Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Valentine Tree: A Love Story

Here is the Valentine Tree on Feb. 16, 2009.

We'd had several pond-builders come out to see why our pond wouldn't hold water.  They told us that this tree, growing on the dam, allowed water to leak out along its root lines.

We asked how that could be, because the pond kept going down (way too fast for evaporation) even after the water level had receded far from the roots.  They all assured us the tree was the cause, and it had to go.

I was dismayed that such a beautiful tree would be destroyed after having survived, despite winds that twisted its limbs, to eventually thrive in this spot.

Then Fred offered a compromise.  For "x" amount, he could remove the tree and repair the dam.  For "x+" amount, he could build a new dam around the place where the tree was and join in to the long side of the existing dam.  The new section of dam would be far too solid for the tree's roots to ever penetrate it and cause a problem.  At the same time he would be extending the pond farther back as he dug up dirt for the dam, plus he would dredge silt out of the original pond and make it deeper.  So we would end up with a larger, deeper pond AND save the tree.

Herb preferred the cheaper alternative, but he knew I loved that old tree, so he told Fred to go ahead with Plan B.  "Happy Valentine's Day!" he told me.  And that is how the Valentine Tree got its name.  So we made plans to seed the area, put a picnic table under the boughs of the tree, and have picnics beside the pond, watching the grandkids paddle in it.

Fred began work on the 16th.  He started dredging out the pond, but decided it would be better to wait until he drained it.

Here he is checking out the far back end of the pond.  This gives an idea of the size of the original pond--and where the water should have been up to.

Fred set to work digging a gigantic trench where the dam would be.  He would then fill it in and keep mounding it up, using dirt brought from the back of the pond.  He would use his heavy equipment to pack the dirt down as he mounded it up, thus having concrete-like dirt packed down far below the level of the original dam (at left).  No tree roots or water would ever be able to penetrate it, he assured us.
This view shows how deep the trench was.  That's the biggest sized Bobcat in there!  The Valentine Tree (right corner) is just beginning to bud out, appropriately red!  The trench to the right of the Bobcat is the part that will tie in to the long side of the original dam.

When the trench was done, Fred filled it back in with the dirt he'd dug out, packing it down.  Then he began digging up dirt from beyond the pond, leaving a temporary wall of dirt between the "two" ponds.  For reference's sake, the Valentine Tree is on the end of the pond nearer the house.

This little pool is where water used to collect near our property line as it poured down from the hunting preserve. We've been told there's a spring somewhere, and we've looked, but haven't found it.  Perhaps this used to be a spring and was filled in with rubble?  You can see the little channel it flowed through down to the pond, down by the bulldozer.

That's a big pile of dirt Fred made in one day!  I'm sure the poor Valentine Tree was dismayed to see this mess around it.  It had no idea that its life was being spared!
By the next day, Fred had made a lot of progress digging out the new part of the pond.

He would bulldoze out a big pile, then use the backhoe-loader to put it in the dump truck.  Beyond the loader you can see the barns; our house is directly behind the loader's cabin.

After the truck would dump a load of dirt in the trench, Fred would use the Bobcat to smooth it out and pack it down.  He missed work on the 18th because it rained, but by the 19th, the trench-becoming-dam was filled up almost to ground level.

Fred kept a pump running, trying to remove the rain water from the new pond and drain the old pond at the same time.  I spent a lot of time watching him, and my heart was often in my mouth when the backhoe teetered precariously as Fred reached just . . . a . . . little . . . bit . . . farther for more dirt to put in the dump truck.  He only flipped over once.  Of course the bulldozer pulled it upright in no time with just a few more dents to show for the adventure--besides the new gray hairs on my head!

Here's Herb standing in the new part of the pond.  Considering the old part is about 2 feet deep at the deepest part, this should hold LOTS more water!

By the 20th, the dam was finished.  If you've followed this blog, you may know (as Paul Harvey would say) "the rest of the story." That was Mistake Number 6 on the list of Mistakes We've Made!  We never saw Fred again.  The old part of the pond was never dredged nor packed down.

But neither we nor the Valentine Tree knew that on Feb. 20.  We looked at the finished dam and had high hopes of bucolic hours spent by the glorious old tree.

By March 1, it looked like our dreams were coming true as the rain came down and the water level came up.

Then, oops!  A week later, we could tell that something was wrong.  No way that much water evaporated that fast!  I called Fred, but he assured me the dam would hold water and that it sometimes takes as much as 6 months for the bottom of the pond to seal itself off.

March 17. . . more rain . . . water level up . . . hopes up.

By the end of March the pond had filled all the way back to join the little pool.  We had put down grass seed, using straw mats to hold the seed on the steep bank.  We were still holding out for those picnics.

There was a LOT of water compared to what we used to have, and the beautiful Valentine Tree continued to thrive greenly on the bank of the pond.

Reality is often ugly, compared to dreams.  Angel is drinking from the new part of the pond here as the old part is completely dry.  We've since had three pond experts come look at our poor pond.  One expert proposed truckloads of clay and special earth shipped from out West, for thousands of dollars.  We told him thanks, we'd think about it.  We thought about it as long as it takes to say "Fred!"

The other two both said this pond will NEVER hold water.  The chert has too much rock and not enough clay, and we can tell by picking up a wet handful that you will never have a pond here.  (If Fred knew as much as he said he did about ponds, he knew that.  That would explain why he won't take my calls any more.)

One of the experts said the old hand-dug well at the front of the Lower Pasture is a better hope for water than this pond.  Maybe some day . . .

Meanwhile, the Valentine Tree's spot may not be the crown jewel of our farm.  But to me, it's still a symbol of Love.  Of Herb's love for me, of our love for God's Creation--even a tree, and of our love for this farm He has loaned us in this corner of His Creation.

We love to the best of our ability.  Some times love seems dry and rocky.  Other days it blooms with beauty, blessing all who come near.  But "Love never fails."  And that is why, compared to Faith and Hope, "the greatest is Love."  (I Corinthians 13: 8, 13)

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