Wildlife of the Pothole Ponds

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This is my morning routine: sit at the front window, check my emails on the laptop, watch the chickadees and juncos and jays and robins flitting from the butterfly bush to the birdfeeders. And watch the numerous birds of my neighborhood cavort in the ponds in the middle of my street. Pothole ponds.

Potholes. Those gaping holes that bottom out your car, swallow unsuspecting bicyclists and delight young children. I love the potholes in our street. It’s hardly a street really – an expanse of gravel only two houses long, in a quiet neighborhood a block from the Willamette River in Oregon. A city park is across the street, fir trees rising to the sky. Every few years a windstorm brings down two or three of these giants, making the house shake with the impact of their falling.

The potholes are lakes right now – almost joined into one in several places. When the weather warms, they will empty, to be replaced with dust that will swirl up in clouds in late summer heat and wind. But for now, they are playgrounds to the smaller birds, and soon will be a place for the ducks to come float. I garden next to these street lakes, careful to move out of the way if an occasional car tries to zip through to quickly, spraying water in all directions.

I’ve lived here for eleven years now. I remember someone walking by on a summers day and saying to me, “Wouldn’t it be nice if they paved this street?” to which I uttered a shocked and vehement “NO!” – bringing a look of offended surprise to this person who would like our neighborhood to be more neat and orderly. It’s a messy neighborhood in a way, but not in the sense of garbage and discarded cars. Many front yards are gardens, or have a greenhouse plopped right in front. Around the corner is a house with numerous plant starts in pots out front and a sign that reads “Food Not Lawns”. People in this neighborhood know each other by name, share food and seeds and gardening ideas. I have an old apple tree out front, some variety that no one can identify. It makes apples that look beautiful – huge, red and shiny. But bite into one and….arghhh! The inside of these apples is pink and mushy and mealy. I’ve seen people sneak up to take an apple, only to bite it and discard it with a sour look on their face and in their mouth. By fall the front yard is covered with discarded apples with one bite taken out of them. Another year, a young couple came and asked if they could take the apples for their apple press to make cider. I said sure…I certainly wasn’t using them! I’ve gone to other houses in the neighborhood as well, offering to exchange homemade jam for being able to pick their plums.

Around the corner my landlord lives on another gravel street, this one longer, with potholes as well. At one point he moved a house onto one of the double lots. In doing the work to prepare for its installation, he also graded the street up and down in front, eradicating the potholes. He came out the next day to find the kids from one of the houses digging holes in the street that he had just graded. “But we LIKED the potholes!” was their explanation.

What’s not to like? You certainly have to go slow through them if driving, making the street much safer for cats and children. Occasionally you do get the idiot with the monster truck who decides to treat your street like some outback racetrack. But these aren’t the norm; most people who don’t live here turn onto our street and stop abruptly when faced by the giant water filled holes in front of them. They back out and look for a longer, easier way around. That’s fine with me. The street is peaceful, calls of birds filling the air this gray day. I’m slowly eradicating my front lawn, adding raised beds here and there, an olive tree on one side and more flowers and plants to attract the bees and birds and butterflies. Someday the city may decide to “fix” our street, but until then I’ll enjoy my own little nature preserve with its pothole ponds.