Late this summer we dug and filled a small pond in our backyard. It’s really no bigger than a large bathtub. Our neighbors donated some hyacinths. A multitude of mosquito larvae appeared within days, somewhat to my surprise. I did a little research about how to control them. A county agency gives away free larvae-eating fish to anybody who asks, but we were past the date for that. The local pet store didn’t have any of these special fish. Goldfish are said to eat larvae too, if you don’t feed them other stuff. A goldfish it would be.
I shelled out extra for the pretty goldfish, the one with the glinty white flanks and puffy red-orange head. I told the shop owner why I was buying as the bag sat on the counter, and he told me that he’d give it a few days, two weeks tops in a backyard pond. “Why?” “Raccoons and cats!” “We have two fat cats and I’ve only seen a raccoon once in two years.” “You’ll see” he assured me. I looked again at the pretty fish and wondered if I shouldn’t stick with a plain cheap one. I’m a sucker for pretty, though, every time.
Pretty fish took to the pond well. Every day for a few days I’d look at her with Carl. Carl was thrilled and showed his friends. I didn’t want him to get too attached, though. The anticipation of inevitable loss made each sighting sweeter. I noticed no reduction in larvae. I figured she wasn’t hungry enough, yet.
Less than two weeks later she was gone. Ah, well. The larvae wriggled with a special kick in their tails, it seemed to me. Carl didn’t seem too upset, at least. October’s cold finally killed off the larvae as leaves filled the pond, which I would skim and dredge with a rake every other day or so.
Back from my Europe trip a few days ago, I decided to skim the pond once more for the winter, as freezes had turned the hyacinth black and the last of the leaves had long since settled. It’s such a small pond, see, a little debris allowed to collect will turn it into more of a wallow pretty fast.
As I scooped out the last hyacinth, I saw the fish! I dropped the rake in astonishment, not accepting how she could have hidden so long with so little cover, all these months and many skimmings, with freezes and no larvae or additional food! I poked near her to be certain — yes she was alive and plump and beautiful and vigorous enough in the icy water. I ran in to tell Martina and Carl. “What fish?” asked Carl. “Our goldfish! In the pond! She’s alive! Come look!”
At the pond’s edge again, there was no sign of her. My raking had stirred up the muck and left the water quite turbulent, so I figured she was just hiding in it. Further sweeping with the rake didn’t bring her near the surface, though. “You’ll see her later I guess” I explained.
I’ve been back to the pond’s edge now at least a dozen times over the last few days. The water’s all clear. Only the reflection of the sky blocks my gaze to the bottom. No fish that I can see. There are still some stray leaves at the bottom, and a couple big rocks in there, a little ledge or two near the edges. I’ve poked all those, squinting: no fish. Each time I poke I stir up more muck. Again, we’re talking bathtub-size pond, and the fish is bigger than your thumb.
Did my removal of her dead-hyacinth cover finally leave her open to the paws of cat and raccoon? Did I really see her, and will I see her again? I’m going to go check right now, wait for her, again, in the rain, because I’m a sucker for pretty.