We live near a small lake, which I call a pond, because it’s such a small lake. The pond has a pier, and about once a week I walk there with my son. In spring black clouds of baby bullheads hovered near the surface, gulping down the nymphs and wrigglers. By midsummer the water was clogged with plant life, the pond humming with mosquitoes. Byron asked what happened to the bullheads. I assured him the fish were fine, hidden by weeds, now fat and feeding on the hellgrammites at the bottom. We’ve never seen dobsonflies but we both love to say “hellgrammites.”
This summer we got to know all the various kinds of insects, and looked for them in and around the water. We found beetles under stones and looked on milkweed for monarch caterpillars. Byron particularly loves dragonflies, which can fly backwards, and rarely let one go by without pointing and shouting in delight. One day we saw a tiny frog and followed it for a while. Another day, following a rain, we saw monster-story-large mushroom caps floating gills-up in the marshy overflow and Byron couldn’t stop pointing them out to me, knowing I’m interested in fungi.
Summer is gone but the pond is still thriving. Today he rode his scooter the whole way (previous expeditions involved a wagon), sailing down Victory Drive on the path, turning right at the flagpole without being told the way. He was both a big kid and small, at that moment–beyond reach, moving faster than I could hurry, flying under his own power, yet tiny and achingly vulnerable. We stopped once on the way to marvel at a tree full of songbirds — I’ve never seen (or heard) so many at once–a veritable sparrowpalooza. I would have marched right past, but Byron has eerily sensitive hearing, and today that proved a gift.
We finally reached the pond and found it full of geese, mallards, and coots. Every living thing seemed to be out and about, enjoying what might be the last brilliant weekend of the fall, honking and quacking and gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight. We could have stayed forever.
As the era of trucks and trains passes into its own autumn, I am so glad to have a young boy who also loves nature, who treasures the smallest creatures (his two best friends are ants), who sees beauty in rocks and twigs, who marvels at the transformation of caterpillars to butterflies, who even thinks mosquitoes are interesting, and whose heart is open to little birds (who are, after all, the secrets of living).