Stories from the "E" File: Two Ponds, One Tale
Professional Surveyor Magazine - May 2011
Thomas LaCorte, PSM
It was a late afternoon on a hot August day in central Florida. It seemed like an ordinary day in the world of land surveying. But this day was to be very different.
I found myself standing in the middle of a field, gazing across two small ponds that I was summing up for a survey. The two ponds were similar in shape and size, but the west pond was quite different in nature. It smelled horribly like feces, and there was a raw sewage-like film on the top of the water. The water was also cloudy and murky. This was somewhat of a concern to me, since we were there to measure the depth of these ponds.
A small strip of land separated the ponds. The water in the pond to the east was clear and deep and it supported fish, turtles, and birds. The one to the west had no life at all.
My helper spoke up: “There must be a sewer line running into the west pond.” He then pointed to a row of houses on the crest of a hill surrounding the pond and added, “It must be coming from up there.”
The sight of the houses surrounding the little pond with the backyards facing us was ominous. Perhaps it was enough to convince my partner that the houses were indeed the source of the feces and foul stench, but I knew better. This was, after all, the 21st century, and we do not live in a country that would allow such a practice.
As a concerned land surveyor, I’m always on the lookout for environmental hazards. Over the years I have come across unknown substances leaking from 55-gallon drums, along with underground storage tanks and dumpsites. Anything out of the ordinary should be investigated. This was out of the ordinary because nature does not allow for two ponds to be so close yet so different. Or does it?
Our time for the day was running out, so I sent my helper over to the clear pond with an arm full of stakes and the instruction to set them along the shore line. One stake was to be placed where we would launch the boat, and the other on the opposite shoreline for a direction to row.
I took some stakes over to the nasty pond and set them out, with the exception of the last stake. It was to be set near the middle of the south shoreline, but that area was overgrown with brush. The shore was neither visible nor accessible. I grabbed a machete from the truck and headed off to brush a line to the water’s edge.
As I was cutting through the brush, I noticed the cattails were just a few more feet in front of me, which meant I was getting near the shore line. That’s when I heard the unmistakable sound of air escaping from something under pressure. Out of some far corner of my mind came the sewer line theory, and in an instant I’m thinking, “Could that be the sound of a sewer relief valve?” My mind was made up. I have stumbled across the source of the feces and the perpetrator of the environment. I had to move fast before all the air was released.
In haste, I had not noticed that I had cleared past the brush and was now standing several feet into the cattails, and I was in the shallow water of the pond. The hissing of air was much louder now and seemed to be just a few feet in front of me. I parted the reeds with my machete and expected to see something, but the reeds were too thick.
But wait! There it was. A black pipe leading away from the shoreline! Ah ha!
My eyes were locked on the top of the black pipe as they followed its path. It started out very narrow, then got wider as it left the shoreline. It had black studs along the top, and it went straight out for about four feet, forming a V shape. It curved back towards me for three more feet, and surprisingly it grew wider with even more black studs. The last two feet of the pipe turned to my left and ended up by my foot. It was from this end that came the hissing. I expected to see a gurgling caldron of air, water, and sewage, but I got the surprise of my life!
The end of this pipe had two eyeballs with an enormous head and a wide-open mouth with long rows of huge teeth. In the middle of the mouth, and humped up like a camel’s back, was the largest tongue I had ever seen. This was no pipe! I was looking at the head of a hopping mad, nine-foot alligator. It was three feet from my left foot and hissing. The blood in my head started to drain towards my feet. I felt faint! With a very slow and deliberate motion the head started to turn towards my foot.
Can you imagine, just for a moment? You’re in a thrift store touching the back of a fur coat that you spotted on a clearance rack, and you’re marveling at the feel of the fur. You hear a hissing sound. Suddenly, from the front of the coat, the animal that belongs to the fur you’re feeling turns around and looks at you. With a wide-open mouth full of teeth! What would you do?
I ran! And I did not stop running until I was far away and back at the truck. As I looked across the pond it all started to make sense.
The west pond was full of feces because it was alligator feces. The survey of the pond revealed that, although the east pond was 18-feet deep, the west pond was less than 2-feet deep. It was nothing more than a place for the alligator to defecate and roll around in the shallow, warm mud after dining on all the fish, turtles, and birds from the east pond. This nasty pond was, after all, a natural occurrence.
Sometimes things people say really should go in one ear and out the other. Entertaining the idea that a pipe would be dumping raw sewage into a pond nearly cost me my life that day—the day I came across two ponds and one TAIL!
About the Author
Thomas LaCorte, PSMThomas G. LaCorte, PLS, is a professional land surveyor and an author with more than 35 years of experience in surveying.
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