After celebrating the recovery of Super Trooper, the little fish who swam, it was with a heavy heart that I saw him once again floating upside down in the pond and looking decidedly dead. The pale belly finally showed no sign of the ulcers we had been battling for months… and no sign of life either. But with this fish, we never say die…
I reached for the net to remove the lifeless fish from the pond and grinned as he flipped and swam away. Upside-down he may have to be, but he wasn’t yet ready to give up the ghost.
For the next two days we remained on tenterhooks. On the third day, I stood in the rain, looking for some sign of Trooper. He was not in any of his usual hidey-holes, not under the fronds of the plants… and, with the water so clear, not visible on the bottom either. There was only one place he could be hiding, if he were still with us… and sure enough, as the fish food hit the surface of the water and forty fish converged on breakfast, Trooper swam into view with the rest. He’d done it again.
I watched him diving around the pond at top speed. His balance was still a little ‘off ‘, his swim bladder not quite working right. Every so often he would collide with another fish and, if he was on the surface, flip onto his side. If he got into a collision beneath the surface, he bobbed up like a cork until he could right himself.
I kept an eye on his all that day and by the next morning, he was swimming perfectly again. Then I got to thinking… I have been monitoring the little fish very carefully for months now. I’ve taken note of every variable, from weather to water parameters in an effort to give him the best possible chance. I had noticed a few things; Trooper had not done well in the heat and deteriorated as the temperature rose. Then, every so often, and just when we thought he was miraculously picking up again, we would find him looking dead and floating belly-up. Oddly, it always rained the day after finding him thus.
Given that he obviously has a swim bladder problem as a result of his illness, was there some link there. What if, I wondered, he was a barometric fish? Could he feel the impending change in the weather and could the rise and fall in atmospheric pressure really affect a fish? Google provided the answer… apparently, yes, it could.
The swim bladder is a multi-purpose organ, a little like an internal balloon filled with gas. It can be used to receive and generate sound, but its main function is to regulate the buoyancy of the fish, helping it maintain stability and the depth at which it swims. Trooper, since his illness, no longer swims naturally just below the surface; he can swim deep, but when he rises, his dorsal fins breach the water like those of a shark. Until the weather changes… then his buoyancy goes completely wrong.
According to Google, the swim bladder is sensitive to atmospheric pressure and, before a storm, can give a fish the equivalent of a headache or, in extreme cases, something that affects them like a migraine. Mystery solved. Trooper’s inverted position beneath the fronds is his version of laying down in a darkened room.
I watched him today as the rain fell gently, zipping around without a care in the world and realised that, once again, Nature has been my teacher. I am no expert on fish and their anatomy and physiology are not exactly my specialist subjects… but simple observation, fuelled by an awareness of his plight and a desire to help, had been enough to show me what was wrong.
There is no way on this earth that I would have worked out that a fish was pressure-sensitive and could act as a barometer without little Trooper. The cause of his problem involves several branches of the scientific tree with which I have but the most cursory acquaintance. Yet, where knowledge was lacking, common sense and observation made up the deficit, allowing me to posit a complex relationship between global weather systems and the internal organs of a fish… a relationship confirmed by those who study these things and who, presumably, do know what they are talking about.
Now, that got me thinking some more. We visit a lot of ancient sites, where we are convinced that our ancient ancestors were doing more than just making pretty patterns in the ground when they erected the menhirs and stone circles. Complex geometries, vast interconnected sacred landscapes and alignments with the stars, seasonal and planetary events have all been suggested and documented. These theories are accepted by many, but dismissed by others who claim that our ancestors were too primitive and lacked the scientific and mathematical knowledge required to build their monuments with such a level of complexity.
But… all the geometries, alignments and mathematical expressions that they used are observable in nature, if you are looking with a little attention and a desire to learn from what you see. Watch a raindrop fall into still water and you will see the shape of the great henges, with banks and ditches forming concentric circles. The veins on a leaf or a confluence of streams show a central flow with many tributaries… like the leys and trackways they established. Watch the stars in the unpolluted darkness for long enough and you will learn which of the heavenly bodies show directions, or indicate the turning of the seasons.
You do not need the scientific knowledge of why spring happens to know when it arrives. Nor do you need to be an astronomer to relate the cycle of the moon to the cycle of womanhood. You can draw a line or a circle in the sand without knowing the mathematical formulae behind them. All you have to do is walk the world with your eyes and mind open.
Knowledge begins with questions…and questions grow from observation, from watching life unfold around you and seeing the workings of the world in action. The relationships between the elements of nature begin to make sense long before science pins them down. From the simplest observation to the most complex conclusion, even science has to start somewhere.
I doubt if our earliest ancestors understood the details of cross-pollination, but I can be certain they knew that where there were plenty of wildflowers there would also be bees… and that where there were bees, there would be honey. How much of a jump is it from there to cultivating wildflowers to encourage the bees and ensure the supply of honey? Observation doesn’t take long to start showing practical applications, whether it is planting flowers, finding your way by the stars or predicting a change of season.
From there it is no big leap to more abstract thought, where symbolism comes into play and questions are asked about those elements of nature that remain unseen. In an effort to understand and eventually influence the wider world, you might build a smaller version of it in earth, wood or stone… a sacred landscape like those that still remain, their forms shadowing that of the hills and the movements of the heavens…
As I smiled at Trooper playing in the rain, I realised he had given me an insight into the workings of the mind of man and the birth of knowledge. The little fish had done it again… and all I had to do was watch.