Thursday, September 15, 2011

Little Fish

It was my freshman year of college and I'd only been away for a few weeks when my mom called to let me know she had to put the cat to sleep. Or maybe the cat just died. The details are blurry. That cat was my first pet--Gretchen. We got her when I was four and she was named because of her gray chin. She wasn't very nice. She would bite, scratch, growl and hiss. A very strange love. And she only became more cynical as time went on. When we adopted a Maltese-poodle after my parents split, Gretchen ended up spending the rest of her life in the garage. I think she was happy there since she didn't like us much and she sure hated the dog. Either way she was my first pet and it was sad to know she was gone. A year or so later my mom called to say "there's been a death in the family." My heart dropped. She proceeded to let me know a blue heron had eaten her Koi. Seriously. I was deeply saddened about Gretchen. Maybe I cried. The fish I didn't understand.


The hubby and I swear that this house chose us, we didn't choose it. I mean it wasn't all that pretty inside after sitting vacant for some time and the looming scent of cat and dog urine couldn't have been its selling factor. But I remember finding some charm in it and a little excitement about the cold, dark puddle in the back. So the house became ours and the Saturday we moved in the neighborhood was buzzing. We watched--strangers still--as one neighbor crossed the street with a handle of Seagrams. Soon the corn hole boards were out and yard lamps illuminated the thumps of the corn bags. Ahhhh. Home sweet home.

April 2007, soon after we moved into the house

And that puddle in the back proved to be much more too. I wasn't quite sure where to begin so Omama came to the rescue (since she was clearly attached to fish, who better?). A pump, a filter, net, and some microblift were prescribed. $200 later I returned from Home Depot (though I'm now loyal to Lowe's) with the needed supplies. Between Carter's napping and feeding schedule my mom and I worked on the pond. Electric was already run underground, the liner seemed in tact, and the rocks appeared solid so we began to drain. The pump carried the dark water out quickly and the net helped with the leaves. The water stank of musty, decaying organic matter. It was good competition for Carter's diaper pail. As I mindlessly scooped my 15th net of leaves while plugging my nose, I was startled by a spastic movement. I dropped the net back in the water- what little was left of it. No way. Something alive? What could survive an entire winter and spring in this mud pit? I scooped again more carefully this time. The spams returned to the net and there it was, a tiny black fish. Scoop after scoop we rescued the little boogers even catching those that tried to jump back to what they must of thought was freedom. Now what? I had a bucket of ugly fish and a stinky pond.
 We were able to get the pump working to put the filter to work and aerate the water. Leaves cleared, water cleaner. The fish went back in and I sat stunned. Did you know that goldfish are black before they turn orange? Me either and I'm not completely convinced but I have 20 or more happy goldfish in my pond now. Oma brought be some water iris and Omama donated lilys. Some fish safe fertilizer was all I needed and we now had a working pond.

I began tugging away at some of the ground cover and planted a variety of ferns and grasses. Nothing survived. The coarse soil and heavy maple roots do not make for happy plants. My wonderful neighbor Terri gave me some creeping jenny plants that love the water and have begun to fill in around the rocks. I also have pieces of rock-loving plants from my mom's pond to add some green. For the first this year time I picked up a few water hyacinths from the Aquatic center down the road. I adore their bubbly green appearance but they won't last the winter so I'll have to replace those next spring (and at $3.50 a pop, I'll manage). The fish love the plants as they provide shelter from predators and shade on hot days. To add more green on the outer perimeters, I focused on potted plants--both sitting and hanging. I have wondering jews, spider plants, inpatients, aloe, Japanese fern, geranium and more. I plan to bring these plants in during the winter months. Some I purchased for very little but most were gifted from Oma and Omama. I must ask them a hundred times each how much water, how much sun, how much shade.

April 2011

Hubby is sweet to let me do whatever I want to the interior decor of our house. He claims the garage and no more so I don't fuss about the Budweiser girls or koozie collection. Our styles are different. He's all country (our house would be plaid if it were up to him) and I lean a tiny bit more modern. Two years ago I found a wagon-wheel bench on clearance. The bright orange sticker sang my name but it was the gesture that my husband could have a piece of the yard that lead me to that purchase. He's been talking about stupid wagon wheels since before we met. I like it now, it gives me and the boys a place to sit and watch the fish. He also harasses me about being frugal and even --gasp--dumpster diving. But it was this man that found an old ladder at the recycling center when he went with our weekly waste (yes, we pay for the recycling to be picked up but have so much that it often requires an additional trip). The ladder serves as a nice invitation in the maple tree overlooking the pond. A very natural tree house for the boys.

December 2010
My mom bought me my first Koi in 2007. Beautiful. I had no idea. I never named them but still loved them. Three winters ago one got stuck in my seasonal net and froze in the ice. I cried. I have a heater now that floats on top of the water and creates a hole just big enough for oxygen to get to the water when it freezes. I also only keep my net on the pond from September until the last leaves fall and then I remove it.

September 2011
September 2011

September 2011
This spring we had a visitor. One morning at 6:00am, the dogs went nuts. Hubby called me to the window to watch a 4.5' heron creeping up on my pond. I dashed down the stairs with the dogs in tow and let them loose. It was only a temporary fix. In fact, the heron only flew as far as the neighbor's shed to mock me for a minute before disappearing. In the next weeks, I lost the three other Koi from my pond. Again, I cried. My beautiful fish. It felt silly to be so sentimental but I was devastated. It's not like I could pet them but if I put my fingers to the water, they would come. I could talk to them. They didn't bark. They minded their own business and never peed or pooped or vomited on my brand new carpet. They were the ideal pet, really. So I cried for them. I still have 20+ goldfish that are quick and can hide much easier. I researched humane methods to prevent heron from returning (the dogs might have been cruel but not as much as a trip wire) and purchased a garden owl (it protects both the garden and the pond). My mom glued some jewels and tiny mirrors to fishing line and that hang along the pond. They're not only pretty but the reflections ward off the predators. I haven't counted any missing fish since May. And I count twice a day.
September 2011


  1. Absolutely love it! Wonder if at this point we need to wait till spring to get more koi? My new liner WILL go in this fall! Love you!

  2. I think spring wld be better. Don't want to stress them in the winter months. Love you too.