A Trip Through the Way Back Blog Machine

For long time blog readers some of this will be old news, but them’s the breaks. I’m writing a book right now, and possible blog topics are thin on the ground.

When we bought this house in 2006, the near back yard consisted of a swimming pool surrounded by yucca (ouch!), a patio with zero shade to protect from late afternoon sun, and a children’s play structure that had seen better days. The backyard, built over the septic field, contained a go-cart track, an astro-turf putting green, and fishpond that wouldn’t hold water.

Turns out, there were issues with the house. For one thing, the faux stucco used on the outside might be fine for movie sets in California, but it can’t stand up to Pacific Northwest rain. By the time we zeroed in on the problem, there was so much dry rot in the garage that it was in danger of collapsing. It took some time to sort all that out, but finally four years later, we were ready to face redoing the back yard.

We brought in a landscape designer who oversaw putting in a gazebo to provide shade along with plenty of non-cactus greenery around the pool. The play structure disappeared in favor of a shady outdoor dining room. But the biggest changes were in the lower yard where we tore out everything—the go-cart track, the putting green, and the leaky fishpond.

When it came time to rebuild, the first thing to arrive was a mountain of boulders. Colt, who was five at the time, looked at the pile of stones and asked, “Grandma are you only going to grow rocks in your garden?”

The big rocks along with plenty of little ones were used to create two non-leaky fishponds—a front one and a back one. Once the waterfalls were up and running, we went straight to PetsMart and bought several bags of ten-cent gold fish along with a single koi for a dollar. I really enjoyed feeding and watching the fish—right up until the heron showed up. That’s when the population of goldfish began to decline. There are stone bridges in the pond where the fish can take shelter. The smart ones survive. The others disappear.

Eventually my war with the heron required weaponry. For Mother’s Day one year, Colt and his mom went to Toys Are Us, shopping for Nerf Guns. They were standing in the aisle discussing each model’s advantages and disadvantages when a woman came up and asked, “Who are you buying that for?” “My grandma,” he replied. “She shoots birds.” I’m surprised the folks from Game and Fish didn’t show up in short order. But the truth is, when the heron landed, I could shoot one of my whistling bullets from the back porch far enough to clear the pool and land on the grass right beside him. Herons do NOT like whistling bullets.

We were snowbirds back then. When we came home from Arizona the next spring there were still some goldfish survivors in the pool. Most of them were of the three to four inch variety, except for one. He was mottled gray with a bright orange nose. We named him the Big Guy—he was six or seven inches. While the other fish were out cavorting in open water, he kept to the shadows. By the time we came home the third year, most of the other fish were gone. He was still there and much bigger. When we came home after year four, there was no sign of him or of any other fish, either. I was heartbroken and wrote a blog obituary for him, but then one day a month or so later, I was down by the pond, and there he was bigger than life.

Then I noticed there was another much bigger fish in the pond—an orange one—who wasn’t nearly as large as the Big Guy but much larger than everyone else. We named her Big Orange. I’m pretty sure, she’s a she because even though we haven’t bought new fish in several years, we still find the occasional small one.

The Big Guy and Big Orange are still around. He’s probably twenty-two inches or so, and Big Orange is maybe five inches shorter. But a couple of weeks ago I began seeing heron leavings down by the pond, and I knew that bird was standing around just waiting for my two pet koi to show their very colorful heads.

The Big Guy has been with us for thirteen years, and Big Orange is probably only a couple of years younger. They’re part of the family, but I can no longer crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn to stand guard over them with my Nerf Gun armed and ready. For years I had been told there was no way we could cover the ponds with netting, but with their lives clearly at stake, I insisted that Bill order a fishpond netting kit. When one kit proved to be too small to fill the bill, we augmented it with more netting and stakes from Home Depot.

It took two men a whole day to install the netting. I just went down to feed the fish. (The dogs both know what those words mean, and they usually go along.) It’s later than I customarily feed then, and neither one of them showed their faces, but with the netting in place, I know they’re both safe, and I’ll probably see them tomorrow.

Colt and his mom used to bring Bill a new bag or two of fish or two every Father’s Day, but that tradition has been in abeyance for several years due to the heron. This week, they’re planning on bringing fish again. I’m hoping they’ll spring for a couple of koi. I can hardly wait.

In the meantime, is anyone in the market for a slightly used Nerf Machine Gun? It comes with a full supply of whistling bullets.