July 6, 2020

The Dredgeful Truth

Janine Pineo Photo | The newly dredged pond

Janine Pineo Photo | The newly dredged pond

• By John F. Chisholm •

We had our north pond dredged. It needed it. Of our three ponds, it has the largest watershed. Constructed in 1992, the brook flowing through it loaded up the basin with 22 years worth of silt and organic debris.

That was more than enough to completely change the character of the pond.

Looking back, it was startling just how quickly it happened.

Cattails took over the open water. Lily pads covered any remaining surface area. This past spring, the wood ducks nesting there watched their ducklings alight on marshy ground, rather than in water. Yet their house was originally erected in the middle of the pond to prevent exactly that. Thankfully, all survived.

Scott Engstrom of ABS Construction, my friend who did the work, proceeded carefully and methodically. First he pumped the pond all but dry. Then he dug a sump in the very bottom. (We wanted to save what aquatic life that we could.) Then he excavated all that watery sludge. There was a lot of it.

On the assumption that it was very fertile material and well worth saving, he trucked it to an adjacent field for us and dumped it. It was awful stuff. Slop. There’s no other word for it. He left it there to dry while working on other aspects of the project.

That dredge spoil did dry. A bit. It crusted over. Like ice covering open water in the fall, a color difference crept out from the edges as the material solidified. It was interesting. But my attention wandered.

I became distracted by the wildlife interactions around the sump at the very bottom of the pond. The true depth of my ignorance was unveiled.

First, we have eels. A great many of them. I was completely unaware of their presence. Some are quite large, three feet or more. I found out through subsequent enquiry that the Kenduskeag Stream watershed ― of which all three of our ponds are a part ― is famous for its eels.

The great blue herons and bitterns had a field day. The eels, along with the mussels, frogs, fish, turtles and crayfish, weren’t so thrilled. Sure, they were being taken out for dinner but unfortunately, they were the main course.

Happily, there are a great many left. With the dredging finally complete, the spillway reconstructed and the duck box reinstalled, their nightmare is over. The pond is refilling.

From Scott’s point of view, it was time to grade out the spoil. I left to purchase coffee for him and his dad, Aubrey, both as a way to say, “Thank you” and to be more useful than just another spectator.

Second, on my return, Aubrey was atop the Caterpillar D-6, continuous treads and diesel power pushing long rows of mud across our field. Coffee and Danishes on a tray in hand, I blithely approached the machine over the ungraded spoil. Why not? It was dry, wasn’t it? It certainly looked innocent. I even kicked up dust with my steps.

I reached the middle of the expanse before the mud cracked underneath me. In a flash I was above my knees in slop. Not just any slop, either. This was organic-rich odiferous slop. Yes. Worse, every movement, every attempt at forward motion merely wiggled me deeper. Truly. Belatedly growing a brain, I realized that this was the very definition of quicksand. I stopped struggling and stopped sinking, too. But knowing how I was stuck and what was holding me in place didn’t pull me out.

The suction was truly amazing.

I’m a strong man. Large, too. My thighs are my biggest muscles. But with nothing to hold onto to, I was stuck. Thoroughly and completely. In ordinary circumstances, I’d still be there.

Fortunately, high and dry on a tray above my head, I held coffee and a pair of Danish rolls. They saved me. Otherwise Aubrey and Scott would still be doubled over, laughing uproariously, gasping for breath as they pounded their knees at my predicament and discomfort.

I threatened to feed the coffee to the eels and Aubrey relented, wading that bulldozer out through the muck to save me. Even then, with something solid to hang onto, it took all my strength to break that suction.

Standing atop the caterpillar track, I looked down at myself; The Creature from the Black Lagoon had nothing on me. Worse, I’d gone from merely feeling ignorant to proving it.

It took the garden hose 15 minutes to clean my boots. Dredge spoil invaded everywhere from my thighs, down. It even went up my pant legs. In fact, the hose did more to take off my blue jeans then I ever could’ve managed alone.

Clean and dry again, I’m writing it all down. I can’t help but smile. It certainly was a dredgeful experience.

But that’s not all: I’ve never seen coffee with more beneficial effects. On top of that, I bet Scott and Aubrey are still laughing.

All I have to do is close my eyes to hear them.