For my family, Labor Day means the end of summer’s swimming season. The hot months of 2013 were made vastly more enjoyable by our purchase in June of an above-ground swimming pool.
It’s one of those Easy Set models that require only a flat surface, an air pump (or Shaq-sized lungs) to inflate the rim and the patience of Job to wait an entire day while your garden hose nonchalantly fills the reservoir.
The pool replaces our previous pool — well, technically a pond, which my wife and I made ourselves. The pond, designed to look like a natural woodland feature, is lined with Valley river rocks we collected by the Suburban-load from various construction sites.
This process took months, and was not the favorite activity of our kids, who were then too young for us to abandon at home. They were variously: averse to lifting heavy objects (the girl); and willing, but too small, to help (the boy). So their task during these stone-gathering operations was to sit in the car with the windows open and provide moral support. Of course, moral support by kids typically degenerates within 15 minutes into “I’m bored!” and after a few trips they began to put up quite the fight in favor of not being required to go.
We’d try to trick them into thinking a trip was recreational, rather than for material-collecting. We’d hide the interior-preserving tarp out of view under the back seat. We’d store our work gloves in the glove compartment — (we were probably the only people since the genteel 1950s to actually keep gloves therein) — so the kids wouldn’t see us toting them to the car. We’d shoe the kids, then — grinning as broadly as a SpongeBob licensed product — suggest, “Let’s go for a drive!”
But the regrettably intelligent youngsters could sniff out the ploy. “Are we going to pick up rocks again?”
“No,” we’d lie, “who wants to go to the Ice-Burg?”
“OK then, if you sit still in the car while we pick up rocks, we can go the Ice-Burg! How does that sound?”
“OK then, maybe we’ll just go get some rocks and not go the Ice-Burg. How does that sound?”
“(Incomprehensible combination of whines, screams and guttural, toddler-grade cursing)!”
After dozens of trips we finally amassed a sufficient quantity of rocks to form the pond. We dug up the backyard in an area about 15 feet in diameter. The center was about 31/2 feet deep, with three terrace levels around it. We lined the cavity with an admittedly nonnatural vinyl pool liner, and my handy wife mortared the structural mesh and rocks in place over it. She then constructed a waterfall that ascends four feet above the pond, supplied by a pump submerged in a pond-side box.
After weeks of cement work the pond was finished. We filled it with water, added the requisite anti-algae chemicals and powered the pump. It seemed to work perfectly. The water cascaded down the waterfall, splashed off the top terrace and re-entered the pond.
The kids couldn’t wait to hop in. For the rest of that summer they had a blast paddling around, getting sunburned, splashing chemical-laden water into each others’ tender eyes, tossing in the dogs and cats (“but they were hot!”), tracking mud and water onto the hardwood floors, etc.
But the pond’s perfection was short-lived. The linerless waterfall lost liquid, we discovered, as some of the water flowing down leached into its mortar and vesicular rocks. Over time, the continual seepage lowered the pond’s water level so far that it could no longer enter the filter box. The pump quickly ejected all the water present in the box and went looking for more. Unfortunately, air contains little, if any, pumpable water, so the pump gasped for a moment before overheating and passing away. We purchased a replacement, but decided to retire the waterfall except in cases when we needed temporary ambience, such as when holding kids’ swim parties or trying to impress visiting friends and relatives with our consummate construction skills.
Another problem popped up months later, once the days became too autumn-shortened to keep the pond’s water at a swimmably warm temperature. We shelved the pump and left the pool dormant. We then learned that leaves falling from a neighbor’s overhanging tree consider a 31/2-foot-deep crater to be the ideal location to hunker down for their winter hibernation. Since we were no longer skimming debris daily, thousands — nay, billions — of leaves settled into the water.
In the spring we were faced with a pungent punchbowl full of fetid liquid, rotten leaves and stinking sticks. The dogs loved it, believing this the most delicious drinking fountain ever — not surprisingly; they consider cat poop to be the ultimate snack. The odor was disgusting, but once swimming season rolled around, we were forced to deal with the moldering mess.
If you’ve ever tried to remove half-decayed leaves and sticks from a pond whose water you would rather annihilate with nuclear weaponry than touch, you will know it is not a pleasant task. It requires repeatedly thrusting a rake into the chowder, lifting out a 10-pound tineload, then dumping it into a 55-gallon bag.
While this is going on, the pump spews foul, nutrient-rich liquid into the lawn. Every few minutes the pump’s small filters become clogged with debris, and the flow stops. Then you must pull the pump out of the water, spray the filters out from the inside with a hose, replace the filters and drop the pump back into the pond for a few more minutes. It’s a literal case of “rinse and repeat,” minus the part where the more you rinse, the cleaner things get. But, after six or seven hours, all the leaves and dirty water are gone, and the pond can be filled with fresh water and swum in again.
We went through the clean/refill/swim cycle for six years, but in the meantime the kids grew up. They are now too large to do anything other than sit inertly in the middle of the undersized pond. And they find that much less fun than sitting inertly indoors, in front of the TV. Hence the purchase of the new, wider and deeper pool.
The pool’s first season was great, with much enjoyable family time spent together in its cool, clean water. And the dogs appreciated not having to share their drinking fountain. We’ll see how long the perfection lasts this time.
Brenden Koch is the U-B specialty publications editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8304.