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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 05:11 pm

A pool for all seasons

Swimming is just the beginning

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The first rains of autumn begin to fill the rectangular pond that a pool becomes when summer ends with banana palms still in full bloom.
PHOTO BY BRUCE RUSHTON

With the passage of Labor Day comes the end of sizzling heat, but never, it seems, exactly on time, at least if you have a swimming pool in your backyard.

Our pool closed one week after the summer-ending holiday, just in time for some of the year’s warmest weather. Why would anyone close their swimming pool with the heat index approaching 100 degrees? Because a month earlier – when you must hire someone to lower the water level, drain the plumbing and put an ugly green tarp over your suburban oasis, where it will remain through the winter – you never know what the weather is going to be like in September. Wait too long to schedule the work and you’ll end up at the back of the pool-closing line, staring every day at a too-cold-to-swim money pit that needs lots of love to look its best.

This year was the best ever for our pool, which we had never imagined owning until we bought our house shortly before Thanksgiving nearly six years ago, then spent a fitful winter  wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. We found out the following May.

After 72 hours of filling the pool with a garden hose, we realized that our pool would never be full until we fixed a hole in the vinyl liner that we had overlooked, not thinking that we needed to look. The liner, it turned out, needed to be replaced, which didn’t cost as much as a new roof, but still. We would rather have spent a week in Europe.

Even in those early years of pool ownership, and despite warnings from friends who had friends who had pools, our pool never turned black or green, at least, not for very long. After five years, we have, fingers crossed, got it figured out, and our pool is clearer than ever.

The trick is to test the chlorine, pH and alkalinity levels – that’s pool-speak for water chemistry – at least every other day, even if the water looks like gin. If something gets out of kilter, dump in the appropriate chemical, then invite friends over for a swimming party, because nothing mixes pool chemicals as well as cannonball dives and frolicking bathers. Do not tell them that they are there as part of a pool-maintenance program, and if they ask why you’re spending so much time on the deck instead getting in the water, simply smile and ask if they’d care for another beverage.

A pool will make yours the neighborhood’s most popular home in mid-summer heat, and parties are always fun, but a pool is best, really, on quiet Sundays, when you can spend the prime of the day reading the New York Times while floating on a chaise lounge made of unsinkable foam rubber that will come apart way faster than should be the case for something that costs $300.

Sun and water and chlorine are tough on equipment, and we haven’t yet found the perfect flotation device. Our favorites are giant tube-shaped waterproof beanbags called noodles that cost less than $20. You simply drape your arms over the noodle and become a giant jellyfish as everything from the shoulders up stays out of the water while the rest dangles, toes pointed toward the bottom. But noodles do not have cup holders. Such are the compromises that come with pool ownership.

Perhaps our most spectacular success as pool owners has come at poolside, where my wife planted a pair of banana palm trees purchased at 75 percent off during the waning days of autumn a few years ago. I laughed and laughed at her foolishness – banana palms, I confidently predicted, will never make it through an Illinois winter. The trees are now nearly as tall as our house, providing shade, tranquility and a taste of the tropics.

A tarp is no fun to look at come autumn, but things get interesting in the winter, after rainwater collects perhaps a foot deep atop the green plastic. By the time cold weather arrives, we have a perfectly rectangular pond in our backyard, much to the delight of our cats that, for reasons known only to themselves, love taking walks on the ice. They figure out the ice is thick enough to support their weight by leaning over the pool’s edge and stretching themselves until they can lick the surface of the frozen water. Somehow, their tongues can tell, and if the ice passes the taste test, they are soon scampering around our frozen pool for no apparent reason.

A pool out of season is also a big draw for ducks, and we have enjoyed watching many graceful landings into Rectangle Pond. They arrive near winter’s end, generally in pairs, and there is not a darn thing our cats can do about it once the ice melts. As the weather warms, ducks give way to frogs. It is absolutely amazing how our backyard can be silent one night and a cacophony of deafening croaks the next. Neighbors have complained.

With frogs come tadpoles, of course, and our pool-turned-pond teems with tens of thousands of the critters by April. None of them make it to froghood. By Memorial Day, it is time to swim again, and so the tarp will be gone, and with it the pond, as the cycle of pool ownership renews itself.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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