The past week or so has seen me messing about in ponds every day, which is odd, as I don’t have a pond. My son, however, does and, like the rest of his garden, that has been largely my domain for the past eight years, ever since he bought the house. At that time, we gutted the place, inside and out, turning a bland and boring bungalow with a tired, mildewed garden into a bachelor pad to be proud of…and one that worked with my son’s physical challenges to allow him to live as independently as possible.
Back then, the brain injury was a recent thing; the resulting physical problems were still both raw and acute… and yet to be overcome. His focus at that time was still firmly on attaining a complete recovery, whatever the official prognosis had to say, and for several years, Nick’s home was no more than a place to live while he fought his way back to his previously ‘normality’. His idea was to get fit, learn to walk again unaided, regain total independence… then sell up and go travelling. Proud as he was of his finished home and garden, it was only a stopping point in his journey.
But things change. Through sheer bloody-minded determination, he recovered to a point that far exceeded medical expectations. Little by little, though, he came to accept that he would never recover to the point he had hoped for; the desired ‘normality’ was a thing of the past… he would never walk unaided again, his eyes and balance would never recover, his body would never learn to obey him fully again.
He spent a year meditating and coming to terms with that… and decided to try travelling regardless, achieving magnificently impossible things. Then he began to take a new look at his home. It was no longer just a halt along the way, but a place he could really learn to live in. Not just on a practical level, but on a deeper level too.
In the early days, his involvement with the design had, of necessity, been superficial. As a consequence, the place did not feel like ‘his’ home. About that time, the wetroom, a little tired after the usage of the early years, fortuitously sprang a major leak that turned the floorboard to sponge. The whole thing had to be redone from scratch and being involved in the renewal process, Nick began to get a sense of home.
So, room by room, we reorganised. The interior looked great by the time we had finished and had a more personal feel. He got workmen in to fix some problems in his garden, and that too began to feel more like his own. For a while, that was okay…then disaster struck. Between one oversight by the original builders and the incompetence of the more recent workmen, the level-access, decked garden, designed around his needs, began to rot. Once my foot had gone through the deck, it was obvious his wheelchair would no longer be safe on the wood. It would have to be redone.
At the same time, the kitchen cupboard fell off the wall while he was in the living room, scaring him half to death. The insurance assessors discovered that a small, persistent leak had rotted all the structural joists. Walls would have to come down and the kitchen…and newly re-instated bathroom wall, would have to come out to be rebuilt. There is currently a large hole where the kitchen cupboard used to be and we await the demolition squad. With both bathroom and kitchen due to be out of action for weeks, this is going to be fun… but at least it will feel like ‘his’ home when they are done. Sometimes, you have to be really careful what you wish for…
Meanwhile, after lengthy talks with a landscape gardener, it was decided that it would cost as much to repair the decking as it would to rip the whole thing out and start again, replacing wood, that would need continual maintenance, with the permanence of stone. These works too are about to begin… so the next month or so are going to be a bit of a nightmare.
One of the things to be done will entail taking out the artificial stream and replacing the old gravity-fed filter with a smaller, more efficient filtration unit for the pond. We also need to improve the water quality and get rid of an algae bloom before the fish are disturbed by the building work. So, last week, I installed the new unit in a temporary placement on the bridge over the pond, to allow it to clear the water and et established before the old one has to come out.
Since then, we have spent all day, every day, in the garden, doing pond stuff, with me flitting from shadow to shadow and avoiding the sun as best I could…and suffering the consequences when I couldn’t. We have cleaned, dredged, treated, emptied and filled… and when we weren’t doing that, we were running between garden centre and aquatics specialists, trying to give his fish the best possible conditions before they are stressed by the work to come.
Nick, perforce, usually takes a supervisory role, seated beside the pond. And, what with all the good weather we have had, has stayed there watching the fish, far more intently than he has ever done before. For me, all the forty or so large fish in that pond have their own identity. I have watched them grow from mere tiddlers, fed, cleaned and nursed them when they have been sick, and I know each of them by their marking and characters.
My son, until just recently, has only known a few of them at such a personal level… the ones that stand out, like Simon, the bubble-blowing ghost koi and his shubunkin sidekick. Or Trooper, the orfe who spent so many months close to death and yet, miraculously, recovered. Happy-fish, wo darts around at top speed…or parks himself unmoving for hours, and ‘exploding-fish’, a dropsical ball of a fish who should, by rights, have been dead years ago…but who seems perfectly happy and healthy apart from his girth.
But, his active involvement in their care has changed all that. He has made a point of learning about water chemistry and parameters. He has picked up on the character traits and behaviours of the fish, been astonished by their size and beauty and amused by their antics and interchanges. Caring for them means he has got to know them all and, in doing so, has come to care about each of them as individuals.
That change in care and attention, going from the responsible care of a fishkeeper who can delegate, to active and personal involvement, has not only changed his perception of the fish and their environment, but of the rest of the garden too. The birds that sing in the trees around him, the hedgehog that has taken up residence in the pile of brush waiting to be disposed of, the kites wheeling constantly overhead and the blue-tits nesting under the eaves… the place has suddenly begun to feel different. The garden is no longer just the outside of a place to live or an area to pass through or sit in, detached from its surroundings. It has come alive and, in spite of the fact that it is all about to change, it now feels like his home.
Up to my sun-scalded elbows in sludge and leech-infested water this week, I have watched as the one missing ingredient was added to the garden. With all the care that has been lavished upon the fish and the new tree that is waiting to be planted, love has come into the garden…and I am watching my son’s relationship with the elements of nature that are in his care bloom and grow. I can cope with the leeches for that.