Guest Author - D. J. Herda
Upon completing our first outdoor pond, we felt that, within the scope of a few days’ time, we had done something quite unique (for our neck of the woods, at any rate), as well as rewarding. We had created a sanctuary for not only fish but also birds (hey, desert birds need water as much as other birds). In the process, we had installed a focal piece—a strong central design element—that suddenly drew all of the other elements in our back yard together.
We had also raised the property value of our home, as well as its desirability, significantly. With ponds, of course, come additional plantings and fountains and small waterfalls, etc. (No pond is an island!) We had widened the scope of the ecosystem in which we found ourselves living and, in the process, drew in squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, roadrunners, desert fox, quail, lizards, hummingbirds, and the occasional harmless snake to investigate and partake of the soothing elements, nourishment, and protection that the pond presented them.
They, in turn, provided us with a remarkable opportunity to observe wildlife in its most pristine form—the wild. We often sit on our glider just feet from the water and watch intently as beasts that would not normally consider approaching human habitat do just that and more. From them we’ve learned patience and garnered a new respect for the beauty and diversity that nature has to offer.
Perhaps most importantly of all, however, we’ve come to gain a new respect for those full-time inhabitants that led us to build the pond in the first place: our fish.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fish-lover. Oh, I enjoy a nicely grilled salmon steak every now and again, and fried oysters in a Po' Boy sandwich are awfully tough to beat. But fish—the kind that swim around in water and have the personality of a mushroom—have never held much allure for me. They hadn’t, at any rate, until we built our pond.
Suddenly, we discovered that our fish—led by the Koi, who perch unmistakably atop the pecking order of the school—have definite personalities. They are also far more intelligent than one might ever imagine merely from dangling a baited hook in a country pond and pulling out an occasional bass or crappie to join you for dinner.
We learned that fish could be trained to look for food simply by feeding them at the same time each day. No great intellectual achievement, that; even our cats begin rubbing up against us when feeding time grows near. We also learned that fish could be trained to come at the sound of a familiar voice. They could be trained to swim to the surface and be petted before being fed. They could be trained to eat from our hands. They could even be persuaded to propel themselves halfway out of the water and into a cupped palm while doing so.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s something I never knew about fish. More remarkable, still, we learned that fish have unique personalities. Delilah, for instance, is a mere inch or two smaller than Samson; yet she handles herself with grace and aplomb. She swims elegantly and sleekly around the pond and seems to have a brain that is always at work. Her eyes betray far more intelligence than any sucker I’ve ever pulled out of a meandering stream, and her willingness to socialize is remarkable. Sometimes, she gravitates to one spot and watches us as we talk to her. (Hey, I never said we weren’t weird!)
Samson, on the other hand, is more typically male. He’s brutish and arrogant, bulling his way around the pond as if he were its only inhabitant. He likes to have his back rubbed lightly, to either side of his dorsal fin, and he spends minutes on end circling until he gets his way. He also grunts when he eats, a bit like a pig (something Delilah would never do).
The other fish, the goldfish, while smaller and somewhat less social, have similarly begun displaying individual personalities. Or, perhaps we’ve only recently begun noticing them. Several of these smaller fish are beginning to show signs that they enjoy petting, although they are still more skittish than the Koi and have to be approached more slowly.
What all this boils down to, of course, is that we now receive as much pleasure from our fish as we do from the water elements that we originally built to hold them. It’s just one of many unexpected advantages to building ponds, streams, and waterfalls. Some of the others we’ll unfurl later, offering you concrete advice on the best way to incorporate water features into your own home and environment.
Along the way, just keep reminding yourself that you heard it here second: If you build it, they will come.
And your life will be changed forever.