Zen and the art of mindful pond dipping

Pond dipping is something I associate with frogspawn and young kids. Not something on my top 10 list of fun things to do.

But this week I discovered its fascination and oddly therapeutic benefits, when myself and my fellow students had to dip several ponds in order to work out their state of health and how this might relate to where they are situated.

After noting what the pond looks like from standing beside it (is it covered in green algae? Is it shaded by trees? can we see any insect life on the surface, such as water boatmen?) we took turns to swish a net back and forth through the water at varying depths and then, deposit the contents into a white plastic tub containing some of the pond water. With the aid of an ID book, we then tried to identify the species.

It’s literally like eavesdropping on an alien world.  Sometimes murky, sometimes disturbing,  and often eerily beautiful. It requires patience, but as you make the effort, your mind starts to slow down and drop into another way of being.

Everything you observe is on a much smaller scale than normal, and so concentration and attention to detail becomes much more important. What first looks like a bit of greyish water with some green and black smudges in it starts to reveal itself, as you use your eyes and your imagination. Is that just a blob of mud and plant matter, or could it be the nest of the caddis fly larvae?

Gradually creatures start to reveal themselves as their go on with their lives. The spiriculae gyrate elegantly across the water. The dragonfly larvae shuffling towards a developing newt. Dragonfly and damson fly larvae  look like what they are  – carniverous predators. Some of the cast of this underworld, scaled up, could be in Alien 3. Especially the fearsome dragonfly nymph – look out for its huge dead shed skins near ponds in June as it transforms itself into its stunning flying incarnation.

Our pond dipping coincided with the frog and toad mating season, and one pond was full of them. Again, this was very Zen – the much smaller male perches on top of the female, hugging her to stay on, and together they float motionless, seemingly content in the sunshine.The mating process can take a whole day: ‘Bliss: The most I ever got was three minutes’ was one person’s comments at the scene.

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