Zen and the Art of Pool Maintenance

Artificial Nature and Stewardship

Laura Díaz de Arce
8 min readJun 6, 2020
Home swimming pool with large floaties and bird statues.
Photo by Natasha Reddy on Unsplash

Saving Frogs From Drowning

It kept booking it from corner to corner. And I kept following it with my net. It’s small frog, perhaps the size of my thumb, swimming in my new swimming pool. Despite it’s size and the size of my net, it easily avoids my attempts, zipping past me, or clinging to the tile below the brick rim.

In my ratty pajamas on a hot South Florida afternoon, I am out in my screened-in backyard porch, trying to capture this baby frog and save it from drowning.

Small, moving frog in a large blue swimming pool.
Photo by Claudia Mai on Unsplash

We’d been at this house for less than two weeks, and already we had fished out the caucuses of several tiny frogs belly up and floating. Each one depressed me in a way I was unable to articulate. Thus, every time I saw a water-line in the pool from my window, I bolted up and out to rescue the amphibian intruders. For each I did, another died in its place from my lack of notice or neglect.

I’m not sure why they die. I think it must be the inability to hop out of the pool combined with the chlorine water or something. I’m not even sure how or why they get in to the pool. We are screened in and there is perfectly lush greenery in our yard. They crawl through whatever crevice they find, only to dive and die in my swimming pool. It’s a watery graveyard for these amphibians and bugs that breach the screen.

Water Beyond The Ridge

Past my pool, the screen, and small bit of land is the man-made canal. For the first few weeks of us living here, the canal was so dry it was more of a glorified puddle.

I often walk out onto the slim, grassy slope, and hold onto a mango branch to peak into the brown and cloudy waters. Beneath layers of silt there is a world of minnows, tadpoles, a few fish, and the occasional turtle in this freshwater pool.

They don’t seem distressed at their lack of water, but we do not speak the same language. They don’t know that I stand over them, upset that their living space is that sparse.

We have a few regular birds that prowl the still waters. A grey heron picks at the wandering fish from time to time. Some snowy egrets and ducks that peck at fruit along the backyards. A green heron is one of my favorites, I like the way it hops on the edge of the receded water.

Green heron on rock peers at water.
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Each time I see these creatures, familiar to me from growing up in South Florida, and yet so wild and incongruous from our commercial visions of suburbia, I am reminded that I am an intruder.

The Tragedy of Our Commons

Our sprinklers weren’t working right. They were bent and coming on in the daytime which is inefficient. It was then pointed out to us that the water source for the sprinklers may be that canal. That perhaps everyone’s sprinkler water source on our block was that canal.

This was a devastating revaluation. And though we had just bought the home, I felt a keen, painful responsibility for the drying of that waterway. We closed off our sprinkles and I watered parts of the lawn as it was getting dark. I would furtively let the water stream from my hose directly into the pit of a canal.

I hoped surreptitious watering with cool, clean city water provided a little relief to some thirsty or dry creature. Though I knew whatever I managed to add would likely dissipate in a few hours in the Florida heat.

There is an irony to this, as lawns are pretty terrible for the environment. Hoping to relieve the dying waters while contributing to continued degradation is a slipping battle.

But we are locked in this conflict: people and nature. The desire to make a controlled version of it, while not letting the authentic slip away and die.

City ordinances, HOA regulations, and general convention are all about creating a curated vision of nature in between suburban homes. One with lush (sometimes exotic) flower beds, trimmed trees, and green, water-hungry grass. I am just as guilty of enjoying this version of nature, appreciating it’s orderliness and safety.

Row of suburban houses on an empty street.
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Then it occurs to me that this canal behind my house, that has come to mentally represent some wilderness and pre-suburban-invasion of the wetlands, is just as artificial as my swimming pool. Dug out and made at the same time my home was built.

The Art Of Pool Maintenance

For the first month, we were unable to use our swimming pool. In between moving and repairs, the thing had gone green. Cleaning this pool became my afternoon obsession. I spent hours sweeping, cleaning the filter, learning to add chlorine to it to make it usable.

This became my zen. My work-from-home lunch hour gave me time to sweep the clouds of dead algae to the filter. How satisfying it is to see the slow-moving debris reveal a shiny blue surface.

Originally, I did not want a pool. One because of the maintenance involve, and two because we are considering having children.

As a kid, we had a pool that me and my brother would run home from school to jump in and act out ridiculous dramas. But I also vividly remember one of the times my youngest brother, still a toddler, managed to almost drown in it.

There was a child fence up, and yet, like the baby frogs outside my screened in patio, he managed bypass it and drop in. I don’t remember seeing him at the fence or falling in. I remember bubbles. I remember standing frozen at the other end of the yard, confused at what I saw as my mother jumped in fully clothed to him.

He was fine. He remains fine and finds new and inventive ways to scare me as an adult.

But when I think about children and pools, I think on bubbles rising to the surface. When I see baby frogs, lured into the blue of my pool, I think on how a child is all too easily lured to bright blue concrete-layered abyss. Creatures searching for an oasis in a dried basin, drowned by false hope and curiosity.

Silk Flowers

For all my desire to be in nature, it does not return the favor. My body was not made for these outdoors. I’ve had a bout with skin cancer already, and even when doused in chemical sprays, if there is a mosquito in a five mile radius it will find me. I suffer from allergies to pollen. I could not survive prolonged exposure before being burnt and bitten to death.

Swimming pools are their own odd, safe imitation of natural bodies of water. They are the peaceful presence of water without the teeming and dangerous life. We add chlorine to kill that life, and still reap the benefits of a swim.

Clear inner-tube floating in a pool.
Photo by diego acosta on Unsplash

We make screened patios to hide from insects and other creatures, to block out some of the sun but still partake in the outside. We fill our homes with silk flowers because we want the beauty of nature without the allergies. But we can still drown in our fake, manufactured waterways as much as we can drown in the more wild, manufactured ones.

I freely partake in this imitation, this plastic coated version of nature, even as I worry for the creatures in the dried canal.

When I clean my pool, beneath the screened-in canopy, I imagine the water in it expanding. I imagine that it swells over the lip of the stone and goes careening down the grass, filling the canal in blue bounty. With each sweep, I fantasize that the chlorine is all gone and that beneath these waves fish dart around with renewed vigor.My heart palpitates with the desire to watch water rise, to bear witness to the renewal of even this simulated environment.

The Rains Came

The wet season came forth with a tropical storm. From my window, I watched as the canal steadily rose over days. My pool is now buggy and unusable from the rain. But it remains a joy to sit on my patio and watch as dramas play out on the water.

There are a couple of turtles that climb and sun themselves on grassy embankments. The ducks and their familial squabbles. The large fish that swim right up to the clearer surface.

The canal is dirty and too dangerous to swim, but when it is clean, I will swim in its imitation beneath my screened canopy. A turtle crawls up right to my patio sometimes, an invasion into my own little fake paradise. My desire for nature and his desire for warm stone beneath his belly are odd little parallels.

Sometimes, I think of us as a destructive species, bulldozing everything around us for comfort and the illusion of safety. That we cover everything in chlorine and concrete.

Sometimes, I think we are like the termite or the beaver, remaking their environment to suit us as needed.

Sometimes, I feel like the drowning frog, lured to the waters unbidden, chasing the familiar unfamiliar of a manufactured oasis.

But mostly, I feel like the sunning turtle or the green heron. Hopping along, looking to survive, and trying to find warmth for my belly.

Heron an turtles hanging out on a floating wooden pallete.
Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash



Laura Díaz de Arce

Laura is a South Florida based writer & the author of MONSTROSITY & Mask of The Nobleman. https://lauradiazdearce.com/