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Wexler’s Pond—what’s left of it

Wexler’s Pond goes dry

Ty Belknap

On June 23, the proprietors of the Corrales Water Lily Garden, hampered by a fallen tree that used to hold a rope swing, were scheduled to rescue goldfish from the mucky one foot of water remaining in Wexler’s Pond. I waited for a photo op to mark the end of an era for two hours the day before, not knowing the rescue had been postponed a day. It gave me a chance to reminisce.

The spring that fed a man-made concrete pond on private property north of Placitas Village had gradually stopped producing adequate water over the last couple of years, probably because of the drought. Water used to flow into the pond through a pipe connected to a short watercress-filled creek that gushed from the spring hidden in a forest of fruit trees, cottonwood, and what people called “trees of heaven.” It overflowed at the far end and had stayed clear and cold for the past thirty years. Last year somebody ran PVC pipe from the spring to the pool to give us one more summer.

The pond is named for the Wexler family, who rented a house there from 1966 through 1981. Joe Wexler thinks the pond that is about six feet deep and twenty feet by thirty feet across, and that it may have been built as a stock pond as early as the 1920s. When he first moved in, the area was in the midst of another drought, Placitas wells were going dry, and the pond had been empty for years. The minimal flow from the spring was pumped to a holding tank on the hill and provided domestic water.

Wexler said that in the summer of 1972 (others say 1971), following an El Niño winter with snow on the ground from October through April, the spring flow increased. Some friends cleaned out the ditch and enough water gushed forth to fill the pond. It wasn’t long before Wexler’s Pond became a popular gathering site for the hip young crowd that had migrated to Placitas to live the communal dream of the sixties.

“It was a great time,” Wexler said. “There were always parties, volleyball games, swimming races, and even a few horse races. Everybody was nude most of the time. There weren’t many people here back then, but when a few people who drove San Francisco Ranch Road complained, we all got together and built a wall out of woven willows.

“Everything was done with a real spirit of community.

“People were really into ceremonies back them. There were full-moon ceremonies and lots of drumming and dancing. In the winter we’d have a sweat lodge and use the pool for a cold plunge. My wife and I were remarried there,” he said.

Evey Jones says it was like “a Garden of Eden. Most of us lived in little houses with no electricity or swamp coolers. Here was a place full of cold water, fruit trees, and blackberries—such a treasure. It was a safe place for our kids to play and learn to swim. One wonderful summer, three of us were pregnant at the same time,” she said.

By the time I moved into an adobe rental just down the road, this Placitas Camelot was history. My first neighbor, Wayne Jones, showed me the pond and explained that people had grown up, got serious about their lives and jobs, and got polarized over political and development issues.

Then there was that monogamy thing.

The communal thing wasn’t happening anymore, but having burnt that candle elsewhere, I didn’t really care. I was just happy to have a place to go skinny-dipping out here in the desert. I never once dove into that cold water without my own little ceremony to commit myself to the deep in case “diver’s response” stopped my breathing.

Apricots, cherries, and apples hung heavy on the vines. There were blackberries as big as your thumb and still an occasional bare-naked hippy chick. We were in the midst of ten of the wettest years in New Mexico history. Life was good.

By the next summer, Barb had moved into my adobe, her two sons went back to Pittsburgh to spend a little time with their dad. Camelot had returned—at least for us. We managed to take the better part of every day away from my Rolfing business and her stained-glass studio to spend carefree hours at the pond. Our friends Judy and Steve now lived in the Wexler house and showed us hospitality that included the use of two spirited horses that we rode all over the north side of Placitas. The real-estate boom had only just begun, and property lines could be ignored. Life was really good.

The next year, we built a house a few miles away, but the pond remained an important part of our leisure time. Ritual plunges marked the seasons, including one before our October wedding. When our son, Evan, was born, we released goldfish from our indoor lily pond (by then an infant-drowning risk) into the pond, and several years later, when he learned to swim, Evan joined them. Our Chesapeake Bay retriever would swim in circles for hours, barking at the goldfish.

Frank (whose last name I never caught) moved in a few years later. He was related to the new owners of the property, but the pond remained open to anyone who knew about it. Unfortunately, it eventually became a favorite hangout for a bunch of drunks who littered paradise with beer bottles and obscenity. I no longer took the family, but went alone occasionally. The unpleasant task of policing the pond, putting up no trespassing signs, and prohibiting alcohol fell upon Frank, who was still hospitable to us old-timers.

 Throughout the years, Wayne and Evey have continued to enjoy their favorite swimming hole. Their son, Cody, who spent much of his gestation and youth there, later shared it with his own son, Noah. Wayne says that a dried-up Wexler’s Pond represents a great loss, but he hasn’t given up hope that it will someday return. “I believe that somebody has to live there for the pond to be full,” he says.

Rumor has it that the property is being developed and the pond will be filled in with dirt. Our swimming is pretty much limited to an unheated hot tub this summer. It’s a poor substitute for Wexler’s Pond, but life goes on.

Last Sunday I spent a glorious afternoon in the Rio Grande below the Algodones spillway. It was comforting to believe that the river won’t dry up. Not this year anyway.

 

 

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