The pond in the night

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WAKING FOR A spell in the middle of the night presents one with three options:

First, go right back to sleep. This is preferred. Second is chewing on a minor problem that, due to its appearing in the middle of the night, magnifies spectacularly in significance. This is your least desirable path. For me, there is a third.

Go to Wavering Pond.

I lived on my maternal grandparents’ 500-acre farm in southwest Georgia from the age of six months until I was on the brink of 7, which is when we moved to Florida.

I regularly traveled the 200 miles to the farm for visits, first to my grandparents and later to my parents who returned there to live after my grandmother died during a visit to New Orleans, and they inherited the place. My mother was an only child.

They sold the farm and moved to Atlanta in the mid-1980s.

That farm was wonderful. There were huge fields of cotton, corn and peanuts. There were Hereford cows and a grove of pecan trees. Then, due to a government program, that all vanished (not the pecan trees) and was replaced by pines.

The best part of the farm was Wavering Pond which was about a quarter-mile behind the old house, a short and easy walk. That’s not it in the photo, but that’s precisely how it looked. The pond was full of cypress trees that grew right in the water.

My grandparents always kept a rowboat there and a paddle. It was a rustic affair, a little leaky, but it worked well for sliding over the surface or for fishing. I never fished. I explored. I spent hours over the decades paddling alone and slowly across that pond, and it was a very large pond, two or three acres or so.

It was always quiet and, except right out in the middle, a bit dark and creepy. There were owls and crows. Long ago, perhaps in my 20s — I don’t recall exactly — I dreamed of building a home there just like Thoreau, a place to live alone and not be bothered by people.

Additionally, it was going to be an underground home, dug into the hillside that rose up from the pond’s dark, clear waters, dark due to the many cypress trees. It’s an idea that still appeals to one’s hermit nature.

So now, in the middle of the night when I awaken, I visit the pond. I’m in the rowboat alone always, looking over the side, seeing bass and brim, the occasional snake and turtle. And I go back to sleep drifting among cypress knees.

Chickens never change

FOR MOST OF the first six years of my life I lived with chickens, thousands of chickens.

There were two enormous chicken houses, one on either side of Granny’s home, there in southwest Georgia where my parents hauled me shortly after birth, down from Atlanta. I recall those chicken houses as about the size of a football field, each of them, but I doubt they were that big. But they were huge. Believe me.

chickenNow you don’t want thousands of chickens — they were Rhode Island Reds for those of you who know chickens — living too close to where you eat and sleep. Chickens are noisy, vicious and their personal hygiene is nonexistent.

So they were off far enough, out there on one side in the grove of pecan trees and out on the other side in a pasture where cows grazed. The cows were Herefords for those of you who know cows.

Those two huge chicken houses could not have been cheap, and we were not rich, to put it mildly. The chicken farmer was my father, and I’m guessing he got a loan after the war ended, something like the G.I. Bill, which was for education. But he already had a degree before the war.

Perhaps there was another bill to construct chicken houses.

cowThe endeavor did not last more than four or five years. One night burglars ran off with a big chunk of those chickens. The number 500 sticks in my mind, but I could be wrong. I remember the sheriff in the kitchen the morning after, asking questions.

Never found the chickens, of course. They all look alike.

We had started out with 2,000 or so, and 500 left a sizable gap.

I don’t recall my father actually selling chickens. What I remember is selling eggs, lots and lots of eggs. We had little egg scales on which you place an egg to determine if it’s small, medium or large. I haven’t seen one of those scales in decades. It would be a nice conversation piece, or you could just weigh your eggs.

By the time I was 7 and entering the Second Grade, we were in Jacksonville, Florida, my father having given up on chickens and freelance writing to return to the newspaper business. However, those massive chicken houses remained on either side of my grandparents’ home for a long, long time, empty.

One day they vanished.

Years passed, and I never heard a chicken, which was okay by me. They are nasty, stupid critters, almost as dumb as bunnies. Being a former farm boy, I also — like chickens and cows — know rabbits.

Flash forward a good piece of time. I wake every morning now to the sound of chickens in the distance. There are barking dogs too and the occasional bray of burros, but it’s the chickens that stand out.

Chickens never change.

And they’re on their best behavior when fried.