I can’t remember when I last felt so tired. The past couple of weeks have been hectic… in the best possible way… what with the workshop, reconnecting with old friends while they are in the country and all the usual stuff that makes up a busy day. I have a lot to write about, but tonight my brain is as seized up as the rest of me. An early night is in order… so, instead of delving deep into symbolism and spirituality, or even sharing some of the places I have been lately… I thought I would write about fish.
This is not as random as it might sound. A few weeks ago I wrote about a hitch-hiking loach and a wish for a better aquarium to replace the much-loved but antique set-up occupying the corner of my living room. The tank was a good size, but dark, falling apart at the seams and in need of a fair bit of upgrading.
Well, sometimes wishes are granted and, with some timely help from my son, I finally acquired that bigger-and-better aquarium. The night before it was due to arrive, and with help from the other son, the old tank was moved across the wall to make way for its replacement, and the sofa parked at the other side of the room…much to Ani’s disgust.
Next morning the tank was delivered. The nice gentlemen who brought it in laughed at the old one, saying they hadn’t seen one outside of a museum in decades. Then they left me to it. That was fine. After all, how hard could it be?
I had laid my plans carefully, collecting bags in which to acclimatise the fish and a big net. But first, I had three coats of paint to put on the glass… but not until after I had checked the tank for leaks.
And installed all the plumbing and electrics, laid on my back, with my head in a cupboard. And filled the thing, by hand… I mentioned it is a big tank?
The dog hid under the desk for a while, feeling her absence to be a sensible move as the sparks and water flew. But finally, I had it all in place and up to temperature. The decor was in, the lights worked… I’d even remembered to feed the wires through the back before I filled it and rendered the thing immovable!
Then came the point of no return. I needed the bacteria-holding media from the old filter to put in the new one, so that I could transfer the fish to a healthy environment. That would leave them without a heater or filtration, so I would have to work fast.
By this time, even the fish were eyeing me askance. It is seven o’clock at night and I had forty fish to catch. But, armed with my new big net, it would only take me a few minutes. Surely? Five minutes later, I had six fish happily ensconced in their bags being acclimatised.
The other thirty-four were nowhere to be seen.
The daylight had gone and, with the tank lights dismantled, the fish were invisible against the dark gravel. I bailed out half the water and wafted the net around in the tank, explaining that it was for their own good. Two must have listened, because they obligingly jumped out of the water and into the net! I was elated. This was going to be easier than I’d begun to fear!
Unfortunately, the next two jumped out of the net with a splash.
The dog beat a strategic retreat to the hallway. Me and the fish were all panicking as the temperature dropped. I bailed the tank some more; with nowhere to hide, it couldn’t take much longer…
The bristlenose glued itself to the inside of an old ornament and refused to come out. I tried to encourage it but it wriggled in deeper. I shook it gently. It clung on tighter. I moved fish and ornament together… it would have to come out sometime… and I would be waiting. Three hours later and all but four of the fish were in their new home. It took nearly an hour to catch the two I could see. The other two… the lone loach and the camouflaged pleco… were completely invisible.
Draining as much water as I could, holding a torch in my mouth, the net in one hand and a jug in the other, I started removing gravel…
After a full four hours, I had caught all my fish. Except, there was still something moving… Maybe I had forty-one? Or I’d miscounted? It looked a bit stiff, so it obviously needed to be in its new home pronto. Ten minutes later it was in the new tank, unacclimatised and very small. It proved to be another hitch-hiker. This time, a shrimp. I emptied the old tank and went to bed.
With the room finally back to rights next day, I was mesmerised watching the fish adapt to their new home. They loved it. Their colours ‘popped’ against the black-painted background. Their behaviours, with wider territories and more space, changed dramatically to a far more natural pattern as they responded to their environment.
As always, I could not help thinking about how the fish mirror and illustrate human behaviours. They had come from a dingy tank to a bright, new one… but it was the very darkness against which they were now living that brought out their beauty and true colours.
The relative poverty of their previous environment had not only been constricting in terms of space, but had repressed their natural playfulness. Given that space and light… as well as plenty of places to which they could retreat and feel safe… they have become completely different creatures.
The little rummy nosed tetras are shoaling together. The tadpole-sized ancistrus is eating its way through the driftwood and growing almost visibly. The lace-pearls have set up home together in one corner, the big tetras chase each other through the roots and the corydoras tumble over each other or burrow in the sand. The right environment, with space for choice and freedom, is allowing them to be themselves. And me? I just get the joy of watching.
But I hope I will not be catching fish again any time soon!