Friday, March 02, 2007

Fish Stu

My husband has suddenly taken a huge liking to fish.

Not fish to eat…he’s always been very fond of seafood, especially things I find either overpoweringly strong or disgusting to contemplate putting into my mouth…but fish as pets.

It sort of started when we bought this house back in October of 2004. In the entry courtyard were two lovely urns with water cascading over the sides, and on the patio wall was a lion’s head with water spouting out of its mouth and into a long, rectangular basin. Pretty…but when we moved into the house in December, the electrical connections to the water features had been removed, as they had not been installed according to code.

For the next two years we struggled with the empty basins that filled with each rain, encouraging the growth of mosquitoes…as if we didn’t have enough, living just a short jaunt from the vlei! Finally, this year, I told Hubby to get the bloody things running again or I was going to fill them up with dirt and plant peonies…anything to get rid of the mossies! And, good man that he is, he called in an electrician to sort out the pumps and wiring and get the fountains flowing again.

So, within the span of a few days (and the cost of more than a few rands) we had our water features running. And they were lovely, sending the joyful sounds of burbling water into the house. But, as lovely as they were, something seemed to be missing. The moving water in the water features is pretty good proof against mosquitoes…they tend to breed in still, stagnant water…but the basins seemed a trifle sterile with nothing in them but water and rocks.

Back in California I had a few horses and at the ranch where I boarded them, we kept goldfish in the watering troughs because they very happily eat mosquito larvae. They also provided a little entertainment, watching them swim around and come to the surface looking for handouts. So I asked Hubby if we could get a few fish for the basins, just in case the mossies found some turgid little corner where the pump didn’t circulate the water so well. That Saturday we presented ourselves to the local aquarium and fish store and came away with four of their cheapest, hardiest goldfish and a little jar of fish food.

Now, I expected that I would be the one responsible for feeding or new finny little friends, but to my surprise, Hubby was immediately fascinated with them! Every morning, he got up, opened the front door, and went out to the urns to check on his fish and give them breakfast. Then, he would go out onto the patio and hunt up the two in the lion’s head basin and feed them. Same thing in the evening…a cup of coffee in one hand, the fish food in the other, he would stand in front of one of the basins and commune with his fish.

After a week or so, he looked at me as we were driving somewhere and asked “Do you think those fish out in the courtyard get lonely all by themselves?” Now, personally, I’m not too convinced that fish have a highly evolved emotional life, but who knows? And what harm could it do to get a couple of more fish? These seemed to be thriving, the basins were large, and goldfish aren’t particularly expensive. Before the day was over, we were back at the fish store, this time buying four Black Mollies, fat little bug-eyed black goldfish with graceful, long tri-lobed tails. It was quickly apparent that our basins weren’t the best place for the Black Mollies, as they were difficult to see. But at feeding time they came to the surface, greedily sucking down the tiny pellets of fish food.

Soon Valentine’s Day arrived and Hubby had taken the whole day off so we could spend it together. “Let’s go to the fish store!” I said and, once there, bought him a desktop aquarium and all the accessories, promising to return to finish the gift with fish and plants once he had the aquarium set up at work and ready to receive some finny occupants. He agreed and took the tank to work on Thursday and set it up, and on Saturday he was back at the fish store buying four fantail goldfish and two “bubble eye” goldfish, odd little creatures with huge translucent pouches of air around their bulging eyes. Into the basins went his new fish where they were supposed to hang out until Monday, when he would take them to work.

The first thing we noticed was that the bubble-eyes were absolutely fearless. When a shadow crossed the top of the basins, their roomies would dive for cover deep in the water or under the water plants, but the bubble-eyes would come to the surface to greet their visitor. Cute for fish-infatuated husband who was just delighted at the greeting and being allowed to actually touch the fish, but not such a good idea when the next shadow cast could be from a fish-hungry bird! Late on Saturday I wandered out to the courtyard and did a headcount in both basins and was alarmed to find one of the bubble-eyes missing! Frantically casting my eyes about in the rock-filled catch basin at the base of the urns, I found him just half-submerged in a little pocket of water! Alarmed, I scooped him up and popped him back into the urn where he seemed to recover quickly. How long he had been there and how he survived going over the side of the urn into the rocks below…and how he managed to find a puddle with enough water in it to keep him alive…is truly anyone’s guess!

Monday morning arrived and after breakfast, Hubby headed out to the basins with a container of water, ready to collect his finny babies and take them to their new home. Although he had originally intended for the bubble-eyes to remain at home, their propensity for getting into trouble in an open-air environment quickly convinced him that they would be much safer in the tank at the office. We didn’t know if that fish’s tumble into the rocks was an attempt at suicide, the result of wanton recklessness, or if it was simply too stupid to swim down in the face of danger, but at R40 per fish, Hubby wasn’t taking any chances with the irresponsible little creatures! He quickly netted the Mollies, two fantails and the two bubble-eyes and took them off to work with him.

At last bulletin, they are happily scooting about the tank, testing and tasting everything (including the gravel at the bottom of the tank!) and generally acclimating themselves to the new environment. Traffic through the office has increased as people pop in to check out their new office-mates, and Hubby, who is now managing his own department, has issued a challenge to name the fish, prize to be a round of drinks on him. In the spirit of his request for punny names, the first suggestion was “Stu.”

Looks like we have an amusing new hobby in the household!