Friday, September 10, 2010

Pets Gone Wild

Backyard ponds have become an almost ubiquitous part of landscaping. Sixteen years ago when I dug my first pond it was difficult to find a flexible liner. Now the choices, options and availability is pretty much unlimited.

Nevertheless, I did dig that pond, laid down a thick rubber liner and filled it with water. I put dirt in some plastic containers and planted lilies and cattails. A layer of pea pebbles spread on top keeps the dirt from floating around. I bought several tadpoles and feeder goldfish (Comets) and tossed them in the water. A pump and filter keep the water moving, oxygenated and captures some of the debris.

Here we are at the end of summer all these years later. Right now there are over a dozen frogs sitting along the edge of the water and on the lily pads. Fish swim below, clustered in their mysterious social order. The Dragonflies and Damsel flies are gone now, as are the water bugs that crowded the water's surface in the spring. It is a curious thing. Are these fish and frogs generations removed from what I began with, my pets? Or are they as wild as the bugs and algae that spontaneously appeared?

My dogs sniff around the edges of the pond (they know they are not allowed in it-like walking in the flowerbeds, this is "no"). The frogs are unconcerned by the dogs. I often wonder why. Can they tell the difference between a thirty pound black dog and a raccoon? Can they tell the difference between a skunk and a little dog with a pointy nose? And how come they run for the shelter of underwater when I, a common human being approach, but not when Mabel, a majestic mastiff loiters at the ponds edge?

Do they fear me? Is it because now and then I thrust a net into their domain and scoop out treasured gunk? Is the net scary, or is the temporarily clouded water caused by my meddling the threat? When a Heron swoops in and walks among the lily pads do they tremble hidden in the shadows? Or do they see it as benign as the decoy I put out in the spring in hopes of keeping the real Heron away?

These creatures are not dependent upon me. I don't even feed the fish. But if I didn't keep the pump going the water couldn't sustain life. Or could it? In winter when ice covers the pond, a floating heater maintains an opening in the ice so air can get in. Without the heater dangerous ammonia and whatnot would build up and kill the fish and frogs (it happened one year when the heater went kaput). But some critters survived even that disastrous winter. So perhaps they don't need me.

Is that the definition of a pet? Need? Maybe the pond frogs and fish need me as the perennial garden needs me, to tidy things up and make it just a little neater than wild. Aren't pets more than that? What about affection? It is doubtful that these pond residents love me. After all they appear to fear me, for they flee when I stick my hand in their water. Maybe this fear confirms that they are wild.

Certainly, the fear these pond dwellers display is not the God fearing variety. I know this much for sure, I'm no God, I just dug the hole.

Now, I fear, it is time to stop asking questions and get out there and scoop some leaves out of that pond.

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