind our house. We walk it several times a week and it always has new surprises for us. Over Christmas, my neighbor asked me to take her and her visiting family over the route, which I did gladly, easily finding my way through the snow.
    The best to you this year, my friend. –Curt

    1. Funny how these things develop. I’d never intended to re-read Walden this year, but I just pulled it off my shelf, laughing again at the Half-Price Books sticker on the dust jacket. For $5.99, the price of a fancy Starbuck’s coffee, I have an apparently unused hardbook copy of a real gem. Reading it in conjunction with my visits to Walden West seems perfect.

      I remember your various posts that involved your pond, and the fun you had there. The little watery depression I found (whatever its true nature) seems to be filled with life — unless all those bubbles are just the water seeping into the ground. I’ve rarely seen a frog; this may be my chance to witness more than a loud ker-plunk! when I pass by.

      Yesterday, I realized that a human hand of some sort had done a bit of clearing, too. It could have been refuge staff, or volunteers. In either case, it was so well done I didn’t notice it at first. I found what seemed to be another trail leading off through some woods; where it goes I’ll find out eventually. I’ll not have the pleasure of a snowy trek, though — although we did have the promised thirty-degree drop overnight. Forty degrees and forty mph winds makes me happy I went out yesterday.

      1. ” Forty degrees and forty mph winds makes me happy I went out yesterday.” Hope you dressed warmly, Linda. You had a windchill factor of around 27° F.
        On a warmer day, just stare down into the water for five minutes or so. There should be all kinds of life!
        I have a Shambhala pocket classic of Walden. As suggested, it easily fits in my pocket. Great for backpacking. It cost me $6.00. –Curt

        1. The good news is that we’re probably going to warm to the upper 60s by midweek, so work will be quite pleasant — although I may dally a bit in the morning. My birds and squirrels dallied this morning, I can tell you that. No one else is out except the dog walkers dragging their charges at a fast trot, the Amazon delivery guys, and my intrepid neighbor who’s still in shorts and flip-flops. There’s always one.

          1. Our neighbor from Wisconsin had us down for a fish fry in December. We ate outside and huddled around a gas-driven fire. Peg and I were wearing out down-filled jackets. He was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. Those Northerners are tough.

  9. Wonderful idea to visit and document a particular place, Linda–it will prove fascinating, I have no doubt. For a couple of years, I followed a garden blog meme ‘Tree Following’ hosted by a British blogger. Honestly, I learned so much about my American Sycamore and Retama trees, it was one of the best projects. I can’t seem to blog as regularly as I once did, but a worthy goal surely would assist!

    Lovely photos–that poison ivy is gorgeous!

    1. I’ve been toying with the idea for several years. I first was intrigued by a fellow in NYC who did what he called a ‘block-a-thon’ — walking around his city block for the number of times it took to chalk up 26.2 miles. He ended up noticing a good bit that he’d simply passed by in prior years. Then, Chris Helzer began documenting a square meter of prairie through a year. His photos of what he found in that small area were fabulous, and the ‘square meter project’ turned into a book and a museum exhibit. I’m not so dedicated or so skilled photographically, but the though of following a specific place over a longer period of time appeals — especially a spot that probably isn’t on anyone else’s itinerary.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the standard issue color for poison ivy? It certainly would be easier to spot. And as long as we’re at it, maybe we could wish its leafless vines to be yellow, too!

  10. Whether the pond is playa or permanent, I think the title “A Year in the Life of a Dent in the Land” would work as a title for this long-form opus. Also, I’ll buy the title “Postcards From the Pond” as a tag or subtitle for future updates. Either way, I’ll look forward to them. P.S., that poison ivy looks way more avoidable with “caution” yellow warning leaves.

    1. I love the alliteration of ‘Postcards from the Pond,’ and the very thought of a dent in the land made me laugh. I’ll probably stick with ‘Walden West,’ just because I pulled my copy of that book off the shelf this morning and thought: wouldn’t it be fun to re-read Thoreau’s account of his Walden while visiting mine through the year? Having had the experience of living aboard a boat through a winter, I’m not about to build a cabin and hunker down in the woods (especially now that your front’s become our front, and everyone is remembering what it means to be cold), but reading Thoreau’s account of his experience suits me just fine.

      I love those yellow leaves. Now, if only its leafless vines turned the same color.

    1. I was surprised to find a shelf fungus and a mushroom yesterday, to go along with the lichens. There were several lichen species, but they’ll have a wait for another day and a different camera to have their portraits made.

    1. If I’ve learned anything about nature photography (and I suspect it’s true for photography in general), it’s that no place ever is the same. Like fire, rivers, and sunsets, what appears to be similar never is — and of course we’re never seeing in the same way, either. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus summed it up beautifully: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”

  11. Sounds like a fantastic project. I hope the location continues to reward you. It’s one of the many things I enjoy about hiking the same location, how each time it’s a different place, changing from day to day and season to season. Some changes are small and I have to really look to find them. Others are more obvious, especially as seasons change. But the entire process keeps me aware of my surroundings, keeps me learning to see. I look forward to seeing some of what you find!

    1. I’ve always enjoyed returning to the same place, precisely because it’s never the same. Birds come and go; flowers bud, bloom, and fade; storms pass through or don’t. It’s the apparently infinite variety that pleases, and makes boredom impossible.

      Part of the fun of this little project will be learning about the land itself. I don’t have a clue what I’m seeing as far as the pond/pool/wet spot in the land is concerned. Trying to identify a flower is one thing. Learning to read the land is something else. It’s similar, but I suspect far more complex. I look forward to knowing what I’ve found, too!

  12. I shall look forward to your images of this project. Always good to find a new location for photography.

    (I always download my photos via a USB cord that came with my camera, ticking the box to clear whatever is on the camera after download, keeping it empty ready for the next walk. I keep all my images stored on my iMac with its auto backups to a spare hard drive. I also always carry a spare battery(s) fully charged also. Only once in 10 years has my memory card failed and then, I had a spare memory card in my camera bag. I believe most professional photographers download their images via their memory cards like you. Perhaps I’m the only person to download the day’s shots via a USB cord??).

    1. I remember very early on using a USB cord, and then I changed. I don’t know why I changed, but my current process works for me.

      I always carry spare batteries, lens wipes, and lens covers, and I’ve always had a spare card, too. The glitch this time involved my forgetting to replace my spare card when I had to make use of it last year. The good news is that being without a card this time nudged me into using the phone as a camera. At least I have the basics down now — and have learned how to make my Apple phone talk to my non-Mac computer via a USB adapter. When I went back to this little spot yesterday, I went back to my camera, and was happy.

    1. Whether it’s really a pond, I’m still unsure. It could merely be a wet spot in the land. When I went back yesterday, the water level had dropped somewhat. It might have been due to evaporation, or to the water soaking into the ground. Time will tell. Yesterday, I had my ‘real’ camera with me, and had a very good time — especially since today is truly cold and windy, and staying inside seems the better choice. Besides, I can use the time to process my backlog of photos.

  13. I wonder if it’s a rain pool. I was at Great Falls yesterday and there were quite a few of them, of varying sizes. It will be interesting to see views of it through different seasons, if it’s actually a pond. Now I know why your photos are so good–you’re still using a camera most of the time!

    1. I think the chances are good it could be a rain pool. On the other hand, the elevation in the area is three feet, give or take, and it’s on the edge of a slough. Given that it’s also close to the coast, and that a primary road sometimes closes when tides and wind combine to push water inland, that water might be coming up from below. I just haven’t a clue at this point, but I have a year to find out.

      I’ve always used my Canon and yesterday, despite having introduced myself to the iPhone, I went back to my Canon on my return trip to this spot. The phone does a good job, but there are things it can’t do. For example, I messed a bit while post-processing to soften the background of the poison ivy a bit. I read some articles about how to mess with depth of field after taking an iPhone photo, but it seemed more trouble than it would be worth. I have an iPhone 11, and although there are reports the iPhone 13 is going to add macro capabilities, I could buy another good lens or upgrade my camera for the cost of the iPhone. In fact, I’m doing neither. First, I learn how to use the equipment I have!

  14. As with other commenters, look forward to this series. In the first couple of years going digital, I’d walk virtually the same track each day with my horse, and took it as a point to find points of interest each time. In the height of summer that was quite a challenge but I believe it taught me to see better.

    1. I agree, wholeheartedly. I’ve often thought and sometimes said that the first step toward becoming a better photographer is learning to see. Sometimes, that involves looking without a camera in hand, and sometimes it means taking the time to ‘look twice.’ Every now and then I’ll drive the auto loops in the refuges twice: once with a telephoto lens for birds, and then again with my macro lens to photograph things I noticed along the way. It can be quite productive.

  15. How delightful to be surprised by a pond! Whatever its nature, it does sound like an interesting project to document the changes there for a year. Wishing you a very happy New Year, full of interest and great photographic opportunities!

    1. I thoroughly enjoyed my day there yesterday. I mostly explored the land fringing the water. As so often happens, it seemed like ‘nothing’ was there. But there were some things worthy of notice, and it amused me that I spotted a few of them only after leaving to explore another area before returning to take a second look with ‘fresh eyes.’ It was a good start to the year, and I hope you found some similar pleasures.

      1. In a way I do have a similar pleasure – a pond! I made a pond in my garden and have left it to fill with rain over the winter. It has been fun paddling about in it in my wellies, putting pebbles on the bottom. I noticed that there is already something tiny living in it – it hid under a pebbles as I was putting in some more. So I’ll have a pond to photograph this year too.

    1. A couple of people pointed out how convenient it would be if poison ivy were that bright yellow all year round. I added that I’d be pleased if it could color its vines that way, too. The speckling is attractive. Now that I know what I’m looking at, I’ve seen some color in the leaves, but nothing like this.

      I think those cup-like thingies in the lichen are part of its fruiting process. I’m really ignorant about fungi, and lichens even moreso. Since they’re abundant down there, I’m going to have to learn a bit about them.

  16. What a pretty spot … and aptly named! I don’t guess I’ve ever seen poison ivy in autumn, so I thank you for showing me what to look out for. This sounds like a worthy project for you.

    1. Believe me, Debbie – I’m glad I made a January visit yesterday. It was cloudy but warm: well into the upper 70s. Today? Not so much. It’s 39 right now, with a 30 mph wind. This is a day for indoor chores, and for thinking about how much I admire you hardy Northerners.

      Despite it all, I couldn’t help admiring that poison ivy. It can turn red or orange, too, but the speckled yellow surely was easy to spot. It’s too bad that it stays a sneaky green in summer!

    1. I’d never seen such vibrant poison ivy, either. I’ve seen yellow, but without all the fancy speckles. Of course, my track record when it comes to identifying the stuff isn’t all that long. It certainly would be easier to spot if it held these pretty colors through the year. At least I’ll know to watch for it, now.

  17. How exciting! I can’t wait to see the evolution of Walden West. And wondering if I should do something similar here in NC. Hmmm…

    Also, hearing how far it is from your home made me wonder: do you listen to music in your car? Audiobooks? Talk radio? The voices in your head (like Mike does – ha!)?

    1. I’ve been pondering a little project like this for some time, but things just didn’t click. When I happened across this place, it seemed right. Sometimes planning is good, and sometimes waiting to see what develops is good, too.

      When I’m driving, I’ll occasionally listen to music. Otherwise, I just think. I never listen to talk radio or audio books. If I want to read, I’ll read a book at home, and if I want talk — well, talk radio isn’t going to do it for me. I have a couple of podcasts that I listen to, but that’s more an at-work thing. When I’m driving, I want to pay attention to what I’m seeing along the way. I’m known to brake for wildflowers.

  18. How fun to have a new pond! And that cell phone did pretty darned well. That poison ivy particularly intrigues me. I’ve never seen it looking yellow and the speckles are really pretty. Pretty enough to pick — but don’t!

    1. When I saw that ivy, my first thought was, “Wouldn’t that be pretty in a centerpiece with native gourds and red Virginia creeper?” It sure would be pretty, but of course that’s not going to happen. And yes, on the pleasure of a new spot. It’s going to be interesting to see what appears there in the course of a year — rather like your ditch!

  19. That first image is dreamy and makes me think of art deco for some reason. I’ve heard it said, “the best camera is the one you have” (that has power/memory).

    1. You thought of art deco; I thought of Gustav Klimt’s “Birches”. Trees are such wonderful subjects, however they’re portrayed.

      I certainly agree with that sentiment re: best cameras, although I might revise it to say, “The best camera is the one you have — and know how to use!”

  20. So great that you had a backup phone to use as a camera, but it’s not fun when the obvious – like the chip – is overlooked. I think my camera allows about 8 images for the internal option. Never enough, but it reminds me of long ago when we doled out each precious frame on 35 mm film.

    Not too long ago I forgot to put the battery back in the camera, so had zero ops for photos!

    1. For whatever reason, I’ve never forgotten to have a newly-charged battery in the camera, and a couple of extras in my bag. But if I’m going in one direction and my mind is going in another, there’s just no predicting what might happen.

  21. Just as Mr. Thoreau created a path to Walden Pond, so shall we be impressing the earth of our minds with regular vicarious visits to Walden West.

    How exciting to discover a “new place”! How rewarding to look forward to exploration, learning and sharing your adventure!

    1. Learning, for sure. There’s nothing like going to the woods to reveal any gaps in knowledge, and for me the obvious gaps involved mushrooms, lichens, and whatever’s bubbling away under the surface of the water. On the other hand, there was another unexpected gap on New Year’s Day; the woods were absolutely silent. Even when the birds aren’t especially active there’s usually a little scuffling in the underbrush or the occasional chirp, but I’ve rarely heard it so quiet. Even the squirrels weren’t running around. Maybe they all took New Year’s Day off!

  22. This should be fun. I’ve thought of doing this but haven’t yet so maybe will take your venture as a prod to follow through.
    I forgot a card once which was inexcusable in my case since I have a dozen or so ranging from four to 64 gb and usually have them in a case in my bag. Overkill for sure but then I also carry 4 backup batteries…my camera has a battery grip so holds two. That comes in handy this time of the year when batteries die quickly.
    Looking forward to your discoveries and critter/plant inventory.

  23. Oh, the curse of the camera card struck….that’s happened to me far too often. I love the photos here, I will look forward to following this delightful place.xxx

    1. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. If my usual pattern holds, I’ll remember the card for several months now — until I forget again. The photos from my first visit on New Year’s Day are up now, and they were even more pleasing than I’d expected! That kind of surprise always is good.

    1. You probably were traveling, or gardening, or hiking, or…! Anyway, now you know. I thought it was a pretty cool name, too, and a nice tip of the hat to someone who ought to be thought of more often than he is these days!

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