When you move into a new house, you expect to find some quirks. Like the drawer whose new hardware bangs into an adjoining drawer so that you can’t open it fully. Or the doorbell that rings every fifth push. Or a few somewhat sunken areas of sod around your gigantic lot.
Maybe other homeowners would have thought to ask a few questions about the dips in the ground, but with a lot that big they were hardly noticeable at first. Later, there seemed to be simple explanations like, “Hey, maybe the previous owners very thoroughly ripped up a vegetable garden!”
In early 2010 the Mid-Atlantic region received a record snowfall. Snowmageddon slapped a good 22 inches of cold, wet stuff on our house, an area where 2 inches is usually enough to cancel school. Stir crazy by the end of it, I was frequently out tromping through the snow until there was nothing left of it but muddy tracks. In my ramblings, I couldn’t help but notice what at first seemed like the opening of a groundhog amusement park: a narrow hole that opened into an extravagant tunnel system. The melting snow had spread the opening so that the extent of the tunneling was troublesomely visible. When I dragged Chris out for a second opinion, he measured the depth and came away with our first problem indicator: a good five feet of hole was opening in our lawn.
Chris’ mother had a clever solution for figuring out more. He called the local university’s geology department to see if sinkholes – like one his mother in Lexington had erupt on her property – were a possibility in our area.
“More likely,” the professor said, “developers back in the ’90s would clear a hole in the ground, fill it with stumps, leftover wood and other scrap that they’d burn, and then they’d backfill the hole. Could be you have that stuff settling and the ground sinking around it. Only one way to find out.”
One way indeed.
We figured we had two options. One was to continue the 20-year process of filling in the settling earth with fresh dirt and hoping for the best. The second was to excavate the area and see if we could create a more stable long-term solution. The latter option seemed more practical in some ways and insane in others.
Then one day, as we shoved with our booted toes against the spongy earth, Chris said out of nowhere, “What if when we dig it out we turn it into a pond? I mean, isn’t half the work with building a pond just digging the hole?”
“Oh, sure. Why not a pool?” I replied, before glancing up to see he was all seriousness. “Oh,” I said. “A pond?”
Once voiced, we couldn’t shake the idea. Chris began doing tentative online research. Our foremost concerns were maintenance and long-term costs of having the pond equipment (waterfall pump) running year-round. Many of our answers to these and other questions came from the resources at a wonderful site called The Water Garden. With just enough knowledge to feel recklessly confident, we decided to dive in, so to speak.