“You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog as large as myself that my father bought me. They are better than human beings, because they know but do not tell.” Emily Dickinson
Standing amid the neon lights of our town’s Memorial Day fair, I spotted a small tow headed figure in the distance, waving furiously to me with one hand while clutching something I could not quite make out in the other. As he approached, I spotted a small plastic bag held tightly in his fist and watched a swirl of gold darting to and fro, mimicking my son’s excitement. I struggled with mixed emotion. Annoyance at the thought of yet another pet to care for and nostalgia for this childhood rite of passage I too enjoyed so many years ago at my own hometown fair.
My husband, an animal lover, immediately began researching the care of goldfish. “You know the reason why so many die?” he advised. “Those small bowls do not allow enough oxygen. They need at least a 10 gallon tank.” And off they went to the pet store, father and son, in search of a home for “Patricia” our newly christened goldfish.
“I may have gotten a bit carried away” he admitted as he staggered into the bedroom toting an enormous box , “ but this pagoda temple was a steal and the color of the fauna is not to be believed!” The “extras” included not only the Zen temple but two-toned pink and blue gravel, a sunken treasure chest, water filter, lighting and various sized stones. “Watching a fish swim lowers your blood pressure” he added with an air of authority, now the official fish whisperer.
I am not sure whose blood pressure decreased by watching Patricia. I only recall how mine skyrocketed over the next few months, as the fish double and then tripled in size and in doing so, became more aggressive, thrashing day and night in its tank. Clearly, the Zen temple was not working its magic.
The cleaning of the aquarium was without doubt the worst chore of all. To get the cleansing tube working you had to suck in air as if you were using a straw and then bob it around the tank to vacuum up all the debris. On my first attempt, I took in part of the fish water and let’s just say the experience will stay with me – always. It was at that moment while gargling a third time with the strongest mouthwash I could find, that I came to the realization…Patricia must go.
I researched releasing it in our backyard pond. No. the fish could become prey for birds due to the bright gold color. Donate it to a local classroom? You would have to increase the teacher’s salary just for the tank cleaning alone. I resigned myself to the fact that Patricia would be with our family for the duration of her life or, my own.
As I walked dejectedly around the fish department at Petco searching for yet another larger and more expensive tank, a tall ginger-headed clerk emerged. As we got to talking, I explained my dilemma. He listened compassionately and then calmly remarked “My friend Sally adopts goldfish. She works here too.” I tried to keep the hysterical edge out of my voice as I queried: “Any chance she is in today?”
A month later I found myself once again in Petco this time to buy hamster food. As I stood watching an employee cleaning a fish tank, the memory of swallowing the dirty water emerged and I thanked a higher power those days were behind me. Lost in thought I almost didn’t hear the soft voice beside me. “Would you like to see a picture?” Turning, I saw Sally, Patricia’s foster mother, holding her smart phone up before me. On the screen, was a photograph of Patricia in her new 100 gallon home, swimming serenely. “I did have a little problem with her attacking my other fish in the beginning” Sally confided. I furiously scanned the store for the nearest exit wondering how long it would take me to reach it. “But, she eventually calmed down and gets along great with everyone!” Nodding and smiling in gratitude, I made a mental note to find another pet store just in case Patricia’s aggression returned.
So when things appear hopeless in life, I leave you with this bit of advice. Miracles do happen. And if you have children, have them avoid the ping pong toss at your local fair at all costs.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Warmth.”
“See! from the brake the whirring pheasant springs, And mounts exulting on triumphant wings”
Alexander Pope Quotes , Source: Windsor Forest (l. 111)
I cannot say for certain when I first made his acquaintance or tell you the exact day he stole my heart. We had just moved to a small town in Connecticut from New York City following the 9/11 tragedy. Our new home’s family room sported an enormous glass window which overlooked the back yard, a spectacular bucolic setting of manicured jade green grass, magnolia trees and a pond, all bordering a 200 acre nature preserve. I was growing accustomed to the ubiquitous deer and red fox sightings but had never before encountered a pheasant and was not prepared for the effect his physical appearance bestowed, both in brilliance and beauty.
His presence, generally either early morning or late afternoon, was always announced by a loud and strange-sounding squawk, echoing eerily through the landscape. I grew to love this sound. Emerging from the tall hedges of the nature preserve he would strut and bob in all his splendor, slowly cruising the yard, pecking and flapping his great wings in a display of cockiness and valor.
I often pondered from where this lovely creature came. Was he an exotic pet from some grand estate who had fled to explore new pastures? Or perhaps a restless migrant in search of a mate? I researched the presence of pheasants in Fairfield County Connecticut and discovered that these fascinating birds were indeed not native to this area and rarely seen. My research further allowed that wild pheasants only live approximately five years in the wild unlike raised pheasants which can live up to twelve years in captivity. Our pheasant was chasing the years.
Sadly, the pheasant never did find a partner but instead took up with a group of wild turkeys who too frequented our property. I would often see him among the pack, his brilliance a gem among the other gray birds. The turkeys were a friendly lot and took him in with little fanfare. I loved them for that. I was pleased he had found companions though daydreamed about finding him a soul mate of his own, perhaps from some pheasant farm if that sort of thing existed. I imagined visiting, picking out a female pheasant and bringing it home. And like in a fairy tale they would live happily ever after and create for our town a whole new flock of pheasants for all to enjoy.
I longed to see him daily but as if sensing his importance he arrived only once or twice a week. In an attempt to lure him closer, I bought a bag of wild bird seed and scattered them in a line, starting at the opening of the preserve from which he emerged and ending just inches from my bedroom window. The very next morning, I heard him, louder than usual and realized with glee that the seed trail had worked. He stood majestically, so close to my window that I could reach out and touch him and in that brief moment snapped his photograph which still hangs on my refrigerator and atop this story.
There was something about the beauty of the pheasant and his calm demeanor that somehow made everything so right even on those days that were not. He became a fixture in the neighborhood and neighbors became proprietary. They began referring to him as “our pheasant” if he spent any amount of time on their property. He became somewhat of a celebrity in our small town.
When he went missing for sometimes weeks at a time, he became a topic of concern. I would see a friend in the local market and ask “Have you seen the pheasant.”? I imagined putting posters on trees in the area with his photo and the simple word “Missing.” No explanation necessary.
The pheasant enchanted us with his presence for over seven years, surviving hurricanes, snow storms and numerous predators. After one particularly fierce winter storm I fancied making up a tee-shirt for him stating “I survived the blizzard of 2010” and sending his photo to our local newspaper to feature in their wildlife section.
Then one day as magically as he had appeared, the pheasant returned no more. It has been over a year now. We no longer ask each other “Have you seen him?” There is an unsaid understanding among us. Nothing gold can stay.
Yet I still stare hard when I see the wild turkeys trotting by my window, hoping, praying for that glint of brilliant color amid the backdrop of the woods.