There was a heron in the garden when I arrived at my son’s home a little before eight o’clock. It stood on the deck, almost as tall as me, and looked me in the eye. For a moment there was a feeling of wordless communication… a kind of mute yet mutual acknowledgement of presence… then, not releasing my gaze, it spread the great wings and took to the air.
The pond is fairly heron-proof. They come in occasionally and perch on the handrails that surround the water some five feet above its surface. The accessible area is just too narrow to be a comfortable landing space for anything with a wingspan so vast and there are few places to stand, even if a heron should gain ingress. The water is deep and the fish alert to danger. The only resident at risk is little bent-tail fish.
Bent-tail has caused us much concern over the past two years. Every visitor is likely to stop at the pond on the way to the front door and almost all comment that we have a dead or sick fish in there. Bent-tail’s position of choice is a shallow corner, on the surface. Whatever caused the bending of the tail also affected his ability to remain submerged for long and he spent the winter at the surface. We didn’t expect him to survive and had several heart-wrenching days where he was upside down for most of the time.
Resilient as always, bent-tail recovered and you could see him take pleasure in the slight warming of the waters as the spring sunlight brought its comfort to the shallows. He still managed to zip around the pond and play with the other fish. My first job, every morning, has been to check on his well being.
My son has felt a sense of kinship with the little orfe. Both he and the fish have overcome seemingly insurmountable problems and defied predictions. I too am fond of the valiant little creature. So my first thought was for bent-tail when the heron flew off.
There was not a fish in sight. Not one of the forty or so in the pond. They had all retreated to the depths… which suggested that the heron had somehow been able to land and give them a scare. There was no sign of bent-tail… but as all the fish were missing, no more than gilded shadows deep below the water, I was not unduly concerned.
It took a while for the fish to regain their confidence and come to the surface for breakfast. There was no sign of bent-tail, but it is a big pond with many places to hide and not all the fish were calm yet.
An hour later and all the fish are playing in the sun. Except bent-tail.
Another hour of constant checking and there was still no sign. My son called me to the gym where he was playing music and working out. Whether the little fish had slipped away quietly in the night and thus been an easy meal, or whether the heron had come in the guise of the Reaper, we would have to accept it, bent-tail was gone.
“It’s sort of alright, you know, he died a natural death.” said my son. “His wasn’t a meaningless life.” Bent-tail was different… a small creature with a good deal to teach. According to the fish forums and advice pages, we should have euthanized him long ago. But as he seemed perfectly happy apart from that episode over the winter, and seeing the parallels with my son’s own situation, we couldn’t have done so. The little fish had a resilient gallantry that kept him swimming and playing, regardless of his problems. We learned a lot from little bent-tail and his valiant determination… and love can take any form.
“Some things just come into your life when they are needed,” said my son. “He served a purpose other than his own.” It seems odd that, at the very moment when my son’s own attitude has taken a very positive stance and he has turned a personal corner, bent-tail should depart. Just when the lessons he has taught have been learned, the little fish is allowed to re-join the cycle of nature, feeding beauty with his life, instead of dying a long, debilitating and increasingly painful death from whatever illness had bent his golden body.
The mysteries of life and death are playing a large part in our lives at the moment; not surprising, perhaps, when we are exploring just those themes for the upcoming workshop. The little fish was raised to the great Fish Pond in the Sky by a gloriously beautiful winged being. It seemed appropriate somehow. Life began in the waters before it crawled onto land and grew wings, just as our own lives begin in the waters before we walk the earth or soar with the stars; a symbolic evolution for our small angel with scales.
My son’s ‘hardcore’ music seemed an incongruous accompaniment for such thoughts, until one phrase of the lyrics was repeated over and over…
“Flying high, flying up to the sky…”
Fly well, little fish. And thank you.