This is a story I wrote years ago and adapted to republish today; the events are all true, but the story combines two years, this year and one special day about eight years ago when I heard a fishy plea for help.
This is also one of the stories that didn’t make it into my forthcoming book, The Chicken Chronicles, so I’m excited to share it today. I hope you like it.
Best Holiday Wishes to all!
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A Fishy Miracle
The temperature outside read six degrees as I sipped my morning coffee and brooded about Christmas The year had been one of the most disappointing ever. An election year of fear, name-calling, exposed corruption, fraud; so many were pointing fingers, lately at Russia, so few doing what we had to do to get back on track, finding shared ground. Horrendous military actions continued around the globe in our name, as did assaults on Mother Nature. We were lucky in that we had lost no close friends or family members this year, but several friends had not been so fortunate. Now it was Christmas. I’d been scanning strangers’ faces and they mirrored mine. Stressed. Scroogy. A friend who manages a toy store said she dreaded the season. “Every year, when we run out of sale items, at least one person says, ‘You’ve just ruined my kid’s Christmas.’ ”
I thought about pettiness—the argument over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” the peace-sign wreath condemned by a homeowner’s association here in our own city. Then, sitting there at the table, I felt something. In the aquarium by the window, just a few feet away, three palm-sized angel fish stared at me as if trying to communicate. I got up and checked the floating thermometer. My heart leapt. It was at fifty degrees, the cut-off point between dangerously cool and dead tropical fish. The heater had become unplugged.
I plugged it in and added hot water, hoping the angels would be okay. Then I settled once more into dark thoughts about this holiest season of high expectations. Carols and hot chocolate weren’t going to cut it—not this year.
As the fish warmed up and became active, I remembered how for a couple of months that summer I’d thought about giving them away. Along with two canaries, three rabbits and four chickens—animals collected for the education of my daughters and myself in our country-living-in-the-city experiment. Fodder for life, fodder for writing, it now all seemed, after seven years, as worn out as I felt. Still, I’d been unable to give them up, animal friends who, in their own quiet ways, had brought so many joys and insights.
In our fifty gallon tank we had started out with two small angel fish among the assortment. When the angels reached maturity, we discovered we had a male and a female. Regularly, they spawned. Our family watched, delighted, as they performed an aggressively beautiful mating dance, laid hundreds of eggs, and guarded them fiercely from the other fish. When the eggs hatched, the parents hovered over their tiny fry. About a week later, the babies disappeared. This cycle was repeated several times before my curiosity got the better of me. I spoke with a breeder and learned that they had not been eaten by their parents as I suspected. They had starved. If I wanted to breed them successfully, I’d need a second tank where the fry could be fed a special diet of brine shrimp.
I decided against the second tank; we just did not have the time or space to devote to another project. Still, the thought of the couple’s hopeless endeavor haunted me. Then one day we noticed a survivor. A minuscule swimmer, unmistakable in his diamond shape, riding the tank’s gentle current, bobbing around the leafy vegetation. Thrilled, we rooted for him. As he grew, I wondered how he’d found nourishment and flourished in spite of the odds. I named him Miracle.
On one frozen Colorado morn, I decided that these fish could serve as our herald angels. Their message was clear. If they could weather loss and harrowing events, if they could survive and flourish, then, surely, so could we.
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Sandra Knauf is the one-woman-show behind Greenwoman Publishing. Her books include the six-volume series Greenwoman, (a literary digest), her young adult fantasy novel, Zera and the Green Man, and an anthology of sexy gardening stories that she says is the feminist gardener answer to Fifty Shades of Grey—Fifty Shades of Green. She was a 2008-09 featured “Colorado Voices” columnist for The Denver Post and her humorous essays have appeared nationally in GreenPrints and MaryJanesFarm. Sandra lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her family, dogs, huge urban garden, and lots of books.