Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Mystery to Me

One little mistake that I'm still paying for happened four years ago. I bought ten 10 cent feeder fish to toss into my first 160 gallon pond. I had never really been involved with fish before, except one day when I was staying at my sister's place decades go.

It was one of those fated situations... All alone in her place, I suddenly heard rushing water. It was her 100 gallon aquarium bursting at the seams. The event's haunting memories turned me off to ever wanting an aquarium larger than a fish bowl that I could carry to the sink and back. The sound of glass splitting and water gushing was forever etched in my memory.

Back to four years ago again. At the time, I figured a batch of one inch long feeder goldfish in a little plastic pond might be fun. This was the mistake that brought four years of hard lessons in every way I could think of. It would have been easier to just let nature and raccoons take their course. But I couldn't do that.

During the summer, racoons managed to snack on six of the ten goldfish behind my back. Left with four that had now grown to four inches, I bought a 50 gallon aquarium to raise the four fish indoors - predator problem solved.

Within six months, two goldish began growing whiskers. As babies they were much smaller than then other two goldfish (thus the creative name - "The Runts"). But now my whiskered Runts were at least double the size of their two tank mates.

I called my sister the fish expert of decades ago to ask what kind of goldfish grow whiskers? I told her I was sure they were goldfish because the aquarium store guy told me they were.

She decided it certainly was a weird situation and that maybe I had two mutant goldfish. That sounded kinda fun and I was up for the adventure. I looked forward to watching my mutant goldfish develop, especially to see what other odd traits they might take on.

But within a year, I realized from photos on the web my whiskered two weren't goldfish at all but were Koi! Not only were they much bigger than the other two, they also never mingled with them.

Koi and goldfish both claimed their own side of the aquarium - the Koi growing noticeably from week to week and looking kinda mean, like they needed a gang to join real soon. The once spacious 50 gallon tank was now too crowded for four. So off to the plastic pond outdoors went the Koi...again.

Back to the original problem of the raccoons using them as appetizers. I discovered netting worked well. Coons don't like to get their fingers stuck in things. So I netted everything within two yards of the little pond. I used pond netting and bird netting. I netted the pond surface, the sides of the pond, and for good measure, draped another net from the eaves of my house. And I still worried the racoons would outsmart me.

Visions of "trailer trash" came to mind every time I went out back. Just to feed the Runts was a daily fight to get through poles precariously perched by gravity, tangled nets getting stuck on my shirt buttons and fingernails, and tripping over some obstacle I'd put out for the coons but had forgotten about.

It was chaos of the first order and all that I considered temporary but necessary to keep my Runts safe. I'd worry about aesthetics later. In the meantime, God forbid should anyone come over to see this mess.

These 10 cent fish were taking a huge chunk of time, money, and energy. But it became my mission in life to keep the Runts safe, healthy, and happy. I began to feel I was protecting royalty, these whiskered non goldfish.

My now junked up backyard and pond at least was protected from coons, herons, 'possums, and feral cats. By this time, my cat Bobby was as wary of the Runts as I was. I'd heard Koi have teeth and maybe Bobby knew something that I didn't. I needed more information. He steered cleared of them and always ran past the little pond, looking back just long enough to see if they were nipping on his heels.

More later on the even newer pond and what's so cute about Koi babies and Minnow babies growing up together, especially when for four years I though my two Koi were both girls. Nature solved that mystery for me.