new jersey ponds

In 2006 I went to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts to build a pond for my brother. Since we were little kids my brothers and I had always kept pets as a shared (or not so shared) hobby. We kept fish, frogs, turtles, salamanders and all sorts of other aquatic and terrestrial animals. Most of the time we were collecting our “pets” from the creek that was by our house or from the woods that our house backed up to. We were very sophisticated in our husbandry methods keeping our frogs in the basement window well, our turtles in the house, salamanders in our pockets, and fish in whatever would hold water; any zoologist would be jealous of our grassroots methodologies. We were deeply involved with these critters and loved to share our enthusiasm for these incredible creatures with our loved ones, especially our mom. I do remember being encouraged by my older brother to put a frog in my mouth and show my mom. This was a fantastic idea, and highly sophisticated to boot, and I enthusiastically obliged my brother and went to the kitchen with my mouth obviously full, strode up to my mom and revealed the wonders of nature that I had managed to stuff into my mouth. It was a level of sophisticated pet care she just could not appreciate; maybe it was before her time. This love of keeping the wonders of nature within our grasps stayed with us for many years allowing us to even develop a primitive from of turtle Lo-Jack by painting our beautiful box turtle’s shell bright blue. This method of identification would allow for us to recover that turtle should it manage to escape its grass clipping lined cardboard box, get out of our bedroom, make it down stairs, out the front door, and out into the neighborhood. We figured anyone spotting our runaway bright blue turtle would surely know to whom this adored pet belonged to and alert us, which in turn would bring swift recovery of the turtle, and allow us to return it to the home that it must miss terribly…the sophisticated grass clipping lined cardboard box in our bedroom. My older brother and I shared this love of wild nature while our younger brother tended more towards the domesticated pets of our home and even practiced advanced grooming techniques on our long haired pure white cat Fluffy. Our younger brother gave a deep penetrating shampooing to our lovely cat with none other than Elmer’s Glue. Fluffy was stuck to the carpet for quite some time, I’d dare say it was the longest month of Fluffy’s sophisticated life. Ah, yes, sophistication…we just exuded it. My pinky is in the air as I type this.
As time marched forward we grew up, but always had our pets and fish tanks. My older brother became an amazing chef and international resort manager traveling the world, winning awards, cooking for presidents, and sharing drinks and laughs with Sir Paul McCartney while tropical sunsets warmed their faces. I, on the other hand, went on to learn how to dig fancy holes in the ground. While my brother was living on the island of Martha’s Vineyard I got on him to build a pond. He had a great fish tank, as did I, as did my younger brother, but it was time for older brother to get with it and put in a pond. After a bit of prodding he gave in and decided to install a pond.
Installing ponds is my passion and profession, but the “road trip install” is the icing on my cake; I get to travel and build a pond, my two favorite things combined. In spring of 2006 the entire Full Service Aquatics entourage, along with my bride to be and our daughters made the 8 hour road trip from New Jersey to the island of Martha’s Vineyard. We made a caravan up to the island packed up like the Beverly Hillbillies (whom were more sophisticated than your “run of the mill” hillbillies). To get to the island we ferried the trucks over and my guys were definitely enjoying the boat, the fresh ocean breeze, and the water of the mighty Atlantic; as was I. When we got to the island it was off season, not a tourist to be seen. My brother a resort manager set up my guys in amazing rooms with ocean views and it was pretty safe to say that my guys had never been anywhere like this before, we actually had the resort to ourselves, it was great. Wanting to really give my guys a treat we arranged for a real deal New England style lobster and clam bake prepared by my executive chef brother. A classic New England style spread was set up that was dizzying to the culinary senses, I was confident my guys would be thoroughly impressed by what I had gone through for them to enjoy seafood extravaganza. The guys made their way to the dinner table and each took their seat as their plates were piled high with mussels, clams, corn, potato, shrimp, and a huge Maine lobster hot and steaming right in front of them. I sat there quietly waiting to enjoy the looks of happiness and amazement at what had bee placed before them, but those looks did not come; rather I noticed looks of disgust, horror, and confusion with quick glances being cast from one guy to another. Nobody even moved to crack open those bright red lobster shells, the guys were simply paralyzed. Then it dawned on me, my guys are all from mountain villages of Guatemala. My guys did not grow up with seafood and clam bakes on the beach, not even close! They had no idea what we just put in front of them except that it all had hard shells and no discernible way to eat them. Topped off by this red steaming THING with huge claws, long antennae, a million little legs, beady black marble eyeballs on the outside of its head; a creature which they had no familiarity with and no desire to become familiar with. We had basically just dumped a huge pile of animals which they would never have come across or eaten in the small mountain villages of Guatemala, and I could tell that tonight was not going to be the night that it all changed for them, not by a long shot. To put it another way, they enjoyed corn and potato that night and I had lobster salad sandwiches the rest of the week. When their shock wore off, we did enjoy a beer together. For me it was a lesson learned. We then called it a night so we could get some rest for the next day’s big dig.
Before making the trip up to Martha’s Vineyard I went into full PR mode and sent out information to the local island newspapers, arboretums, garden clubs, and invited the island schools to come by and see what we were building. I was assured by my brother that we did not need any permits for the installation since he lived in the center of the island away from most people. Sure enough a reporter stopped by to do a story because of my PR efforts. A resident pond owner and 2 local artist types also came by to observe and ask many many questions. The pond building operation was pretty impressive and this install was running like a well oiled machine. I even notice another guy who stayed at the edge of the property taking photos all the while we were digging; I figured he must be another reporter but I was running the machine and digging this out very quickly so I did not stop to invite him to come closer and see the construction of the pond. Once the bulk material was excavated we started the finer, more sophisticated, hand shaping of the interior of the pond. Then in quick succession the underlayment went in, the pond liner went in, rockwork started going in; things were great. My future daughter at this point broke out a video camera and began capturing this event for posterity. Right about this time as well, the reporter that had been hanging around the fence made his way over too. He asked to speak to whoever was in charge of the job site. I was pretty excited to do my first newspaper interview and stepped right over to the guy and extended my hand to shake his. The handshake attempt was not returned but instead the guy flashed a credential of some type and started asking me questions about permits and island code compliance. My hopes to spout off about waterfalls, fish, and the world of water gardening screeched to a halt as I realized this guy was an island official; one of those code enforcement guys that most contractors don’t look forward to having on job site. I looked around and my guys, bride to be, and faithful sister in law had disappeared, my brother was standing off a ways watching, and it was just me, the official, and my youngest daughter standing there with a camera taping the whole thing. I quickly told her to stop recording this event, which she ignored. I was sure that I was about to be put in handcuffs at any moment since the “reporter” was now rattling off things about permits, applications, waiting periods, protected island areas, destruction of habitat, and something about having to have the entire excavation filled back in by the end of the day. By this point I couldn’t even focus, but my daughter’s camera was focused, on me. I was mortified and pretty literally sick to my stomach.
Then big brother makes his way into the scene, to the rescue? No, instead he actually starts arguing with the guy; asking the guy “what is this some kind of April fools joke?”, which is a big NO NO when dealing with all powerful code enforcement agents; yet my brother had a point as it was April 1st. It became very confusing when the heated argument morphed into both my brother and the “enforcement agent” cracking up and laughing because it was indeed a joke, an April fools joke of the most sophisticated type. This “code enforcement agent” was one of the farmers that my brother purchased produce and eggs from for the restaurant at the resort he managed. The little trip my wife and daughters, faithful sister-in-law, and brother took “to the farm” was actually a planning session on how to pull this practical joke over on me, and this farmer pulled it off all too well; he was gooood!! I fell for it completely and fully, my head filling with ideas of how to get around filling in this pond and the 8 week waiting period the “code enforcement agent” brought to my attention. They all got me, and got me good. Now my future bride shows up…laughing, my faithful sister-in-law laughing too, my daughters both cracking up, and my guys started to appear again looking relieved; they were not in on this practical joke which is a good thing since I’m the guy who pays them. It was back to work.
The rest of the install went flawless. My attempt at impressing my older brother and wife to be was realized and the pond looked great. I built a beautiful waterfall and stream, the pond had great accent boulders harvested from the island, we installed a lighting system, and some nice fish caves were built in. We filled the pond and started it up and everyone was pleased at the outcome of the pond. The reporter snapped away with her camera. The resident island pond owner was thoroughly impressed and immediately wanted to upgrade his pond; and the two artists could not stop saying “wow!”. Even the “code enforcement official” came back and loved what we had created. It was a perfect ending to an awesome road trip pond install and we ALL stood there and just pleasantly took in this newest creation and let the tranquility of it all wash over us. Then, from across the yard, came my brothers 160# German Shepard making a bee line for the pond and with not even 10 minutes of running waterfalls the pond was filled with wet German Shepard who then promptly jumped out of the new water bowl and shook its wetness over the entire crowd allowing the pond to wash over us in a whole different way. Although I prefer the first creatures in a pond to be fish, Hank-O the German Shepard was a suitable substitute and it was nothing short of sophisticated. Ah, yes, sophistication at its finest; and that is what pond building is all about.

All copy rights to this material is soley owned by Mike Gannon.

One Comment


Just started reading your blog a few days ago; and I’m loving your newest series. Looking forward to the next installments.


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