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Dialogue - Issue #13

My Local Pond is Disappearing and I Can’t Stop Watching

Illustration by Amelia Rouse

Last summer’s unprecedented heat resulted in a sticky end for a pond in Bromley, a town in southeast London, UK. Diyora Shadijanova charts its demise.

When the pond began evaporating, I came to watch it disappear. Almost every day this summer, I paced through Bromley’s bustling high street, ignoring the sunburnt vendors promising delights from the Garden of England and buggies with children crying from heat exhaustion. Turning right, I walked past the library and descended into the park. The winding concrete paths radiated an unusual warmth back onto my legs. The grass was all burned off and the trees barely hung on to their leaves.

And there it was - a fraction of its usual size. A few more days and the water would be all gone. I hoped - prayed even - that a miracle would happen overnight. That a magical bout of rain would replenish the pond’s depleted water levels, saving the fish swimming in ever-decreasing circles and giving the parched birds respite from record- breaking temperatures. Or that a concerned local would find a way to connect a hose and fill the pond up manually.

These days, a pond watch is not for the faint-hearted. One afternoon I saw a baby moorhen struggle as its legs got stuck in the remaining slurry of the evaporated water. It screeched and flapped its wings at first, but eventually, it got too tired.

People had gathered around it, trying to find a solution before it was too late.

There was an elderly couple with a bag of bread, teenagers holding plastic cups in small hands - unsure whether to continue to the playground - two park security guards and a handful of retail workers on their lunch break.

The dangerously wet and heavy soil surrounding the bird limited haphazard rescue suggestions. A single green welly boot stuck in the ground - a stern warning.

Though we shook our heads at the horror, there was an air of denial, delusion even. “Someone will come to sort this, won’t they?” a small voice asked the security guards, who kept rubbing their chins. Who do you call when an animal gets trapped in the remains of its own home?

I did the only thing I could - or the only thing I knew how to - and recorded the incident on my phone to share on social media. “Can anyone help?” I wrote, aware that no one would know how to reply. Predictably, my video got lost in an algorithm of other, larger-scale disasters. After 30 minutes, I turned my back on the bird and returned to work.

The next day, the pond was bordered by a tall metal fence, like an impromptu prison. Who or what was it pretending to protect? I don’t know if the bird made it out of the sludge; the pond had completely dried out and I couldn’t get close enough to see.

I come back to the pond in late November, making my way through the high street once more. I stroll past a brass band playing Christmas songs. Some people wear puffer jackets, while others are in thin jumpers. As the season’s edges begin to blur, it’s clear that no one knows how to dress for this weather. I wonder if anyone else is alarmed by this new phenomenon.

The winding path is soaked with rainfall this time, so I’m careful not to slip. The grass is luscious, having grown back from the dead. Long strands of it trap multicoloured crisp packets and e-cigarettes. From afar, they might be mistaken for flowers. The air smells sweet; the decaying plant litter makes it so. Some trees have not survived the scorching summer and are completely burned.

The pond has filled back up with water after months of rain. Still, the levels are lower than they should be and new plants have grown on the ground where the pond’s previous outline used to be. Browned leaves, which have fallen from the trees, float on top of the still, dirt-green water. Alongside them are bobbling beer cans, an Adidas slipper and a worn-out football that’s been kicked too far.

With each new visit, I still see life. Their numbers may have whittled, but I spot the remaining coots and moorhens picking at what they presume to be food. The fish are long dead, but the freshly gathered water will begin a new life cycle for all the living things in and around the pond. Reeds sway in the wind. Birdsong reverberates through tree branches. There is partial rebirth - a desperate attempt at survival. I breathe it all in, but I don’t know how long it will last; if this freak weather event was rare or if it’s part of a new normal. The days and seasons will go on with or without my fears.

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Dialogue - Issue #13

Dialogue - Issue #13