When there were four…
Because I'm lucky, as well as stupid enough to bite off more than I can chew, I have two ponds. One is a mucky, shallow pond in the country that is nonetheless a source of complete fascination. There is a shifting chorus of frogs on it from springtime on, beginning with the enchanting peepers and ending with the bullfrogs of the hot summer nights. There are wonderful flag irises in June. There are pink waterlilies in July, August, and September.
There are snapping turtles and catfish. And there are some goldfish in the pond, too. You can see an occasional wiggle of orange at the surface.
However, considering that they were there when we bought the house and we've added to them over the years, there are fewer goldfish than you might think because there is often a Great Blue Heron on the pond. It's a shy bird, and to open a house door is to instantly prompt its amazing flight, with its huge wings flapping powerfully above the rest of its thin linear body.
My city pond, on the other hand, is a plastic tub installed by the previous owners. If it's 50 gallons, that's a lot. I was unimpressed when I first laid eyes on it, but I've gotten a lot of pleasure out of this undistinguished water feature. I sink a pot of calla lilies into it every year and love looking at the heart-shaped leaves. I like the sound of water from the small pump and spitter.
Three years ago, my daughter and I put four 26-cent goldfish into this pond. The correct term, by the way, for a group of goldfish is a "troubling." Makes sense. I'd imagine that it's nice to be bright orange, but only in an artificial landscape like mine notably lacking in troubling predators. The four goldfish got huge and bred every year, and we put the little ones into the natural pond in the country, where they could grow up to be heron food.
I like my city pond…but find that like city living in general, there's not a lot of information in it about the larger mysteries.
Or so I thought. I walked through my back gate the other day, only to startle a Great Blue Heron at the edge of my Home Depot bathtub. It flew onto my neighbor's roof and settled there a few minutes, before deciding it had business elsewhere. I looked into my pond, and there were no goldfish to be seen. I lifted up the filter…and there, huddled, were two goldfish, along with a few of their black babies.
The other two were gone. Fish aren't stupid. The survivors were hiding out against the return of the predator.
I really like my goldfish. I like them enough to set up a tank for them in the basement in the winter and carry sloshing buckets of water up and down the cellar stairs every single week when it's time to change their water.
But I like the Great Blue Heron even better. It's nice to think that even in a city, the more life of any kind that you add to a yard, the more it begins to behave like an ecosystem.