A Fish Story

Traditionally, a fish story entails an adventure with the teller at one end of a fishing line and a fish at the other, where the fish grows with the telling or some other outlandish factor comes into play. While I have told one of those, this isn’t that sort of story.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve nearly always had some sort of critter or critters to keep me company.  Early on, it was parakeets. Later, after I acquired a house, it was cats, and as a reminder of my interest in the undersea world, a saltwater aquarium.

Some of that was to help ease loneliness. For the first half of my adulthood friends and family had pretty much given up on me as a confirmed bachelor. There were no steady girlfriends, and coming home would have been to an empty house or apartment were it not for these critters. They were my company, and I was theirs.

Time moves on.  The parakeets followed me to the house and it was the whole kit and caboodle for a while – birds, cats, fish, and corals. But I’d tired of the mess that parakeets make, and the cats were more affectionate.  When the birds went to the big nest in the sky, I didn’t replace them. An era had ended.

Time moves on. I finally found that special lady who came to be my wife.  A new era began, and abating loneliness was no longer a primary reason to have critters about. But they were still nice to have around – perhaps they were our substitution for children.  As we hooked up later in life we opted not to raise little human critters, although on occasion we wonder how such darlings would have turned out.

Time moves on. Age caught up with the cats.  After the second one died we backed away from getting more, losing the ones we had was too painful for a while. Then, we couldn’t agree on one or two. As retirement approached we compromised on none, we wanted to travel and it would be easier to not have to find cat sitters.  An era had ended – I now get my cat fix volunteering at the Humane Society.

Life is full of eras. Childhood, jobs, children, pets, family. An uncle recently passed – he was the last of my mothers family. I’d always associated him with a resort my grandfather built, and with airplanes. He liked to give rides to the nieces and nephews; although I didn’t know him well that small favor led to me acquiring a pilots license in the late 80’s.  Odd how planting a small seed can grow in unexpected places.

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Grumman Yankee

The resort was a base for my mothers family and was the source for many a family gathering. It, along with that family aged and deteriorated, with the passing of my uncle another era has ended.

That leaves me with the fish story.

When folks think of running a saltwater tank, they think about the maintenance and expense, and there’s truth to that. What they might not consider is longevity – saltwater fish and coral can live for a long time. I’ve been running my tank for over 25 years, and I’ve had the two fish I have now for over 15.

You wouldn’t think fish would have personalities or you could get attached to them. “Cold fish” is not considered a compliment; rather, it’s an indication of a cold, unfeeling, indifferent attitude.  I can’t use that to describe my critters.

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Maroon Clownfish

The Maroon Clownfish is an ornery, territorial bugger. Sticking my hand in the tank to clean the glass can be an adventure when I get near his lair. While he doesn’t have much in the name of teeth, I’ve still ended up with crescent-shaped marks on my hand, and we take turns showing who’s the boss. Still, when it comes to feeding time, I’m his best buddy as he awaits, hovering near the surface, an eyeball or two peeking above.

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Powder Brown Tang

The Powder Brown Tang is the expressive one. A nonchalant patrol for the day to day, zooming around and stopping on a dime when excited, coming by for a visit when we stick our noses close to the glass, nipping almost as if he’s trying to talk to us.  He can even change his colors: from a middle gray body, shifting to yellow towards the tail, when he’s excited the greys and yellows deepen and become more distinct. This is the guy that zooms around when we come in the door, welcoming us home.

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The tank in its early years

The corals were quite the battle in the early years.  Finicky creatures, sensitive to water and lighting quality, I went through several varieties.  Over the long run I surrendered, a particular variety that thrived took over the tank, accompanied by a species of anemone best described as a pest.  A lessening enthusiasm for the maintenance contributed to this state.

And there’s one other problem: finding tank sitters when we want to travel. This has been an ongoing challenge, and one that I’ve opted to take the ultimate solution – I just gave the tank and its contents to an aquarium shop, with the proviso they at least attempt to sell the fish together.  So endeth another era.

Eras come and eras go. Intellectually I know this, and the fact that when one era ends others often take their place – old seeds grow new interests.  This is how growth happens, and it could be argued that this is the meaning of life.

But this does not change the fact that when we look at the open space where the tank spent all those years,  knowing the last critter has left the house, we see the nest is empty and we are sad.

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40 thoughts on “A Fish Story

    1. It was a shock to the system after all these years. I did put pressure on the aquarium shop guy to sell them as a pair as the overall setup should be worth quite a bit, and he did say he would. I think he’ll a least try.

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  1. pinklightsabre

    Killer fish photos! Though sorry to hear of the passing of your uncle. I get that, the end of eras, with pets. They are a lovely part of our lives, thanks for sharing Dave.

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    1. The fish pics could have been better, but after 25 plus years the plexiglass is pretty scratched and needs buffing out. I life without pets reminds me of baseball – no runs, no hits, no eras.

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  2. Very sad! All the pet goodbyes, not just the fish. Our dog is very old, and we know that soon her day will come to leave us, and it kills me to think about it. I don’t know how you’ve parted with all those critters over the years.

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  3. Such a nostalgic, thought-provoking post, Dave. We all traverse eras. All things must pass. Even when we’re so sure they will last forever. At the moment, I’m seriously wondering if my nomad days are over. As for pets, finding sitters is always a concern if you’re not a homebody. Thanks for the descriptions of the individuals. We hear so much about dog and cat personalities, but other creatures are often dismissed as lacking in personality. Maybe it’s more subtle and it takes an observant person to pick up on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Au contraire. So sorry you had to give your friends away. I sure hope they are able to stay together in a welcoming new home.

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    1. Thanks, Julie. I remember you writing about your rabbit, so I know you can relate. And I suspect, even if your habit of living all over the world is petering out, there will still be trips in your future and stories to tell about them.

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    1. For the time being, it’ll probably be just the wild birds. We’ve got feeders in the backyard that don’t usually need attention more than once a week, so finding help with that should be easier should we hit the road.

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  4. A very warm, and nicely-written piece.
    Sometimes people who haven’t cared for animals might not stop to think —that we’ve spent many more hours in companionship with the animals, than with almost any person outside the immediate family.

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      1. When you wrote “face time,” it reminded me, just a week or two ago, I was reading an article about studies, going back to Darwin, of human-dog communications. I guess some researchers think dogs understand our facial expressions to some degree, and dogs have come to use more facial expressions when they’re dealing with humans. I don’t think it’s my imagination, that when I raised my eyebrows, my dog would mimic it. The cat on the other hand, I have no idea what he’s responding to, or thinking about, most of the time!! 🙂

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      2. After spending about 500 hours working with cats at the Humane Society I can get a pretty good read on their mood from their body language, but as to what they’re thinking they’re pretty inscrutable.

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    1. True, it’ll be a sad day when it comes, but I bet you wouldn’t trade that brief time of sadness for all the years of companionship. And, in time, you can always find a new canine friend. (Not a replacement, as I tell the folks I adopt cats out to).

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  5. Bittersweet, as the life itself.
    I wonder how long these fishes will live? Another 20 years? Hope they find a right human.
    Thank you for this wonderful post, for sharing the story of friendship and love. I wish everyone who considers to buy a pet had your respect towards animals and sense of responsibility. There is the time for everything, and when the era has ended, that is it. Besides, there are other ways like fostering, or just caring for the wild birds, as you say, and it is a wonderful era 🙂

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  6. This was so touching, and I have to admit that I could really relate to it. I did have kids, but they are on their own, and when my 16 year old dog dies, she will be replaced by a smaller one that can sometimes travel with us once my husband retires. Which is a complicated way of saying that I am also saying goodbye to one era (multiple pets and kids in the house) and hello to another: grown kids, one pet, and a grandson on the way. I’m a little sad for the loss of the old era, and hopefully looking forward to the new one. As you say, our lives are a series of them….

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  7. A very nice post. I think many will find similarity as yours. For one, I have some share of these but not as many and perhaps last as long (as your saltwater tank). It was so sad to see one went away regardless how small they are.

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    1. That’s the thing with a fish, it’s hard to tell if they’re excited cause they like you or excited because you’re a variation on the view from inside the tank (or because it’s feeding time). They do seem to have personalities, even some of the fish I’ve seen diving in the open ocean. In any case, not having that around anymore after all those years is still a bit of a shock.

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    1. I think that’s true of critters in general. When I’m adopting out cats and the clients want to know what sort of personality they have, all I can say is “they’re all different.”

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      1. I agree. My son appears to have acquired for semi-resident cats ( a cat-flap and an automatic feeder is a recipe for colonisation!) and each one is very different.
        My own Ani, the infamous small dog, has a very well defined personality and manages to communicate quite effectively.

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  8. Whiskey

    I have had on and off for the last 20 years some kind of salt tank. I currently have a nano reef tank with a long nose hawk and a diamond goby with a bunch of coral. The trick I’ve used with great success is an initial splurge of money and technology and patience, then total neglect. Happy fish, happy coral just clean the glass and change the water. I used to have a clown fish but it would draw blood every time cleaned the tank.

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    1. I could see going with a nano tank at some point in the future, once the wandering foot stops itching. I got a little too good at the neglect part towards the end, maybe that’s one reason I was glad the clown wasn’t sharing the tank with a shark. The occasional blood the annoyed clown drew could have lead to missing fingers… 😉

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  9. My daughter purchased a hug tank a few months back.
    It’s extremely therapeutic to watch those little devils swim and float about, isn’t it?
    Gill, one of her bigger finned friends has developed fin rot but we’re dealing with it. Now the tank looks like it’s been irradiated with Gamma rays…

    Liked by 1 person

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