Bryhanna Greenough dislikes pet fish almost as much as that guy in The Orchid Thief.
I recently discovered I hate fish. Fish in aquariums are so depressing.
But it’s taken a long time to get to this point.
Once upon a time, a hefty, 10-year-old common goldfish glided unexpectedly into my life. He had been living in a pond in a greenhouse, and, while he was very healthy, the algae was becoming a problem and the pump had crapped out from algae overload. The water was evaporating. I had to get him out of there. So I decided to bring the fish to my apartment in town, and put him in a fish tank.
I started off by giving him a name. Then I gave him some fishy friends, and plants, and decorated the tank with overpriced pieces of imported South African wood, because I felt there was nothing sadder than a solitary fish in a bare tank.
But no matter what I did, Mr. Dingles still seemed sad and cramped.
For two years, Mr. Dingles and his gang were the focal point of my living room. The tank rested where a TV might have. Goldfish have good eyesight. They can see you. They have no eyelids. The term “fish guilt” came into regular usage around the house.
I got a bigger tank—the largest that would fit—at the cost of blocking out a window. Despite weekly water changes, a regime of live carpenters (when in season), and a fancy filter, Mr. Dingles’ kept staring at me with those accusing, depressed eyes.
This spring, I planned on returning Mr. Dingles to his original home in the pond. It’s one of those black plastic forms you can pick up from any big garden center, and it was now dry and perfectly clean. Starting a pond can be costly, and maintenance a bit of a pain, but freedom from this fish would be priceless. Pond pumps are expensive (depending on the amount of water) but that’s not the end of it. You also need a filter, preferably a UV filter which zaps the life out of algae. Without good filtration your freshly filled pond will turn green within a week and you won’t be able to see your fish (even though some people say this is okay for goldfish). Every week I set aside time to clean out the pump and filter, and top up the pond with fresh water. Part of the fun has been digging up plants from a wild pond, and researching water lilies for this water garden.
The payment is Mr. Dingles and the gang no longer swim laps, now they zip wildly in all directions. Their lives have improved. I think.
James and Lang Sparks have a series of four ponds in the backyard of their home on Elizabeth Avenue. With three pumps, a huge UV filter, piped in rainwater, and about 50 lilies to help purify and oxygenate the water, the Sparks have created an ecosystem where koi actually reproduce in their back yard. James says the biggest problem is controlling algae. His advice to anyone thinking about making a pond is “be prepared for a lot of maintenance and care.” (Dammit!)
In the winter the dozen or so koi are moved to the deepest pond and a canopy is raised over the area to keep it from freezing. The fish are dormant in the winter. Once the water reached 10 degrees Celsius they rest on the pond’s floor until spring.
“This here is extravagant, but I’m retired, have lots of time, and just enjoy doing it. For someone who is working—just make a small pond,” he advises.
Excellent advice, especially if you hate fish.
Illustration by Tara Fleming