“I have some slate for you,” my friend Denielle said. “It’s in my barn. There is a lot of it.”
She knows I like to paint on slate.
But when she started unloading the slate from the trunk of her car, I saw that it was about a quarter inch thick, super heavy and in big rectangular sheets.
She was giving me the remnants of an old pool table.
I do a lot of slate paintings, but most of them are on old roof tiles, and not usually any bigger than 6 by 8 inches.
These were huge, by comparison. One sheet weighed probably 25 pounds.
In looking at them, grey and flat, lying in the grass, I had a flashback to home: The flat rock on the south shore of Drummond Island.
I knew what I would do.
The slates came home and became art in a different form: Landscaping in the round. I had a small, kidney-shaped pond someone had given me.
My boyfriend built a frame in the back of the house and we filled it with piles of mulch. We dug a hole for the pond and set up the waterfall, and I started busting up slate.
As the little water garden evolved, it became a haven for birds, who loved to bathe in the spillway. The soft hush from the fountain tumbling over the rocks almost drowns out the wailing road noise from I-69.
Let’s face it, it’s no Lake Huron. But I know for certain that puddling around in it, feeding the fish, counting the lily pads to see how fast they are growing, filling the pond, coaxing the various plants and mosses to life, all these things were sure to lower my blood pressure.
It had enough of a tinge of up north swamp to transport me back, if I would just stop in time, concentrate on one little area, feel the sun on my hair.
My biologist friend help set me up with native plants. I tried to stick with things that I knew grew up North, or at least were similar to it.
So I had coreopsis and brown-eyed susans, blue flags. I put in some salvia and a bleeding heart.
I wanted spiderwort and wild columbine. I was so excited to find anything that I could grow, that made me think of home. I planted ferns and kept hunks of wood that had lichens on them.
Later in summer, three bullfrogs moved in.
Their throats bubbled in and out, as they croaked while I misted them with the hose.
For now, this was my place. I am in a strange spot, sort of between homes, like my furniture that still sits, gathering dust and, what? Mold? In the storage unit.
I am in storage.
I am in the minutia of life, working on trivial things in order to make the bigger picture come together. I am stacking rocks in little piles and arranging slate to fit like a puzzle.
I watch the transition of the pond, as the lily pads climb toward the water surface, the wild iris unfolds, and the coreopsis pop open in a burst of bright yellow.
It is a miniature version of the real thing, like my life. But for now, it will do.
When fall came, we had to dismantle the pond, and I made sure to set up rocks in the empty bowl, so the frogs wouldn’t get trapped in it.
Winter blew in, burying it all in leaves and sticks and snow, and I forgot about the pond and kept the fire going.
Earlier this week, the temperature shot up to over 70 degrees. It was time to clean all the deadfall, and get the goldfish moved out of the house aquarium and back into their natural home.
But the whole pond area had sunk.
The mulch had collapsed into itself, filling all the air pockets underneath, breaking down.
I had to dismantle all the rocks, pull up bulbs, move plants, and take up the slate so that we could put in more fill.
When the time came to put the slate back in, I couldn’t remember how to do it.
I had the perfect spillway, hiding spots for the fish, natural cracks and crevices that made me think of home.
None of the pieces were fitting just right.
I went back and found photos, thinking I could make the slate work like last year, if I could only see how I had done it before.
But then, when I looked at the pictures, I saw that in May, things had not started growing, and the pond area was bare and colorless just like it is now.
In fact, the plants I put in last year are now well established and will be bigger and better.
I look at what I have now.
This year, it will be different.
But I can work with this.