Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jake’s Pond

Fr. Dale Matson

One of the reasons God created ponds was to have a place for boys to explore and that’s just what Tom Hardy and I did on hot summer days over several years. A pond contains more genuine adventure than Atari and Xbox combined. A pond is zoology 101. Today, ponds are thought of as ecosystems but we saw Jake’s pond as a place for adventures.

Jake’s pond was in the back forty of his property away from his house on Tipsico Lake Road and west of Tipsico Lake.  Jake arrived shortly after God built Tipsico Lake where Tom’s family lived and my family had a summer cabin. Jake spun stories of fish too big to be measured by a yard stick and the “old” days when he had to lead his horses out to the middle of Tipsico Lake just to get them a drink.

Jake liked Tom and me and we had a special dispensation from him to explore his pond whenever we wanted. This included harvesting all the elderberries we could carry to be processed as jam at home. Poachers tried to sneak in late at night to get the Bull Frogs. Jake had special shot gun shells with rock salt instead of lead pellets waiting for them.

In the spring the red wing black birds would begin nesting in the cattails of the pond and it would mean the pollywogs were soon to follow. We would wear our bathing suits and Converse All Stars to walk through the muck of the pond to collect them in mason jars. Yes, we put several holes in the lid using a finishing nail and a hammer. All critters need air! Ponds have a certain smell to them that literally shouts to your senses, “There’s lots of stuff here.”  An occasional Blue Heron would watch from a comfortable distance, as we looked for newts and salamanders. I don’t remember seeing any big fish in the pond and think that in the winter; the pond may have frozen too deep for larger fish.

We would also catch Painted turtles with the requisite leeches attached to them. We avoided the snappers and the musk turtles. We were always on the lookout for a Blanding’s turtle which was a rare find. Even when the turtles dove to the bottom of the pond to avoid us and buried themselves in the mud, the telltale bubbles would betray their location.  We used table salt to rid ourselves of the leeches that stuck to us when we got home. There were also leopard frogs along the shore area above the pond that migrated there from the pond to finish their life cycle on land. We would capture garter snakes with big lumps in the middle that were once frogs. There were also blue racers around but harder to catch than garters. What we called “Water Scooters” would skim across the surface of the pond ahead of us as we walked.

And what did we do with our treasures? Like “Bring Em Back Alive“ Frank Buck, we took them back to Tipsico Lake and released them in the rocks along the shore of Tom’s house. We thought we were creating an aquatic menagerie but fresh tracks suggested that nightly visits by Raccoons were culling our transplants.

We had a special mission for our captured turtles. We would set them free in Tipsico Lake but not before painting our initials T.H. or D.M. on the back so all of those along the lakeshore would know that the great hunters were engaged in the primary work of boys; exploration, adventure and subduing wildlife. School was an unwelcome seasonal interruption in our real vocation. In the fall, we would harvest some of the cattails, soak them in kerosene and use them for torches.

The pond is still there but Jake’s house is gone. In its place are big fancy houses. I hope those families have children who explore Jake’s pond too.

If you paste the following location in Google earth or Google Maps, you will see Jake’s pond.

42 43 2.9 n 83 41 12.97 w.     


Anonymous said...

Jake was our friend.

Kevin & I, Chief's & Alden.

Jake taught us nature in 1965

I remember Toms Dad

D Clark

Dale Matson said...

I remember Tom and Jack's dad well too. Bill was a WWII veteran who served in Italy. He was an avid fisherman and hunter with a quick sense of humor. He once referred to a bird he couldn't identify as a "Dung covered over dew bill". He also had an ingenious inventiveness. For example, he created a water trampoline for us kids using an inner tube from a large tire.He worked as a surveyor for the Michigan highway department and was always bringing things home that he found along the highway. His job required yelling commands to the rodman. this was the time before electronic communications were used and I believe it led to his eventual fatal throat cancer.

Dale Matson said...

Hello, I was doing some online research about Chief Tipsico and came across a blog you did in July 2011. http://sanjoaquinsoundings.blogspot.com/2011/07/jakes-pond.html
You mentioned Jake and his pond, and that really perked my interest. I knew Jake Gearheart and, as Darrell commented to your blog, we visited him often in the 1960's. I moved away from Tipsico Lake in 1970 and returned a couple years later. I didn't go to see Jake anymore, but did sense that no one was living there. He left an indelible impression on me. I thought of him off and on into my adult life.
My father died in 2004 and was interred at St. John's Catholic Church. One day, a eight years later, I was visiting his maker in the cemetery and saw nearby a headstone with 'Jacob M Gearhart'. I wondered if that was the Jake I used to know. Well, it was him. In fact I used my hobby (genealogy) to trace his family tree. I found some interesting things about him. When I knew him, he was alone; I don't remember anyone else living there, or coming & going. It turns out, he had been married and divorced. Also he had one sibling, a brother named Frank. They were both living in an assisted living facility in Fenton when Jake died on Nov 11, 1971 and his brother died Nov 19.

There are memories that I recall about Jake like how he would always offer us hot chocolate or a cookie. But when I did his family tree, the strangest thing hit me. It was, that Darrell and I met Jake when we were about 6 or 8 years old (around 1964) and he would have been about 80 years old; he was born in April 1884. I didn't think of him as being more than 50 or 60 at that time, but he was. My grandparents either weren't that old, or were decease. Jake Gearhart was the oldest living person I think I have ever communicated with.

My name is Kevin Price. I remember hearing of Tom Hardy's name from when I was a child. I think the only memory I have of the Matson's is seeing a wood carved name plate on your garage. Tom lived at Tipsico year round, I'm not sure, but I think your family may have visited during summers??? You have known my older sisters, Karen and Kathy Price. They graduated from Fenton High in 1969 and 1970. Karen became a teacher, married and taught in a Catholic school in Flint. Later she taught in public school in Indiana. Kathy became a partner in her law firm, was Chief Prosecutor in Lansing, but died in 2001 of cancer.

Thanks for writing that blog, and stirring up the aroma of childhood memories and feelings. And I wish you the best.

Dale Matson said...

The previous comment was by Kevin Price and posted by me. Thanks so much Kevin for another memory.