The 18′ x 20′ pond in our back yard was built to welcome wildlife. Twenty years ago, within minutes of beginning to fill the pond for the first time, dragonflies appeared where there had seemed to be none. Since then, the pond has more than fulfilled my dreams of enriching our large backyard with frogs, water nymphs, dragonflies, thirsty squirrels, and raccoons who cannot get into the pond but easily stretch greedy paws into the water and pull out fat, juicy snails.
The pond attracts birds of all kinds. Whole flocks of robins, sparrows and Band-tail Pigeons stand on the floating bamboo and bathe in the water. A loving pair of Mourning Doves can often be seen standing on the rocks overlooking the water, sharing companionship and admiring their own reflections. I swear it.
Fish are pretty ornaments in the water, and necessary for those not fond of mosquitos. The first fish were 12″ fancy goldfish, three of them, at $30.00 each! They looked lovely in the pond, all white, and gold and red, gliding through the water. Daughter Laura named them immediately.
Two days after we got the fish, I looked up from the kitchen sink in time to see Mabel, a lovely $30.00 red and white, foot long, goldfish, slide down the heron’s throat. There was a pause as poor Mabel seemed to get stuck halfway, she was a big girl, after all. Unable to wiggle herself out of the situation, she finally slid all the way down. The other two $30.00 fish, whose names I’ve forgotten, had already met the same fate as Mabel.
Now I stock the pond with ten-for-a-dollar feeder fish bought at the pet store. On the one hand, I am thrilled when the Blue Heron comes, stalks across the lawn like an awkward dinosaur, and dines on sushi. On the other hand, the feeder fish come to the pond as tiny little half-inch babies. The luckiest and smartest of those babies live for several years gliding, growing, and breeding, in the pond. A few of them eventually become fat eight-inch grandpas. Those with distinctive markings become individuals to me.
Over the course of a summer the fish learn to rush to the corner of the pond where they trust me to toss food to them. That’s right, they trust me. That is my dilemma. As soon as I realized the fish knew and trusted me, I found it harder to watch the Heron come to feed.
Yesterday the Blue Heron landed on the grass. Fascinated, I watched the huge creature slowly stalk the perimeter of the pond, then pause to peer hungrily into the depths. The bird stood motionless over the edge of the pond for a few minutes before suddenly, almost too fast for my eyes to register, thrusting his beak into the pond and pulling up a fat four inch fish. The heron lifted his head holding the little fish near the end of his beak, while the fish glistened a brilliant gold in the sunlight, and struggled desperately to escape. For a moment I cheered quietly for his escape. Instead, the little fish slipped helplessly down the long throat.
I had watched the drama with mixed feelings. I’m thrilled and flattered when wildlife bless the yard, that’s why we built the pond. Still, I must have had that little goldfish for a year.
There was nothing to do but offer a silent thank you to the little goldfish, and also to the heron.