At Serene Lily Pond, Visitors Leapfrog Back Into Time

July 21, 1991|By Mike Nortrup | Mike Nortrup,Contributing writer

MOUNT AIRY — Harry Brengle's lily pond is a remnant of the past facing the tide of the present.

It rests on his six-acre farm about a mile from here.

That farm is bordered on two sides by the advancing development rolling out from Mount Airy and is also bounded by Ridge Road (Route 27).

But down a embankment from that concrete raceway where vehicles incessantly roar by sits a quiet green hollow.

Here, change is measured not by rapid conversion of pasture to paving, but rather by the quiet passing of the seasons.

In this still-rural nook lies histhree-quarter-acre lily pond isolated by tall, lush trees, the hill leading to Ridge Road and the Brengle home and outbuildings.

The pond is fed by the underground spring, which flows under an old oak tree on the hill.

Beside the pond sits a tomato patch, along with farm implements and old rowboat -- which seem to have sort of gathered there over time -- all combining with the pond to present a rural vista befitting an Andrew Wyeth rendering.

Sitting by the pond in theevening, you hear the warbles and chirps of the army of birds in thesurrounding trees, interrupted by the occasional croaking of frogs.

At the far end of the pond, away from the house, sits an old wooden shed overgrown on all sides by a tangled mass of weeds. The scene is a silent reminder that there, nature has temporarily prevailed overone of man's intrusions.

The pond's surface is nearly coated by agreen jumble of heart-shaped lily pads, each about 9 inches across. The green

carpet is dotted by a myriad of large, white lily flowers.

The surface is serene, but that serenity is deceptive. In places, the densely packed lily pads wage silent warfare to see which onescan climb over the others for sunlight and air.

Beneath and around it lies a vigorous natural community.

"We have tons of frogs anda few snakes. The snakes like the frogs" said the 53-year old Brengle, who wears a long gold beard.

He says the snakes aren't poisonous, but that there are a few snapping turtles in the neighborhood.

There are also bass, placed in the pond by the previous owner, and Brengle and his friends occasionally fish there.

"But we always throw them back," he said.

"We used to have a lot of parties down herewith the family. You could even swim at one time," said Brengle, looking out at the mass of lily pads.

That was in the idyllic days ofthe late 1950s and early '60s when "a car might come by once a week," Brengle said.

His father bought the property in 1957 and startedhis watery lily farm in the early 1960s with just four plants he carried back from Florida.

""He just liked them; he bought them because he thought they were pretty," Brengle said.

His father passed away in 1978.

Brengle spent much of his life in Ellicott City, married and later divorced, then moved back to the farm four years ago tocare for his 84-year-old mother, Lillian.

The pads first appear in April as a myriad of quarter-sized blotches, each attached to a bottom 9 feet deep in places, by a long stem.

The flowers appear in April and hit their peak in mid-June.

Brengle has tried to control the pads by wading into the pond in his hip boots and pulling them out.

"I've sold a few of them, but not many," he said. "I give a lotof them away, to people with backyard pools and ponds."

He said that once, "a couple of guys came down from Pennsylvania to pull them out."

"But in the last five years, they've really blossomed and exploded. They've gotten out of hand," he said, adding that he's given up trying to control his green tide.

Over time, the pond has gotten larger and more shallow as it eats away at the surrounding banks.

The shallow waters around the edges have now grown marshy with bunches of cattails, and the pond is ringed by a scruffy halo of thick pale-green swamp grass that defies all efforts to control it.

But Brengle still likes to relax by the pond with his friends.

The only major disruption to this solitude came several years ago, he said, when "an old drunk drove his car down the bank into the pond."

"But he was smart enough to climb up on the hood of his car and call for help," Brengle added with a chuckle.

"Normally, it's pretty quiet around here," he said.

Brengle says he may sell the farm someday, particularly if the county makes him close his roadside stand where hesells produce and plants.

But if he loses the ongoing zoning dispute with the county and sells, his property still may thwart the developers.

"With the pond, hills and wetlands on this land, you couldn't get more than one or two houses on it anyway," he said.

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