Deep waters

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The fish are watching me watching them. Every so often, one or another will come to the corner of the aquarium and look out into the world around my desk and we watch each other, eye to eye. It is a strange feeling, wondering who is the observer and who the observed at such moments… and can we truly draw that distinction?

It is only with the advent of modern technology that we have really had the privilege of looking beneath the waters and watching the piscine world. I remember being spellbound by Cousteau’s undersea adventures as a child, exploring waters I will never see. The rich diversity was breathtaking, but there was not the same intimacy as living with fish and watching them day by day.

Keeping fish is an old, old story. The Roman’s did it, so did the Chinese. Around 50 AD, the Romans first used glass on one wall of their marble tanks in order to keep sea barbel. The Chinese kept goldfish in porcelain bowls. Conditions for the fish, with insufficient oxygen and no water flow cannot have been good. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that fishkeeping began to catch on in Britain and the technology was still too poor to maintain healthy communities of fish.

By the middle of the twentieth century, we had aquarium heaters, filters and electric lighting. Keeping tropical fish became a viable proposition and our understanding of the necessary parameters for water quality, temperature and a diverse ecosystem has grown since then. We have learned how to mimic the natural environment to a point where most aquarium fish are now tank bred; wild-caught fish are frowned upon and many species now extinct in the wild through environmental changes are preserved only by dedicated hobbyists.

It is a bit of a touchy subject, because the original ‘specimens’ were all wild-caught. Even today, there are still those desperate to get hold of newly discovered species who will pay through the proverbial nose in order to acquire the latest novelty… often long before there is any real understanding of their needs… and the primary need of a wild fish, after all, is to be wild. Novelty is also responsible for the aberrations of the profit-seekers who will chemically dye fish to make these beautiful creatures ‘more attractive’.

Most fishkeepers, though…even the accidental ones like me… are simply fascinated by their beauty and behaviour. Their individual characters soon show themselves. They have a distinct hierarchy, they dance for their mates, they even play games… and for the first time in history we can see these creatures face to face with perfect clarity in an environment as close to nature as any confinement can ever be.

If all they, and generations of their ancestors, have ever known is life in a tank, then their environment will not feel like confinement…it will feel like home. As they look out of their glass boxes at us, comfortably confined with the glass and concrete of the modern home, I wonder if they think the same of us?

The Marsh King’s Daughter: Blossom…

 

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Hi-ho the Carrion Crow, bow and bend to me…

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…There usually is.

Perhaps one reason for the tale’s obscurity these days is its perceived, overtly, Christian message.

This takes the form of a priest who is captured and tortured by Helga’s Viking fosterers, provokes in her the first stirrings of love and compassion and affords the young girl opportunity to embrace the process which results in the fusing of her day/night time personalities and her achievement of wholeness in mind and form.

However, the culmination of this process is complicated somewhat by the priest’s death at the hands of robbers and his subsequent appearance in a dream vision and by the denouement of the tale which sees the Changeling Child whisked away to heaven by the priest only to return a short time later and find her original home now long lost to the ravishes of time.

The Rip Van Winkle like nature of the priest’s ‘heaven’ may give inkling  to the original story source for this episode, as might his appearance on horse-back wielding his cross much like a knight would wield his sword.

As an other-world component of the story the Christian priest is perhaps less dramatically successful than he might be as a ‘Fairy King’ or ‘Lord of Light’ but still gives us pause for thought and contemplation as to the precise mode of consciousness his figure represents.

That’s almost all, folks…

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 ‘What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

long live the weeds and the wildness yet.’

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All photographs – Sue Vincent.

All epithets – The Grateful Dead, ‘Mountains of the Moon’.

Epitaph -‘Inversnaid’, Gerard Manly Hopkins.

#StillLight : Night then Day

A simple grouping, photographed, then post-processed to look like a painting. The spring beauty of night and day.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

A rift in reality

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We were up at the crack of dawn, not because there had been too much wine the night before, which might have been expected during an evening in an Italian restaurant, but because the bug that had been stalking us for days had decided it would be fun to strike its victims during the celebratory meal and had knocked us off our feet.

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With no clear plan for the days ahead, we lingered over coffee, debating what we should do. The evening was taken care of… we were going to see Robin Williamson. We had missed his Sheffield performance last year, due to the dates of the Ilkley workshop, and his music was the main reason I was lingering in the north.

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We decided that it would be a good idea to check on the stone circle at Barbrook. After the work we had done there, we needed to re-visit the stones and, if nothing else, pay our respects and thank the spirit of the place for the gifts we had been given. The sun was rising steadily as we drove, climbing the long road to crest the hills above the awakening city.

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Three, they say, is the charm…and this was the third time in less than a week that we had passed through the gates onto Ramsley Moor. The morning mists wove mystery from the pale sunlight and the bejewelled land was bathed in gold. It may just have been the beauty of the morning, but the place felt different, alive and awake, as if two thousand years had dropped away and we were stepping beyond the veiling mists back into a time long gone.

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Retracing our steps along the path, just a few days after the workshop, it seemed like a different place. More of the mounds were visible,  shifting  swathes of mist opened pathways and vistas into a landscape of dreams. What we had done had undoubtedly made a vast difference here… though whether that difference was objective or just in the way we perceived the land is another matter.

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Nor does it matter. Reality is only real in as far as we perceive it to be. It is our perception that determines how we can interact with it and what our reaction to it might be. A tiny spider, if perceived as a threat, will make us afraid. If the darkness holds monsters for a child, the fear is real. If a stone circle seems awake… that too is real in its own realm. When we left the moor at last, we were smiling.

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Fruits of Balance…

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… “‘Greater’ is just as perplexing as ‘space’ and ‘colour’.”

“It contains the concept of consumption.”

“Yet, is not necessarily overjoyed at the idea.”

“Perhaps it is just issuing a friendly warning.”

*

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“Whichever way we look at it, natural hierarchies involve predation.”

“Why, even space gets in on it.”

“Look at how the sky swallows a bird.”

“That is merely an illusion of distance.”

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Fruits of Form…

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… “‘Space’ is difficult.”

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“What we call space might not actually be spacious.”

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“‘Specious Space’? Nice…”

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“Like, what we call colour, might not actually be colourful.”

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“Even the space we’ve got and can all agree on is difficult.”

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“It’s empty, yet, holds everything.”

Water babies

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Angel fish was in his accustomed place where he waits every morning, knowing that as soon as I have opened the doors for the dog, he will be fed. Ani bounds up onto the sofa and sticks her head over tank as soon as I open it to feed them. She has developed an acquisitive interest in the various fish foods. Angel fish doesn’t care, he comes up to the surface and will take his breakfast from your fingers, even with the small dog so close.

Except, he wouldn’t be having breakfast. You could see that straight away. It is an odd thing, even before you have a chance to really look, you just know when a fellow creature has died….. the lights have gone out.

I switched on the aquarium lamps, hoping I was wrong… he had seemed fine the night before, no signs at all of any problems and he was only a few years old, but sadly he was gone. Ani watched quietly as I netted the lifeless body and placed him in a suitable coffin, laying her head on her paws as if she knew.  In the few short hours since bedtime, his scales had dulled, his colours dimmed and the graceful expression of life had left him.

These things happen, especially with creatures we have bred and interbred solely for their appearance. As their keepers, we have a responsibility to learn their needs and provide for them, but sometimes even that is not enough.

My eyes flicked back to the aquarium. The big pleco was stuck to the glass round the corner of the tank, hiding amongst the plants he has chosen to call home. Not that he can hide very well when he deploys that huge sail-fin… but he thinks he can and that makes him feel safe. His plants are getting a little sparse… Mad Fish and co are experts at deforestation, even though I amuse my son, their previous keeper, by supplementing their fish food with blanched vegetables every day. They just eat those, anything else they can find… then have the plants for dessert anyway.

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I’m getting a little concerned about Mad Fish. He’s slowing down…he is a very old fish for his species but I am glad he has a shoal around him at last. They are always active, always darting around at speed… I can understand why he rests a lot these days. I still feel a little sadness for the long lonely time when he must have felt like a fish out of water on his own. Knowing little of tropical fish when I adopted the aquarium, I wouldn’t have questioned his odd behaviour had my son not mentioned that he thought he was missing his departed mate. We didn’t even know what he was, but a bit of research was an eye opener. So now he has a shoal and is no longer Mad Fish, but Grandfather Fish.

The little pleco was out and about too. He hides most of the time, which is a pity as he is beautiful. I didn’t know what he was either, apart from being a plectostomus. Now I do… after hours trawling fish sites, I found him… he’s a dwarf clown plec and that means I need to buy some bog-wood. I had no idea that some fish need the stuff to help them digest their food, but they do.

I’ve even learned how the fish can tell me when something is wrong. Just by watching their behaviour you can tell if something has disturbed them. The signals and body language are complex but not incomprehensible. Some are easy to understand… when they all swim up to the surface more than usual, or like the ‘tank canaries’, the little rummy-nosed tetras, whose brilliant red markings fade the moment the water quality changes. Even a water change is enough and I wait for their colours to glow to let me know the tank is safe.

The things I have learned since having the fish! Water parameters and temperatures, bacteria and how important it is to have plenty rather than keeping the tank too clean. Breeding habits, snail management, the growing of aquatic plants and a whole host  of things about fish health.

I knew a bit about that from looking after Nick’s pond… you learn the specific needs of the creatures you care for, but a pond is an alien realm…  no matter how clear the water, we really see only the surface and the shadowy world beneath is a different dimension. With a tank, you see the fish clearly, face to face, in a way that allows a completely different level of observation and a more intimate relationship.

As I watched Ani’s joy as she bounced through the long grass, getting drenched with the early morning dew, I was thinking about how much we can learn by just looking and paying attention. The difference between the pond and the tank is quite amazing. With the pond, I know the fish and their behaviour, but only seen from afar… apart from when they choose to come to the surface and interact with me. With the tank, there is an intimacy that allows me to see into their world. I could just look at the pretty fishes, or I can choose to see individuals, each with their own habits and character and learn to know them. Either way, as you learn to care for them, you start to care about them as individuals.

It is pretty much the same with people too. There are some, like the fish in the pond, whose lives keep them from intimacy and the only people who ever really know them are those for whom they will surface for a while, meeting them halfway. With most people, though, it is more like living with an aquarium except guard against too much intimacy. Even though we share a world, we only look, rather than take the time to see them. We may pass a hundred faces or more in a single day and never see more than that… yet every person is unique and has a character all their own, a story, a gift… something that makes them stand out from the rest of humanity as themselves.

Seeing instead of looking, learning each other’s needs and learning to look after each other so that we learn to care about each other.  Maybe it is as simple as keeping fish.

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