Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Monday, April 06, 2009

Determination (#193)

Last evening’s walk was one for the book. It was Sunday, Ben and I had just come back from Hilary’s and it was about 48 hours after the Big Flood.

On the previous Friday, when Hilary and I headed back to her place, it rained like Noah was still in business. The not-yet-completely-thawed ground was already saturated from snow melt and previous rains. It couldn’t hold any more water.

The result was predictable.

Son #1 emailed pictures taken across the road from our house, where Ben and I take our daily walks. The paved pathway, which in some instances is twenty or more metres from the creek banks, was completely underwater. Benches looked like they were floating.

Now, two days later, the waters had subsided to only inches above normal instead of several feet. Just before leaving on our walk, I’d had a brief argument with myself about footwear. If I stuck to the paved path and didn’t go all the way to the south cedar grove, I wouldn’t have to wear my rubber boots – which weren’t as comfortable to walk in as their laced-up kin.

As Ben patiently tugged at the cuff of my pants, I finally decided to go with the rubber boots. Now, as I trod the muddy path that followed the creek, rather than walking the paved pathways, I was pleased with my decision.

Along the way, perhaps half-way to our turnaround point, I came upon the bleached body of a flood-tossed fish. This isn’t too unusual in the aftermath of a flood. But despite my familiarity with the creek and its denizens, I couldn’t immediately identify this one.

It was about four inches long and white-ish gold, with the body shape of a chubby perch or shad. A faint tinge of washed-out orange surrounded the edges of the fish, leading me to suspect that its other side - the one lying against the mud of the path - would show a darker shade. It was probably a goldfish, perhaps someone’s unwanted pet released into the creek or washed out of a backyard pond. An unusual and sad place for a pet to die.

Did I just see its mouth gape? Impossible.

Bending low, I stared hard. There - it was faint but unmistakable - a tiny tremor of the gills and mouth. The fish was trying to breathe.

I picked it up and stumbled the 15 feet to the creek. Stumbled, because the mud near the eddy I walked toward was very soft. I didn’t risk releasing it anywhere but into a quiet eddy. The swift main current would quickly remove this last, faint whisper of a chance for survival. In three steps I nearly reached the eddy. In five I was stuck.

I stretched towards the water and eased the fish into it. Ben, of course, was there to help. Since he weighs approximately 190 pounds less than I, he had no trouble staying atop the mud. I shooed him away and tried to keep the small fish upright in the cold water, without losing my balance completely and tumbling bass-ackwards into several inches of goop.

It was tricky.

After about 30 seconds, I had to let go of the fish. It was either that or face the ignominy of waiting for the fire department to fetch me out. Which could take a while since #1 was watching Wrestlemania at a friend’s house for the next several hours; #2 was in Cuba for a week, and a quick pat of my pockets reminded me that I’d left my cell phone in another jacket. Pretty sure Ben had never seen an episode of Lassie so he wouldn’t have a clue what to do either.

I saw the fish's gills flare once, weakly, before it slipped onto its side and drifted into the depths of the eddy.

The next minute or two provided about as much drama as I care to deal with these days. My boots were about a foot deep in muck and resisted every attempt to lift. I corkscrewed my body and rested some of my weight on my hands in the somewhat firmer mud behind me. I formed a tripod of sorts as I struggled to free my right foot. Finally, with a disgruntled sucking sound, the mud released its grip. In another moment, I managed to free the left boot.

A few slogging steps later, I stood, panting, back atop the bank and marveled - both at my escape and that fish.

I'd found it about four or five feet above the current water level and fifteen feet away from it. The poor, no doubt, still-doomed creature, had to have been lying on muddy land for several hours, very likely for at least 24.

And it flat-out refused to die.

When I picked it up, I was struck by how dry the skin on its exposed side was, especially compared with the relatively slick side which had been lying against the mud. The fish should have been long-dead.

There’s only the slightest doubt in my mind that all I did was extend its dying for a time.

Only the slightest.

But that’s okay. I’m confident it would prefer to take its last breath in the water and am glad it waited for me to help make that happen.


Maud said...

Oh ... I can imagine your comical attempts to get free and it must have been a bit nerve-wracking till you were sure you COULD get free! But whether or not the fish survived, Frank, you must have topped up your good karma balance :)

Dawno said...

That was one tenacious fish. Especially, I'm thinking, if it was a goldfish - I mean, aren't they rather more suited to warm water? That it had survived in the cold stream at all, then through the beaching...wow.

You're a good guy, Frank. *hugs*

Hilary said...

Tree-mender.. fish-rescuer. You're gonna get the reputation for being an old softie. ;)

Sigh.. the cell phone - keep it with your keys!

And I so know how Benny "patiently" tugs.

You're a good Fish Whisperer. :)

Leah J. Utas said...

Frank, if I'd stumbled across this blog without knowing anything I would have seen this as a metaphor given the season 'n' all.

But I know it's just you being you.

Wonderful story.

Reb said...

Maybe someday that fish will in turn save your life...then again?

That was a good thing you did there Frank. Even if he only lived a bit longer, at least he died knowing someone cared! That you managed to keep the boots on your feet is another miracle ;)

Frank Baron said...

I can hope so Maud. Never hurts to get on the plus side of that meter. :)

Aw shucks Dawno. Anybody would've done the same. And all fish are cold blooded. Given time, they can acclimatize to nearly any temperature. The previous day and night were quite cold so its metabolism slowed to a crawl, enabling it to survive as long as it did.

Hil, you know as well as anyone how hard-eyed and flinty I am most of the time. I merely have a bit of a soft spot for finned critters. :)

Thanks Leah. It was a pretty nifty event.

Reb, it was a near thing with those boots. I was seriously considering sacrificing them and walking home in socks if I had to.

Thanks all, for the visit and kind words. :)

Tootie said...

Thanks for visiting me Frank. That was quite a story and I love good stories. :-) Now, if I understand correctly, I think you are trying to make us believe that your soft spot is only for finned creatures. Just a guess here, but I would be willing to bet that if it had been a winged creature or any other, you would still have tried to help it out. :-) Nothing wrong with having a kind heart.

Ash said...

That's a tough fish and a tougher old man :D

April said...

That was quite a walk and a great rescue effort. I'm glad you got out of the mud okay.

Aleta said...

What a great story, Frank! I really like your blog. And -- in your profile you said to remind you to write about how you left you soul on that Greek island. Sounds intriguing! Perhaps you already did write about it in your blog and I just need to look.

Anonymous said...

There is something about a helpless creature taking its last breaths that makes some people want to give it any comfort possible. I am glad you did what you did. It makes the world gentler.

Stace said...

I thought people getting stuck in mud like that was something that only happened in movies! Well done :)

One of our goldfish died last night... we got home to find that it had somehow managed to break it's back. It was still breathing, but couldn't move or swim at all. So I put it in the freezer, and it should be nicely dead by now.

Frank Baron said...

Tootie, I suppose not. But just in case, let's keep it between the two of us, okay? :)

Ash - what old man? ;)

Me too April. I've had enough embarrassing moments for a couple of lifetimes.

Hi Aleta. Nope, haven't penned those words yet. One of these days though....

I glad too Meredith. I hope its suffering was eased a smidge.

Stace, I've been stuck in the mud many times. Comes from fishing a lot. And being stupid.

Your fish is probably dead and your solution was quite humane. Better, and quicker though, for small fish is to just flick them sharply with a finger atop the head and between the eyes.

Barbara Martin said...

Wonderful story, Frank. You have a very kind heart. It's a wonder the mud didn't swallow your boots whole. Take care in future walks, and do as Hilary says: put your cell phone next to your keys!

Frank Baron said...

Yes Mom.


Dawn Colclasure said...

What a touching story, Frank. I'm glad you got out of the mud okay. :)

butchadams said...

well done Frank. Whenever I am wading my creek here in Indiana, I always have an aquarian dip net with me to empty the puddles on the sand & gravel bars. Minnows, sunfish,tadpoles,crayfish. You know what it feels like to put them in the big water.thanks again for visiting my photo blog. Butch

Frank Baron said...

So am I Dawn. :) Thanks for the visit.

Good idea and good deeds Butch. Well done.

Dianne said...

you must teach Benny to dial 911, just in case - of course you'll then need to get him his own cell phone and then he'll start texting and well ... never mind

I'm joking because actually this story made me teary and made me want to give you a giant hug and I hate when I get all sappy ;)

Frank Baron said...

Giant hugs are nice. I won't turn one down Dianne. Thanks. :)