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Rhapsody to a rain pond 

Though the reservoirs that feed Durham's faucets--Lake Mickie and the Little River Reservoir--are still low, I am happy to report that Lake Hiltner is now filled to the brim, thanks to recent heavy rains.

Located on an upland slope in an old city neighborhood, it receives its waters from a nearby mountain range, better known as my roof. Lake Hiltner is what my next door neighbor calls this new, homemade body of water, but at 8 feet across, terracing down to 2 feet deep, it's somewhere between a pond and a permanent puddle. A pondle, perhaps, or a pund.

It needs a good name, because it's such a satisfying thing to have in a backyard garden. In time, frogs will move in, and hummingbirds will find the hibiscus, cardinal flower and jewelweed that bloom along its shores. Most of all, the mini-pond is responsive to the weather and the seasons, slowly diminishing in drought, rising in the rain. Flowers come and go in succeeding waves; the school of mosquito fish--a native of local creeks related to guppies--swells with each new batch of fry. And then there are the distinguished visitors, which in other backyard mini-ponds have included great blue herons and hawks.

For those who seek larger meanings in backyard projects, a neighborhood dotted with Lake Smiths and Joneses will be better prepared for extremes of weather. Drought and flood teach the same lesson: Find a place for rainwater in the landscape. The current practice of shedding runoff quickly from roofs into streets into urban creeks not only creates destructive flooding, but also leaves the rainwater-deprived landscape more vulnerable to drought.

The most drought-resistant landscapes are those where water is allowed to linger, whether in mini-ponds or in absorbent swales where water will seep in over a few days. Water allowed to seep into the ground creates an underground reservoir of moisture for plants to draw on during drought. This has been clearly demonstrated this summer as larger-scale projects like the stormwater wetland at Hillandale Golf Course and the wetland gardens at Indian Trail Park continue to flourish without watering.

The same philosophy applies to the backyard. The way to reduce weather's extremes is to accept the gifts currently spurned. It involves harvesting the rain that falls on house and yard, in rainbarrels, raingardens, grassy swales, mini-ponds and soil made absorbent by mulch. Even the condensate from air conditioners, most abundant when it's most needed, can be directed to a pond or raingarden rather than left to soak into the foundation.

Though droughts and torrential downpours teach harsh lessons, the response can be a rewarding adventure.

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