Conversation with a Fish

“Does It Seem Cold to You?”

Story and Photos by Dean Worbois

At a freeway exit west of Caldwell, the landscape dips as it stretches west to Sand Hollow, a valley of rolling fields feeding a trickle of a stream lined with cattails, poplar, and purple loosestrife.

Farm homes dot the landscape, many of them surrounded by planted forests. A friend who goes by “Speedy” lives in one of these little forests. He loves the owls and quail and rabbits and hummingbirds and the occasional cougar that all make his abode part of their regular rounds.

Hoping to attract a croaking toad to his garden a few years ago, Speedy decided to dig a little pond between his small yard and the dense trees. The water did attract a more abundant population of critters away from the irrigation ditches, but he soon found himself with a problem—algae loved the pond. To control the algae, he purchased a dozen “feeder fish,” what I’d always known as “inexpensive goldfish,” but what keepers of larger fish call “feeders” for a reason.

A few fish survived the first winter, and so did the algae. The next summer, in 2013, Speedy asked me to pick up another dozen fish on one of my weekly visits. That fall, he and I tested an electric outlet near the pond by plugging a lamp into it. Then he brought out what looked like a medium-sized blue bowl with an electric cord hanging from what would have been the open side of a bowl, except this contraption was solid on that side. It was an old pond heater, made to float blue-side-up, the cord dangling into the pond. We launched it as close to the center of the pond as we could, and plugged it in.

After the first freeze, Speedy was delighted to see that the heater worked just fine. Even during a long cold spell in January, the pond retained a respectable ring of liquid water open to the air.

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