The day dawned bright with sun, fresh with that dewy feeling a good night rain leaves behind. The birds were singing, the flowers competing for biggest, best blossoms. It was a perfect morning for a walk at one of my favorite spots, Hathaway’s Pond in Hyannis.
I grew up in Hyannis and spent much of my childhood around, in and on area ponds. A friend in Centerville lived right on Shallow Pond and I learned how to row a wooden rowboat with her. We explored for hours, both being nature loving kids and we discovered the wonders of turtles, frogs, fish, and dragonflies together with no adult intervention. It’s hard to imagine letting ten year olds without life jackets disappear from view in a boat for seven or eight hours today but that’s what we did. We brought our peanut butter sandwiches, cookies, and thermoses of milk with us. Not only did we both survive but we both grew up to study nature and work teaching and writing about local flora and fauna.
In 1965 my mother became a single mother and my little sister and I attended an informal summer “camp” run by a woman she knew, Mrs. Burke. It was very affordable and as I look back I realize she deliberately set it up to help women and families in need. She was a pretty amazing woman who took about ten of us in the back of her big old station wagon to Hathaway’s Pond. We spent the day there, every day, taking swimming lessons, catching frogs, and reading under the shade of the trees.
Hathaway’s Pond is small. You can see all away around it from any point. It’s a kettle pond, left behind by the glaciers, and the walk around the pond reveals part of the moraine and many glacial erratics, boulders deposited as the glacier passed over.
I’ve walked the trails around this pond in all seasons, in all sorts of weather for over 60 years now. Like many places we come to know well it is shrouded in layers of memory for me that sometimes unexpectedly peel back, taking me to a time now lost in space.
As children we raced to drop our lunchboxes off at the chosen picnic tables and then ran to spread out our beach towels to claim our spots. The best spot was reserved for Mrs. Burke, our queen, and no one ever dared challenge that. She was a friendly, lovely woman, generous with her time and affection, and she didn’t have to work very hard to keep us in line. Having six children of her own, she had well developed eyes in the back of her head and radar ears. She missed nothing.
We spent hours walking around the pond in shallow water. We became expert frog and tadpole catchers. Every summer we waited for the emergence of thousands of tiny toadlets. These were the little American toads that had been born there earlier in the spring and they were now ready for a life on land even though they were smaller than a dime. We’d catch them by the handful and put them in our buckets but within minutes they’d all escape.
There were garter snakes and water snakes, painted turtles, musk turtles and snapping turtles. On lucky days in late June, we might even find one laying their eggs in the sand.
We were told to never swim or dive outside the swim area ropes or the big snapping turtles would snap off our fingers and toes. Imagine our shock and horror when several older boys struck out across the pond, stopping in the middle to wave at us. We were sure they were going to be crippled or worse before long, but when they returned they were totally unhurt and intact. We all stared at the adults then. They lost some credibility that day.
When we were teens the pond was a haven for skinny dippers and parties, at least until the Barnstable police showed up and reminded everyone it might be time to go home. Over the years rumors of someone driving a car into the pond traveled around the high school. The driver was unharmed, but the car was completely underwater. There is actually a car in the pond, but it was deliberately put there for a diving school. Were these things related? Depends on who you talk to, like many urban myths.
For years I’ve walked around Hathaway’s Pond in late winter and early spring watching for the first signs of spring. There are wonderful patches of mayflowers, lady slippers and sheep’s laurel. Later in the summer there are blueberries to eat and sweet pepper bush scenting the air. As kids we learned quickly to avoid the poison ivy that grows rampant there and as an adult I marvel that we weren’t covered from head to toe.
The pond suffered from severe acidification years ago and for a while there wasn’t a frog or fish to be found. After being treated, however, the pond once again hosts our common frogs and lots of toads. Just last spring I came upon the amazing sight of dozens of toads hopping through the leaves to get to the pond for their annual mating ritual.
On my latest walk I watched baby orioles learning to find food high in the trees and heard the twangs of green frogs. I saw a young boy fishing and a man swimming across, hopefully with all his toes still attached. An osprey, a bird we never saw when I was growing up, flew overhead. It dove and caught a fish which it carried off to its nearby nest. Watching it I thought of Mrs. Burke and her funny little gang of kids. Isn’t that something, she might have said as she pointed it out to us. She’s gone now, but she remains in many layers of my Hathaway’s Pond memories.
When you drive into the parking lot at Hathaway’s Pond it may not look like much but to all of us who grew up in Hyannis it is a magical place full of memories and tadpoles.
Mary Richmond is a Cape Cod artist, nature columnist, educator and naturalist. Follow her here.
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Pond Stories are a collection of writings from Cape Codders and visitors who love the 1000 local ponds that dot the Cape. We hope this collection of stories, that are as much endearing as they are environmentally aware, will awaken your inner environmentalist to think deeper about our human impacts to these unique bodies of water. Check out these valuable resources to learn more about the current challenges Cape Cod ponds are facing and how you can be a better pond steward in your town.