Sweet flowers are slow, and weeds make haste

I’ve been feeling rather guilty lately; I knew it was coming I suppose, but I meant no harm. I didn’t intend for anything to have to defend its life. It wasn’t a kind of gladiatorial ring I put them in; I didn’t sell tickets… But perhaps I should set the scene to assuage any public condemnation or Facebook trolling; perhaps I should attempt to justify the unintended genocide of innocents.

Years ago, I dug a little pond -okay, I hired someone to dig a little pond- near my front steps. Maybe the original idea was to have something beautiful to look at if I ever sat on the tiny porch by the door, but I forget now: it was my wife’s idea, although she had no intention of sitting there with me, I don’t think. Anyway, she put water lily-things in it, a few bushes around it, and then left both them, and me, to evolve.

And the pond certainly evolved over the years -it became a wildlife haven for frogs, slimy things, and even a few snake-sightings. But the plants slowly began to elbow their way out of the pond, or at least hide the water from porch-viewing, and eventually I decided I had to trim them back. I have to admit that the act had unpleasant similarities to clear-cutting a rainforest, but without the self-reproach or risk of Lyme disease. Also, I had forgotten just how deep the water was, and, after dropping my phone it while answering a text from a curious neighbour, I decided to switch to a rake, both to retrieve the phone and harvest those plants I couldn’t reach from the shore.

I don’t mean to suggest that the pond was any bigger than a bathtub or anything -just that it was a lot deeper than I remembered and, well, dirtier. Also its shoreline was ill-defined and largely covered by scruffy little bushes and sharp-pointy things that made it difficult to judge where not to step and what not to lean on. In a way, though, it had wilded and I couldn’t ever look at it without a huff of pride or a puff of hubris -after all, it was my wilderness, if not my idea; it was my Amazon, eh?

But beauty, like youth, soon fades however, and after a few years, I guess that whatever had been planted in there had forgotten how to bloom, or decided it wasn’t worth the effort. The aging pond looked for all the world like it had evolved long blades of mercenary grass disguised as seaweed -except that it was green, not puce, and had the grace to try to stand upright some of the time.

But after I had raked a lot of the tired ones to my side of the shore, the pond looked, I don’t know… lonely. Bereft of that which should accompany old age, as honour, love, obedience and troops of friends, it needed something. The frogs were gone, the flowers history, and I saw no snakes sunning themselves like tourists among the weeds (for which I was thankful but wary). It was time for a bold move.

I had tried stocking it with some token goldfish a few years back, but despite their diminutive size, they were soon swimming around in a passing heron’s stomach. Of course in those early days, the water plants were still small and maybe the fish didn’t have a place to hide, but things are different now. It’s a jungle, and plenty of things have fallen into the water over the years, including, I think, one of my hiking boots -well, at least I never found it. But you get my meaning, though: lots of places to hide in there. I figured the pond had become a fish Valhalla -much bigger than the glass bowl I used to keep Gaspy and his friends in when I was a kid, and with lots more for them to do than stare out of the sides of the tank trying to stay sane.

But, I live in the country, on an island, in often-cold Canada, and there were no local stores selling non-edible fish. So, I had to take a ferry to the mainland and bring them back in a little wobbly plastic bag of water whose elastic bands holding it closed were obviously elderly and in a constant state of flux. But I suppose tank fish get used to close confinement and their water being knocked by the cat; still, I could see by their expressions that they knew I was doing them a favour -all fifteen of them.

At any rate, once I made it home, I dumped them in the pond and most of them headed for the reeds. I tried counting them as they fled, but I must have counted wrong -there were only thirteen that I could see. I saw one of them wheezing in one of the bushes near where I’d dumped his friends and so I gently placed him in the pond; he insisted on floating upside down on the surface for a while, though, so I put him in the recycling bin. I never found the other fish. Perhaps he’d discovered another pond; I wish him well.

Let me get to the nubbin of my guilt, however. From that first day of Liberation, I’ve only seen two of the fish again. In fact, it may well have been the same fish -I didn’t have time to radio-collar them- and apart from naming it Gaspy in memoriam, it had no readily identifiable features on which I could rely. The man in the pet fish store said that Garter snakes don’t eat goldfish, but I think he was referring to those living in tanks, or little slippery glass bowls like Gaspy-the-First had called home. I Googled it a few days after the Liberation and discovered that Garter snakes eat earthworms, salamanders, frogs and fish. No wonder I’d run out of frogs. I can only hope that at least some the fish are still alive and swimming among the roots in the murky pond and that the Valhalla they’ve encountered is not the one for heroes killed in battle.

Not yet, at any rate -I’d already bought them a jar of fish flakes and I want to get my money’s worth…

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