The Pond in the Field

by Jack Foster Mancilla

When my family first moved into an older redwood and brick house, originally built for Mrs. Bannister, at 1005 Santa Margarita drive. My father paid seventeen thousand dollars for the house on three quarters of an acre of land. He used the three thousand dollars he got for re-upping in the Marine Corps for the down payment. The block we lived on was bordered by Santa Margarita Drive, on the west, Hillcrest on the north, Knollpark to the east, and Mission Road to the south. The land had 21 avocado trees and a lot of weeds. It was my job to cut the weeds. My dad called it grass, but it was weeds.

When we turned off Mission Road on to Santa Margarita drive towards our house, there were no other houses along the right side of the road and there were not many houses on the left. There were no houses along the Hillcrest side of our block either. Knollpark had some houses. Jo Ann Earls lived up there. There were no houses along the Mission Road side either, just a drive way that went through part of a grove of avocado trees up to the Huss’s house. They lived in a big house on the highest part of the area, just a little hill really, but it seemed larger then. I think Mrs. Bannister was a mother-grandmother of the Husses, or something like that. She was related to them. I think that most of the entire block was owned by the Husses on the hill.

Most of the area bordered by those streets was a grove of some kind or another. Just south of our house was a grove of the largest avocado trees I have ever seen. As a young man, I would walk through that grove and climb high into the trees and think that the canopy of leaves overhead separated by the empty space between the branches seemed very much like a rain forest. It was my jungle, green roof way above my head, sparsely filled space between the roof and the ground that you could see through in all directions and the floor covered with dried crackly avocado leaves on the ground. I could hear the animals pushing through the detritus of forest floor. Occasionally someone who worked in the grove would come through on one errand or another. They never saw me as I lay on a giant branch somewhere between heaven and earth listening to the world go by.

To the east of our house, towards Knollpark, was a grove of Lemon trees. Lemon trees are full of thorns, and we did not play much in them but I would take some non suspecting friends into the trees to play. They no longer watered the Lemon trees, and they were dying.

The entire grove area was protected by a flock of geese. They were big, and they even chased my dog away. Rusty, my dog, and I were not going to really bother those geese. We just wanted to get closer and maybe touch them or something. I just wanted to find out more about who they really were. The geese would run into the pond to get away from us.

In the middle of the block was a pond. A not very large and not very deep pond, with a gooey muddy bottom. I think it was mostly there for the geese. When we first moved in, I thought the pond was there year-round but it was not. It was a seasonal pond, the rainy season.

The area around the pond was a lot of fun for me. Along one of the edges was a huge area filled with anise that grew taller than I did. I would walk through the anise just to be enveloped in the overpowering licorice like smell. I hated licorice, but I surely loved the smell of anise as it permeated my clothing. Thousands of kinds of bees and wasps would be buzzing in a cloud that hovered around, and then lit upon the anise when it was in bloom.

The wasps made interesting captives to a young boy. Looking at their shiny multicolored exoskeletons while they were in the jar. Watching their stingers going in and out while their abdomens beat and pulsed as they drew breath in anger. They wanted me. The young boy in me could only wonder at the strangeness of life. Worker bees searching nectar, wasps and hive queens looking for mud and cellulose to build their different kinds of nests. Giant black Tarantula wasps with their red wings hunting for a real tarantula to paralyze and drag into a hole in the ground that they had constructed so that they lay their eggs in the body of the still living tarantula. Life has strange needs.

During the spring rains, it seemed as if all Fallbrook sprouted toads. They were everywhere, and all of them made their instinctual way to the pond. You could not miss them as you drove down the road. Toads were every few inches of each other moving towards the pond. There were so many in the pond that it looked as if it were covered in odd shaped bubbles. It was not bubbles; it was toads everywhere. Looking for mates. The smaller males would clasp their arms tightly around the much larger females and hang on to them until they layed their eggs. The males would spread their sperm across the eggs, and the adults would leave the pond and go back under the leaves of the avocado forest.

Every day I would watch the little black spots develop inside the glassy strings of eggs. The black spots got larger and changed. They were no longer just black spots; you could see both eyes and a tail develop inside their transparent jellied prison. Then they hatched.

Millions of tadpoles filled the pond. They were quick to get away from my little hands. So I built a little net to gather those I wanted to see. The first hatched had a big advantage because they got the first food and they had a longer time to develop before the others hatched. After the next groups hatched, they had a rough life in that little pond. The living space was cramped because there were so many of them.

The first group developed little legs and started gulping air as the land animal part of their amphibian life continued and their lungs started working. The others were still breathing with gills and fighting each other for what food was left in the pond. They had a rough life in that little pond. The living space was cramped and there was not enough of the original food sources for them to eat, so they would eat each other. The cannibals grew faster with the extra protein. The cannibals developed their legs quickly as well and started to move out of the pond.

All this took time and the pond had started its seasonal shrinking. The first time I saw this, I almost could not stand it. The pond would dry up. It would shrink and shrink. At first, I thought it was cool, because there was not as much room for them to get away and I could catch them. The pond got shallower, and the circumference shrank. They were fighting trying hard to get out of the puddle of mud that the pond had become. A few at the end had strong enough lungs and legs to make the leap of life. The others were now side by side, with their tails down in the mud and their mouths up in the air gulping air. The glistening carpet of stranded tadpoles covered an area about the size of two king sized beds pushed together.

The pond dried up. The tadpoles dried up. Sometimes I wished that I had seen the dried up pond and the stranded and dying tadpoles first, then the rains and renewal would have been the completion of the cycle as I first saw it, instead of the other way around.

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