Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I love duck ponds. The colors flashing on the birds' backs. The way the water divides alongside their carved bodies, with little resistance. I had a chance one afternoon to sit with Gayle and enjoy his reed-fringed pond in Southeastern Utah, and watch the wild mallard, the teal and the wood ducks gliding by. Gayle and his wife, Charlie--no, I'm not making this up, every story I tell on this blog is absolutely true--together have lived in the tiny hamlet of Bluff for some seventeen years, their property stretching from the edge of the lone highway through town to near the sifting banks of the San Juan River. Three hundred-and-fifty people live in town with them--that is if everybody shows up all at once. I'd just been to Cemetery Hill, and it was filled with Mormons, Native Americans, many young children, and the Tibetan-flag-festooned graves of pot-smoking hippies, as Gayle explained them to me. Living in Bluff was still like that, he said, except that the dead got along much better.
"Were you born in this part of the country?" I asked from my lovely rocking chair on his porch.
With the gently lined face of a man who's spent most of his life under the bill of a cap, Gayle told me he'd grown up in an isolated part of Colorado, many miles from where we were sitting now. To give me a sense of how private and remote his family once was, he explained to me that his clearest memory from childhood was of his mother loudly berating his father:
Husband, this going into town once a month has got to stop.
Gayle left as soon as he could, joined the Navy to see the world, then came back to the States and went into the construction business (he still owns his own construction company) and jobs that took him from Montana all the way to New Orleans. Where, he told me proudly, he built a bridge across the Mississippi River.
I asked him if it had survived Hurricane Katrina.
"You better know it."
"Good work," I said.
We rocked in our lovely chairs.
After decades of being on the move, Gayle got sick of traveling and just wanted to be still somewhere. But like his mother he ended up marrying someone who didn't want to be still. As he said this he pointed out a pheasant skulking near the edge of the pond. The ducks were out of sight now, somewhere behind a small, reedy island.
"Do you know, I used to crawl on my stomach for a quarter mile just to shoot a bird?"
He met his wife Charlie when they were both going through painful and difficult divorces. One evening, soon after they were married, Charlie had been sitting right here on the porch, watching the pond at sunset, when an old coyote had come limping out from the brush for a cool drink of water. Just as he'd bent to the surface of the pond and started lapping, he unintentionally scared up one of its wild bass, which leapt high enough for him to catch it--reflex!--between his jaws. Then Charlie had watched as the coyote loped away with flesh dangling from either side of its mouth.
"Sometimes, the good thing isn't where you expect it," Gayle said. His pond lay calm and still in front of us.
Photo credit: Bruce Barone