Schubart: The not-so-fine art of crafting a Vermont pond

Editor’s Note: This op-ed is by Bill Schubart, an author and entrepreneur and the president of the Vermont Journalism Trust, the umbrella nonprofit organization for This commentary first aired on Vermont Public Radio. To listen live:

We recently decided to dig a pond in the retired pasture next to our house. It raised some questions, the most common of which is, “Is the bottom yucky?” I have learned to dismiss the question with a simple lie, saying only that we used hard wood flooring for the bottom. If the person is older, I just say the bottom is linoleum. This seems to satisfy most people since we decided to sidestep the issue of “yucky bottoms” altogether by building elaborate stone steps into the pond. We had talked about one of those stair climbers that seniors install in their homes, but learned they pose a significant risk of electrocution when installed in water.

In truth, the pond bottom is yucky. The bottoms of all ponds are yucky unless one uses flooring, which, I am told, makes it hard for fish to feed. We were advised by the pond excavator of the habitat needs of the trout we planned to stock the pond with. Trout are very private and like shade. He suggested I place large rocks in the bottom for them to hide in. Our attorney recommended against this as it might pose a risk to humans diving in, but I ignored him and built a trout castle out of stone. It’s kind of a low slung raised ranch with plenty of privacy to encourage discrete breeding and the raising of little smelts.

I also get asked if there are snapping turtles, water snakes, or leeches in the pond. We took an innovative approach to these perennial pond-owner problems. I had a number of three-inch-high enamel traffic signs made with a universal reptile symbol inside a circle with a diagonal line through it. These form a tight perimeter around the pond or at least they did until my neighbor ran over them noisily showing off his new ride-on mower that sports a built-in cooler for Switchback. Anyway, the rainbows are supposed to eat the leeches.

A grumpy conservative friend of mine asked about the regulatory hurdles I had to fight to get permission to dig the pond. Honestly, they were remarkably few.We had to fill out a one-page sheet detailing our plans for the pond and submit it to the design review board with a blank check. Our good neighbors signed off on the deal when we gave them permission to have their two pink flamingoes and a lawn chair by the pond. Only a few showed up for the hearing: a wild turkey who said nothing but took copious notes, two does who wanted to know if we planned to post the land around the pond, a mud hen who claimed ancient nesting rights and a hippie farmer seeking to retain his “strolling of the heifers” right-of-way.

Frankly, the pond is a joy. The water is like a clear broth on top where we swim and pea soup near the bottom where we don’t. Its natural beauty has only been enhanced by our neighbor’s pink flamingoes, though the growing number of personal injury attorney’s business cards tacked to trees around the pond is becoming an eyesore.

One last thing for pond owners, be sure and reset your Google privacy settings for Google Earth. The You-tube videos of me skinny-dipping, though funny, are embarrassing. This prompted me to check all my privacy settings, and unbeknownst to us, my Google cell phone, sitting in its charger on the bedroom dresser, was sending videos to my Facebook page of my wife and me reading in bed surrounded by our naked cats.

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  • kim lanier

    What a great piece, encompassing all kinds of issues. All my life I have avoided “yucky” bottoms” by not putting my feet that far down in the water. Simple. Enjoy your pond, but be aware that even plastic pink flamingos multiply like crazy!

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