Old men and trees

The other night at twilight after I’d taken the dogs on their second walk for the day – my job in the absence of my daughter and her boyfriend who were away on holidays up north – I decided to clean out the pond.

It’s a round pond, bricked around its perimeter with a deep fibreglass basin that acts to hold the water. A terracotta gargoyle watches over.

The water in the pond reaches knee height when full and we top it up only occasionally, relying on rain water to keep it healthy. But with the recent absence of rain over several months the water level reached the half way mark and the pond was joked with weeds, so I decided to cull them. 

At their best water weeds look lovely, deep green leaves and buttercup yellow flowers that open all summer long beginning in spring. 

By the beginning of autumn though only the sodden leaves remain, and the pond becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos because although it’s fitted with a pump and fountain to keep the water flowing, the pump tends to choke with mud and leaves which cause an electricity shortage that cuts out the whole system. 

So, we stopped using the pump. Hence the still water and mosquitos. 

On this particular evening,  I put on my daughter’s gum boots, the ones she bought for her student stay in Edinburgh, knee high and fleece lined. I waded in.

The weeds were heavy as sacks of flour especially as they were tangled together in great knotted clumps.  I used secateurs to cut them down to size then threw them all over the garden. 

‘Good mulch,’ my husband said from the back door. 

I’d almost dragged out the last of the weeds when I thought to use a hose to drain off the excess water but again my husband advised I’d be having to get the water to run upstream. 


No, I’d need to bucket out the water, which I proceeded to do. 

When the water was at hand height, I collected another bucketful and threw it over a flowering gum nearby. 

That’s when I heard a thrashing in the leaves behind me and imagined it was one of the dogs but when I looked around there was no dog and the thrashing over the dried autumn leaves grew louder.

In the growing dark, I could make out the outline of gold fish, huge by gold fish standards and I apologised to it profusely for upsetting its home. I managed to grab the slippery beast and threw it back in. 

A grandfather of a goldfish. 

I stopped bucketing out water. 

The next day in daylight, I decided I’d locate this fish in the last of the muddy water and rehouse it in the front pond. I’d refilled the front pond weeks earlier, so there was water aplenty there. 

The point of this story? 

I had no idea we had any fish left in our back pond. I figured they’d died long ago and even more so with the water levels dropping. What space could there be left in the pond choked by weeds?

But there it was.  The grandfather gold fish. Alive and well. 

This discovery reminded me of a time twenty-five years ago when I was hoping to fall pregnant following a miscarriage in the spring of 1992.

The year before we had cleaned out the pond and loaded it with fish. 

I checked every day and over time the fish babies appeared and the sight of them gave me hope.

My last daughter is the result of that hope. 

By contrast, I’m battling a sense of hopelessness this morning after the federal election results last night, which means we will have another term of a conservative government, one which still promotes the use of coal even in the face of climate change threats.

I fear for the future of my children and their children.

All we can do is keep up the fight against the narrowness of self-interested mindlessness that refuses to acknowledge the need to change our excessive impact on the environment. 

We must not give up, grandfather fish and babies as well.

It puts me in mind of something I read recently:

A creative society is one in which old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.