Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Summer They Drained the Pay Lake

When I was in second grade, we moved to a house my parents built in a new neighborhood on the southern edge of Lexington, Kentucky. The house was only the third or fourth to be built in a neighborhood that had recently been just the corn field next to the pasture behind the pay lake. It was really more of a pond than a lake, with more big carp in it than anything else.

Back then there were more horses in the area than kids. The summer between fourth and fifth grade (give or take a year), they sold the farm and drained the pay lake to put in a shopping center. We were pretty excited because one of those newfangled twin screen movie theaters just like the new one at the mall on the other side of town would be the anchor.

A little creek ran through the bottom of the neighborhood. To drain the pay lake, they came in with a back hoe, deepened the creek bed up close to the pond, and then allowed the pond to drain out the channel. All summer long we positioned ourselves at various points of the channel with window screens lifted from houses being built in the neighborhood. We'd lay the screen in the trench, toss dirt clods in the water above the screens, then pull the screens and their squirming contents out for sorting.

There were huge carp, especially toward the end of the draining process. Most of them died, trapped on the rocks in shallow creeks in several back yards. The stench from rotting fish was overpowering for a few weeks. We also hauled in snakes, frogs, turtles, crawdads, tadpoles, mud puppies and several kinds of fish. These were immediately sorted with desirable specimens placed in one of several containers brought along just for that purpose.

I had about a dozen cracked aquariums of various sizes that I rescued from the dumpster at the elementary school. We patched these up as best we could, and arranged them on the patio in the backyard to hold our bounty. At one point I know we had about a dozen snakes, no telling how many frogs and turtles, and tanks full of tadpoles. We sorted them by developmental stage--no legs, two legs, and four-legs--so we could monitor progress. Crawdads were sorted by size. If I knew then what I know now, some of these would have ended up in the steamer. Eventually all those critters escaped, died, or were released.

All in all, we had a blast. It was a great summer. I can hardly believe that I ever handled snakes--much less ever reached in to muddy water to grab one. My most recent encounter with a snake--a large black snake--ended with me screaming like a girl and running into the house. Wish we caught it on tape because I'm sure it would have been a big hit on YouTube.

Just another reason I'm...

The Crotchety Old Man

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