There is a nice pond in my backyard garden on Centre street. When I preface the word “pond” with “goldfish“ your mind and eye make an instant adjustment, and from imagining cattails, ducks, pinkletinks, swamp iris and the wildlife that comes to drink at a pond, the reader thinks “oh, goldfish” and sees a few nice rocks, maybe some water lilies or hyacinths, and a couple of ornamental frogs.
There are two stone frogs, and the water hyacinths become thick as the season progresses. And it is a goldfish pond, and a pretty good-sized one. Very like a natural body of water, in miniature. Like enough so that the above-mentioned animals all come to call; the swamp iris are so abundant they must be thinned every year, the ivy climbs all over the rocks, and bushes and trees arch over the water. (There is also a spigot connected to the town water supply which feeds the fountain and cascades down the rocks.) We get anxious sometimes for rain. The pond is surrounded by great chunks of rock and boulders; some are flat and jut out over the water, just big enough for a child to stand on and “fish.” (They haul in rocks and roots and bits of muddy junk causing screams of “yuck!” There is one very big stone shaped like an elephant that comes to drink, on the far side of the pool; his trunk touches the water and is covered with ivy. By consent of Jen and Greg and myself, it is an elephant.
Every spring a pair of ducks comes to set up house. They see a glint of water when flying overhead and down they come to inspect it for nesting purposes; this could be up-Island in the woods for what they can tell. But we have to chase them away. The fish don’t like it and our cats would make short work of any baby ducklings that might hatch. This takes several days to accomplish: I run out clapping my hands and waving my arms; they don’t want to go, but they lumber out of the water and flap heavily away. I’m really so sorry to disturb them, but the fish hide in the churned up water, and the cats eye them from the bushes. It won’t work. After a while of this they leave, and don’t come back. Until the next year. And every four-footed animal that will consent to live in the village comes to have a drink here. Cats, skunks, raccoons, the occasional deer.
Near the edge, the doves, considering their size, make very small splashes, and blackbirds, robins and purple finches by the score come for a bathe. The goldfinches are too quick and nervous to hop about on the ground or in the water; they need to land at their feeder for one quick seed at a time, and then dart from tree to bush to the air and back for another seed. It’s the only bird we can encourage; their feeders hang high off the lawn. Occasionally the trees and garden are full of raucous crows, their noise brought on, if you look closely, by two cats sitting under one of their trees, motionless. They will get the little ones if they can. (I spend a lot of time interfering with nature, trying to prevent creatures from killing each other.) I like to think of them as rooks, and wonder if my backyard is their parliament. Gulls circle overhead sometimes; once in a while a hawk hangs high up in the air. I was told the other day that a hawk swooped down and carried away a duck from a courtyard in the hospital.
Azaleas surround the pool; their blossoms rain down into it over many days. The golden azalea which leans over the edge has dropped its first blossom and it drifts along, its pistils straight up ... two of the goldfish come to see and bump it a little. A bee right away finds this food and buzzes gently around it. Everything is golden: the blossom, the fish, the bee and the sun glinting on the water. The blossom floats away until it comes to a rock and gets caught up in the ivy. Pretty soon another flower joins it, and another. The one bee has them all to itself.
In the winter when it snows, it blankets the fountain and the stepping-stones and the rocks around the pond. There are old Japanese lanterns in the surrounding bushes, all with a topknot of snow. The pond freezes, sometimes solid. The fish burrow into the leaves and vegetation at the bottom and wait it out. “Not breathing, not eating,” we tell the kids, “just waiting.” Sometimes they have to wait too long, and the eight that went dormant in December are fewer in March. The ice melts and the fish find the sunny spots and come to the surface. We count three — no, four. Another year survived. Furthermore, a few weeks later can be seen myriad tiny black fish, the goldfish of the coming season; half of these will live, slowly turning from black to gold as summer goes by.
Just like in a natural pond, things happen. At night the raccoon goes fishing (and catches one), the skunks drink and bathe and dig for grubs in the surrounding moss, the deer eats the tulip buds, has a drink, leaves some droppings, and trims the lilies. We’ve had a green heron too, a marauder that ate half the baby fish one spring. The wild turkeys seem above it all, and just strut about in the hedges; they don’t come near the pond, and nothing seems to threaten them. They are unnerving when you see one over your shoulder and I keep my distance, planning an eventual assault with a hose turned on strong. In the afternoon the cats sit on a big stepping-stone out in the water, watching, sunning, waiting for whatever might swim by. Sometimes they take a swat at a dragonfly. They look like a Japanese woodcut. We sit on the steps and watch too, squinting at the sun through our frosty wineglasses.
Jeanne Hewett is a fabric artist and writer who lives in Vineyard Haven and contributes regularly to the Gazette.