We ripped out the lawn and filled our tiny backyard with a giant above-ground pool; leaving our Schnauzer with only a flower bed for relief. We built the perfect Sunset magazine redwood deck that hugged the vinyl on two sides and connected to our spa. We purchased patio furniture with matching umbrellas and landscape lights that glamorized our Queen’s Palms, Birds of Paradise, and sizeable Spanish-style fountain. We had created Shangri-la on a cul-de-sac in Bakersfield.
The sales flyer said Cook Peak had an in-ground swimming pool. The idea of encouraging our girls and their new friends to stay close to our home, especially as they grew into teenagers was a brilliant selling point. We knew how to maintain and operate an above-ground pool. Together with the pool store, we tested and kept our water sparkling all year round. How hard could an in-ground pool be?
I thought of The Beverly Hillbillies the first time I saw the swimming pool at Cook Peak. Speechless in front of 40,000 gallons of saltwater in a pebble-tec pool with a diving board, I felt overwhelmed and out of place. The water wasn’t brilliant blue and sparkly like our city pool; it was ominous with a tinge of green. We forgot all about it over the next few weeks and focused on winning the bid for our dream home.
It was 105 degrees on moving day. The girls and their cousins played Marco Polo and cannonballed their best off the diving board into the darkness. David and I unpacked the patio furniture that looked miniature on so much scalding concrete. Resting under the umbrella, we planned the pool area landscaping. We envisioned the barren flower beds planted with Nandina, Crepe Myrtle, and Star Jasmine. With landscape lighting showcasing the oak trees and maybe a couple of fountains and more patio furniture, we would create Shangri-la at Cook Peak.
From the west, the wind howls when the sun dips behind Cook Peak mountain at four o’clock. It funnels through the Sierras to the Mojave Desert like a bullet train. Our first summer, a gust yanked the umbrellas out of their metal bases and threw them like darts into the lot next door. Another blast toppled our patio table and shattered the glass across the concrete into the shallow end. Full of dirt and debris, the pool sweep stopped working, Ellen’s ears got infected, and the cement pond turned green.
We took a jar of water to the pool store in Bakersfield. The cement pond flunked every test, and the list of chemicals we needed was daunting. We complied, believing the pool store was full of experts. They kept us coming back each week with a new water sample, only to flunk the tests and buy more chemicals in the hope of a different outcome. The cement pond was never passing a city pool test. Frustrated and tired of spending so much money on chemicals and gas, we hired a local pool service who precisely knew how to make a mountain pool thrive.
We enjoyed the cement pond when the girls were young, and so did their friends. My favorite times were sitting on the edge with a daughter on a summer’s eve and dangling our feet in the water. We talked about boys and watched the bats dive-bomb the deep end for bugs. We gave them pet names like Tanker and Buzz. Each year we hosted Hawaiian birthday swim parties and summer BBQs with friends and family. There were diving contests, chicken fights, lazy afternoon tanning sessions, and night swims under the Milkyway. And when the top of the cement pond froze in the winter, we could not wait to break the ice and shuffle it from one end to the other with a broom.
When I look out my bedroom window at the cement pond below, I think I should swim laps when the weather gets warmer, but I never do. I cannot remember the last time I wore a bathing suit. Our big city plans for the pool area never transpired. Nothing would grow in the flower beds. Landscape lighting would have interfered with the night sky and water cost too much to install a sprinkler system. Instead, we changed our perspective. Now that the girls are gone, I am the one who scoops the leaves from the bottom, the one who adds the shock and the one who saves the bees from drowning in Shangri-la.
When the cement pond needs filling, sometimes I forget to turn off the water…
Ice crust on the cement pond.
Floating on a donut.
The view from my bedroom window after a winter storm.
After the Erskine Creek Fire of 2016.
The cement pond on the best snow day of 2008.