"So ... How and when did the pond appear?" I inquired, chatting with Bob on his porch recently. Knowing that he and his wife Linda had built their stately house on a generous expanse of land in the year 2003, I had mistakenly assumed the pond was already on the Argo property when they acquired the acreage from Bob's mother.
Bob looked out across the front yard and cast his eyes southward toward the pond. He explained, "Do you see? The pond sits on the lowest point, where the land slopes down. That is the spot where I would always get my tractor stuck in the mud."
Tell me more, I thought to myself, not knowing very much about tractors and farming even though the local region is an area where agriculture is central to the economy.
As a young man, Bob lived up north in Newark, Delaware but would help on the farm in southern Delaware during the sweltering mid-Atlantic summers. Each day, his aunt Doris Argo would arrive by lunchtime with fresh iced tea and sustenance of all sorts for the hungry farmers.
I know that story because Bob is also my pastor. He often draws upon life experiences as a youth to illustrate his sermons that are full of wisdom and sprinkled with family history. The congregation enjoys hearing tales about the farm because it takes us back to a simpler time in America. In this case, it was during the 1960s and '70s in southern Delaware farming country at Argo's Corner where Bob was a boy learning responsibility and the value of hard work.
Several decades later, Bob received the deed to the very farmland that he used to visit and work on as a youngster. So he and his family decided to build a luxurious two-story white house on the acreage, complete with a long, tree-lined driveway and horse stables. It was a dream come true for them, to finally begin working on a beautiful home after years of struggle, and it was doubly nice to have inherited the Argo family's land with its rich history.
Bob and Linda began to plan the layout and design of their new homestead in the late 1990s.
Remembering that immovable tractor and its habit of always being stuck in muck at the lowest point all those years ago caused Bob to think about how close the water table must be—probably not too far down at all. He was right! All it took was a little digging to discover that a pond could be created out of groundwater. This premise birthed an idea to construct a pond at that very spot while the new house was still in its planning stages.
With visions of summer breezes gently rippling a blue, fish-filled pond, Bob put his idea into action and got Delaware's Ducks Unlimited in on the plan in 1999. For very little cost, Ducks Unlimited dug what Bob calls the "First Pond" which had a deep end and a "seasonal wetland" end as required to meet that agency's specifications.
This worked for a few years, but problems quickly arose due to the phragmites that magically appeared on the semi-dry end of the pond. Phragmites is a wetland reed that thrives in the mid-Atlantic area of the USA. It appears in both native and non-native form and seems to come from nowhere, yet establishes itself everywhere.
So in 2004, a year after moving into his new house, Bob hired a local excavation service to dig out the shallow seasonal wetland end of the pond and make it deep all over. In addition, Bob's friend Dean came over with a Bobcat and dump trucks to help redistribute the pond mud along the perimeter of the homemade pond. Finally, about ten tons of sand were brought in and distributed in and around the 3/4-acre pond to keep the mud in check so that visitors could enjoy walking around comfortably.
Today, ten years later, Bob's homemade pond is a focal point of his home. The dwelling at Iona is blessed to have a wide porch on the first floor and a balcony on the second floor. Each area offers relaxation with a view overlooking the estate, the stables, and the water.
The left side of the driveway is where the lowest point on the Argo family homestead is. I can envision a stuck tractor with a young muddy teen expressing his frustration, but the mirage quickly fades into the beautiful scene before my eyes. Entering the long tree-lined lane, one's eyes are soon drawn to the left and down into the pond basin, opposite the horse stables on the right.
Mallard ducks dabble at the pond's edge while cattails and black-eyed susans bend in the gentle breeze of summer. Largemouth bass, sunnies, and perch have made the pond their home over the years. Wondering how the fish came to be in Bob's pond, he informed me that waterfowl carry fish eggs into a body of water where there were no fish before. It's like magic: Dig a pond, and shorebirds come, often already loaded with fish eggs that stick to their bodies from meals they have eaten elsewhere.
Other wild creatures that visit the pond include snapping turtles, white-tailed deer, raccoons, and muskrats. In addition, birds such as blue herons, coots, woodcocks, hawks, eagles, barn swallows, and Canada geese stop in from time to time.
Bob keeps colorful resin chairs at the pond's edge which serve to invite one to cast a line into the water to see what takes the bait or lure. He and his son Josh often fish in their pond to see what they can catch. The fish are then thrown back in to live another day. Sometimes Bob and Josh go fishing in the local waterways and bring fish home to live in the pond.
The largemouth bass that are in the pond were added several years ago and regularly increase in number, but only to the size of the pond, Bob says. In other words, they will not overpopulate if there is not enough room for great numbers of them. This is Nature's way of balancing the ecosystem of a small body of water so that all of its inhabitants have a change to thrive.
My favorite part of Bob's homemade pond is watching the Mallard ducklings that appear each spring.
This is a great treat for his granddaughters and their young friends as well. Bob and Linda started out with two dozen mallards several years ago with successive generations that are born each year. Some of the mallards stay. Some of them migrate away. At the moment, there are eight older adult mallard ducks that live on the homestead and thirteen juvenile ducks that are almost full-grown.
Each morning brings with it new sights to see and unique gifts from nature that can only come forth from the presence of a groundwater pond. If you were to happen upon Iona at sunrise, you would most likely find Bob on the porch in his wicker chair with a steaming mug of coffee in hand as he prepares for the responsibilities of the day. The porch is where Bob likes to greet the day each morning and bid it farewell at sunset, always with his garden and homemade pond in sight.
The mud puddle of long ago is a flourishing ecosystem today because of a dream and because of hard work, determination, and dedication. The Argo family imparted an inheritance to Iona that will continue to live through future generations of a loving family.
What a legacy.
(All photos were taken by author/photographer Timmy Jo Given with the exception of the muddy tire tracks entitled "Mud, glorious mud" by Roger Cornfoot (2007), licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.)