Blog Post

Requiem for a Koi Pond

Today is a very sad day. The president of the student body at University of North Carolina, Eve Carson, was found murdered on a quiet street corner in Chapel Hill a few days ago and everyone is mourning. I never met her but clearly she is one of those luminous people whose life touches many, many people. I mourn with all of her family and friends. Then, this morning, I was shocked to read of a sexual assault reported behind the beloved John Hope Franklin Center. Whoever it was, my heart goes out to them. Tragic.


Last night, there was a black out all over my part of town and I stayed away from my house until about 9, when the lights finally came back on. Such a pall, the entire area without a light, a street lamp, a traffic lamp, even the mall a few blocks away a large square of darkness.


With a sad heart, I went out into my evolving zen garden this morning. It is usually a place of peace and contemplation. This morning, all of the koi floated there, at the surface of the pond. Maybe thirty of them, all sizes, all dead.


I spent many years as an avid fisherman until the day (I know I've told this story before but I need to repeat it this morning) when I had a fish on my line, pulled it into my canoe, and realized it had swallowed the so-called barbless hook all the way inside its gullet. I'd removed hooks from down deep many times but this time, I swear, the fish just lay their quietly, watching me, and (I know this sounds nuts) there was empathy in its eyes. By the time I removed the hook, I was weeping. Blood was coming from its gills. It still lay there, and still watched me, like some old soul that had been reincarnated through past wise lives in order to come to that pass. I put it back into the water and it slowly swam away, the gelatinous ooze trailing behind it in the water,  a mark that, soon, it would die. I swore I'd never fish again, canoed back to shore, put away my fishing poles, and gave up what, for many years previously, had been the great joy of my life. I had even built a Japanese house on a fish pond way out in the countryside when I moved down here. I had fished in the Canadian Rockies, riding in on horseback, or on four-wheel drive truck, every summer.  In winter, I ice-fished. I fished on a cormorant boat in Japan, and fished in a mountain aio stream. After the day in the canoe, making eye contact with an empathic bass, I've never fished again.


I baby the koi in my little pond in the evolving zen garden. I feed them, test the water, nurture them, watch them seated upon a stone from the Smoky Mountains that rests near the side of the pond. I've never named them because that feels more anthropomorphic than they are. But I cared for them. And they died. All of them. Of course there were causes, although I don't know exactly which of many possibilities. Yesterday, three great landscaping gals came and cleaned the pond with a care and wisdom of old master gardeners, doing everything to protect the fish. An annual cleaning so this environment would be good and safe for them so the could continue to thrive.


Something went wrong. Maybe because of the power outage, the fountain was off too long and the water wasn't aerated. Maybe despite their best efforts some of the cleaning bleach remained. Maybe there wasn't enough oxygen without all the debris, algae, decomposing leaves. These careful, expert women could not have tried harder to protect the fish. They will be devastated when they learn about this today.


L. just called. She's the master gardener with whom I've planted (yes, planted) each stone in this evolving zen garden. We've chosen them together, placed them with care, read many books to understand the symbolism of pathways through life and afterlives that is a zen garden.


She's coming over to help me clean the pond, remove the dead koi. We'll bury them, so they can fertilize something beautiful. A camelia bush. A cherry tree. A plum tree, just starting to bloom, eloquently, despite the terrible drought that has plagued our area. Now, the koi to feed its roots.


No media. No message. Or maybe that is the point. Some things you cannot explain and cannot change. That's why you build a zen garden.


[The top two images are my own, from my garden. The third is courtesy of Travis, on Flickr, with thanks.]


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