Ephemeralia

ephemeral pond in winter 2

What swims under the ice of an ephemeral pond, watching the slow shadows from below? Nothing that can’t live half the year without water, suspended, provisional, like a word from a language that nobody speaks anymore. But some find ephemerality desirable, if it means the absence of predatory newts & fish. One rainy night in March the mole salamanders arrive by the hundreds, the males entering the water merely to sow their spermatophores across the bottom: so much moisture at once is not a thing they’ve learned to resist, living under the ground. The females then take what they need — choosing on who knows what basis — to make their masses of gelatinous eggs, like the compound eyes of an enormous insect.

But not here, not at this mountaintop pool, where the acidic soil provides no buffer against the nitric & sulphuric acids that arrive with every rain or snowfall. This pond has almost as little in it as a geode, sliced open so we can feast our eyes on the unrepeatable, inorganic growths.

11 Comments


  1. What swims under the ice of an ephemeral pond, watching the slow shadows from below? Nothing that can’t live half the year without water, suspended, provisional, like a word from a language that nobody speaks anymore.

    …This pond has almost as little in it as a geode, sliced open so we can feast our eyes on the unrepeatable, inorganic growths.

    These lines just knocked me down, Dave.

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  2. Love this, from the title, the beauty of image and words, then the sad knowledge that the pool is dead.

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  3. The geode line is absolutely startling and perfect, Dave, with both the sense of the poem and the photo.

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  4. Thanks, folks. Marja-Leena, I didn’t mean to imply that it is entirely dead — it probably has fairy shrimp, for example — only that it and its several ridgetop companions are not nearly as welcoming to some forms of life as they might otherwise be. For the wood frogs, late spring droughts have been a more severe threat than acid precipitation, it seems: they’re tough critters, but their tadpoles still need some water. Both wood frogs and mole salamanders tend to return to their natal pools to spawn, so even if the new regulations on the worst polluting coal-fired plants to our west take effect soon and the precipitation becomes less acidic, it could be a long while before an errant pair of spotted, marbled, or Jefferson salamanders discovers our ridge-top habitat. But over time, they should, and as the forest ages, the pools might become deeper and more reliable, as well.

    For more about these ponds, and the breeding habits of the species I’ve mentioned, see my mom’s essay Life at a Vernal Pond.

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  5. What a photo…..to which it would be hard to do justice but you did, this is gorgeous, image-rich writing. Great job.

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  6. Mmm, yes, the geode works so well in the image and in the words. A soft geode: weird concept.

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  7. I so enjoyed learning the new terms for all the pond life. Your observations do what poetry should do, in my opinion which is open new worlds for readers, new worlds that are very likely right under their noses. And, thanks for the link to your mom! I printed her article so I can sit down and read it!

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  8. I like the mysteriousness of the start – but then quite sad.

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