Karma, Koi, and Kindergarten
I’ve always loved the idea of karma. It seems fair and just that our future is determined by our past actions, good and bad. The nicer you are, the better your life. But what if someone inadvertently does something horrible? What then? Are they still destined for a terrible fate?
This conundrum awakened me at three AM last Thursday--that and a thunderstorm and one too many glasses of merlot that stretched my bladder to the size of the Goodyear blimp. As I pondered this baffling dilemma, one of my grandsons came to mind.
Early on we nicknamed this grandson Angler. The child had a fish-fetish. His favorite toy was his collection of plastic fish bait, and he'd spend hours separating and categorizing hundreds of slimy, squiggly worms into colors and sizes and place them in separate compartments in his fishing box that was roughly the diameter of my double-oven.
When Angler was five-years-old, his aunt gave him a beautiful cobalt blue Beta fish. Angler named his new friend Oscar, placed his fishbowl on his bedroom dresser, and told him all his five-year-old problems--his mom never made pizza anymore, his baby sister broke his favorite GI Joe action figure, Toy-R-Us filed for bankruptcy.
Angler loved Oscar. Loved to feed him, loved to help clean his bowl. One Saturday morning Angler's mom walked into his room and noticed Angler reading to his stuffed animals. He’d carefully placed each furry friend and his GI Joes in rows simulating his kindergarten class set up. Angler stood in front reading his favorite Dr. Seuss book, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Mom smiled, turned to leave and noticed Oscar’s empty bowl. Just as mom was about to pop the obvious question, she saw Oscar, dead center, on the front row.
School ended early that day, Oscar received a proper shoebox funeral, and a broken-hearted little Angler learned the difference between lungs and gills and why fish lived in water.
Angler’s aunt replaced Oscar the next day with another shimmering blue and orange Beta fish. Angler named his new fish Oscar. A few days later, Angler asked to take a tub bath, and at some point, after his mother settled him in the water and left to check on his sister, Angler decided "Hey, Oscar ought to expand his horizons, swim in a more prominent bowl." After another shoebox funeral, sad little Angler understood that Beta fish, like Oscar, could only live in cool, fresh water and didn’t need bubble baths to stay clean.
Angler cried himself to sleep, and his dad, feeling somewhat responsible for his son’s misunderstanding, came home early from work the following day and carried Angler to the pet store to pick out another fish. Angler chose a glistening yellow and blue Beta fish with a long sweeping fin. Angler named him Oscar and begged to have Oscar in his room. After a stern reminder that fish only lived in cool fresh water, his dad relented.
On Saturday, dad cleaned the pool and Angler took the opportunity to go for a swim. Ten minutes into Angler's swim, dad noticed Oscar in the deep-end not doing so well. After the third shoebox funeral, mom and dad explained to a heartsick little Angler that he’d best wait a few years before getting another Oscar.
That same year my husband and I bought a house with a backyard pond that was home to five beautiful koi. I’m not sure who was more excited, Angler or I. I added three different types of water lilies to give my new fish more shade, added one additional pump for the waterfall for more water oxygenation, purchased the best color enhancing fish food, and added snails to control dreaded pond algae. Every morning I visited my new happy place, enjoyed my coffee and gave thanks for the serenity and beauty of my peaceful surroundings.
Several years later, my husband and I booked our dream vacation, a three-week European cruise. My next-door neighbor graciously offered to feed my koi in our absence. Upon our return, our pond resembled the home of the Lake Neck Monster on a Saturday afternoon Creature Feature. Long, slimy, strings of algae floated on top of the water, and I couldn’t even see the fish through the pea soup green water. I maxed-out my credit card and purchased a gallon of liquid gold disguised as a chemical safe for lilies and koi and strong enough to kill algae and carefully administered the solution into my skimmer. The next morning, I poured a cup of coffee, walked out to my pond and stared at five-bloated koi floating in green sludge.
After my engineering husband dug a hole large enough for five shoeboxes, he explained that I’d added a zero to my calculations for the amount of liquid I needed for a two thousand gallon pond.
I mourned my fish babies every day for six months. But a backyard pond needs more than water and lilies, so four months ago I ordered koi from a certified, disease-free farm in California. Five three-inch koi arrived the next day, via overnight FedEx delivery.
After carefully reading the proper instructions, I released my babies, one by one, into their new environment of waterfalls, rock ledges, and artificial caves designed to protect them from hungry predators. I diligently added pellets to the food ring every morning and searched for any evidence that the fish had acclimated to their new home.
Not once in the next six weeks did I spot a fish swimming in my pond, and the pellets remained untouched in the food ring. Beyond sad, I attributed the disappearance of my koi to the raccoons who often visited my bird feeders at night and vowed a moratorium on raising fish.
Last Thursday, while cutting back a bed of dead Agapanthus planted near the pond, I caught a flash of shimmering white and orange. I stood mesmerized as a six-inch koi darted in and out of the two caves. My heart zoomed with joy, then a stab of guilt seized and squeezed. The little guy must be starving.
I ran to the storeroom, measured out pellets and poured them into the food ring. How had he survived for two and half months with no food? Maybe the snails? I didn’t know, but he looked happy and healthy zipping around.
I called Angler to tell him the good news. We decided to name him Oscar.
Now about that karma thing…