‘Til Death Do Us Part

‘Til Death Do Us Part

This post is part of a series contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.

A pair of Canada geese swimming

For some months now, I have been receiving regular updates from my friends, Sarah and Rich, who a year ago bought a country place with fields and a farm pond big enough to provide suitable surroundings for their bounding passel of kids. Rich has long yearned, privately, to become a gentleman farmer. Sarah has been too busy to yearn for anything more than peace and harmony. Now, they’ve got it all.

One of their great pleasures has been this body of water “down in the back forty,” the farm pond, which I would estimate to cover something close to an acre. Not only does it float things such as pond lilies and toy boats, it is also a strong attractor of wildlife, drawing frogs, snakes, turtles, red-wing blackbirds and swallows, deer, mosquitoes and dragonflies and migrating waterfowl. And it provides wonderful skating in winter.

One problem, though, is the impressive crop of duckweed that has grown to cover the entire surface of the pond at certain times of the year. Rich has scooped it and raked it and tried everything to rid the pond of its green “scum” . . . to no avail. He even got a special permit from the state to stock the pond with super-duper algae eaters, a carp-like fish – very expensive and not so super-duper after all. Duckweed is not an alga.

The battle has been an enduring one, and a mostly losing one, particularly when one day our gentleman farmer found himself shaking his fist, not at a slinking otter, not at a mere fish hawk, but at a magnificent bald eagle, flapping off with one of his $40 algae eaters in its talons. The pond, despite all the good efforts of its kind steward and his family, has retained a characteristic murkiness and mystery, a wildness of its own.

One summer afternoon, Sarah was doing the lunch dishes, gazing out back through the window over the kitchen sink. A pair of Canada geese had lately been lounging on and around the pond, feeding, grooming themselves, appearing quite happy with their surroundings. As Sarah watched, they cruised contentedly along the shoreline.

Suddenly, and with a great commotion of wing flapping and hysterical honking, the goose of this pair was assailed by a living nightmare and tragedy. Attacked from below, gripped in the unforgiving, waterlogged jaws of a monster from the murk, she was pulled below the surface with muffled cries of terror in a swirl of green weed and bubbles . . . and was gone.

Sarah, in the window, the gander, now alone, and any else who might have witnessed and comprehended the moment of separation of lifelong mates, were horror-stricken. The peace and tranquility of a summer afternoon were exploded by this irreversible consequence of life’s dance with death.

close-up of a snapping turtle's head with body submergedA big snapping turtle had been seen on occasion in the pond’s shallows, silently submerging upon being approached, paddling off through the duck weed into deep water – a menace by reputation . . . and now, the cruelest of villains.

Day after day, the widowed gander stood on the bank near the spot where his mate had disappeared. As her sad, drowned carcass slowly succumbed to decomposition and the ravaging jaws of its captor, he remained there, confused, empty-hearted, but alert and ever hopeful for her return.

The days turned into weeks. Still, he waited, feeding disinterestedly now and again, but mostly waiting, always near the place where his beloved had last been seen.

The weeks became a month.

Then two months.

He stood, broken-hearted, like a statue, hoping for the answer to his loneliness.

She never came.

Three months went by. Nearing the end of October, having watched flight after flight of his kind and others migrating south on the shortening days, the gander one morning was gone.

The view from Sarah’s kitchen window is altered now. For a year, she has watched her children playing, the passing of the seasons, and the pond. The scene is an ever-changing one, where certain truths lurk unseen, and hope is winging in the sky.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.

Snapping turtle image courtesy of Katja Schulz via Flickr.