Jon de Vos: Call me Ishmael … some years ago |

Jon de Vos: Call me Ishmael … some years ago

Fish make dumb pets. You can’t scratch their bellies; you can’t teach them to shake; you can’t take them for walks and they’ll never bring back a frisbee. They just squirm around, staring fish-eyed against the glass waiting for lunch. Dumb, but there is something soothing about aquariums, staring as we slip into a slack-jawed daze, watching them, God-like, as they swim in and out of their castles, endlessly circling their sunken chests and ghostly ceramic DeSoto’s.

I married my first aquarium. Well, of course, that’s not quite right, my wife had one when we got married, a fact I think is odd because she’s always been funny about touching fish without lemon and tarragon. She left me a sticky-note about a week after the ceremony with a list that started, “Clean Aquarium”. I read it again. Then I walked over and checked out the fish. We stared goggle-eyed at each other for a few seconds before I went back to her note and wrote, “Thanks!” This was a miscommunication that led to our first sharp interchange of ideas, whereupon I took up my siphon-cleaning hose and began to whistle.

I have learned several things about freshwater aquariums over the years. When you go to a fish store, there’s an inverse relationship as to how much money a particularly exotic fish costs versus how long they live. Examine fish store tanks as if you were Ahab in search of the white whale.

Another thing is that, unless arrangements have been made at the store, fish in plastic bags blow up at 10,460 feet. You’ll find yourself weaving through Berthoud Pass Racing Traffic holding a dripping paper bag full of wiggling guppies, sobbing, “Hold on, Little Buddies, I’ve got a Perrier in the back.”

Never unplug the tank heater, no matter how good you think your memory is. I did. Unplugging the aquarium is a decidedly bad idea in Fraser, the Icebox of the Nation. On the other hand, Fraser turned out to be a very appropriate place for the chilly reception I got when I shouted out to my wife, “Hey! Look at all your fish. I finally made friends with them. They’re all coming up for belly rubs.”

Unlike the fish, the relationship survived and over the years I’ve gotten a lot better about the care and feeding of an aquarium full of fish. For instance, I’ve learned that manufacturers of scratchy pads really, really, mean it when they say, “Not For Aquarium Use.” I’ve also learned that really, really, expensive fish tend to leap out of the tank when your back is turned and I’ve come to value the wisdom of keeping a spare tank heater on hand and not to turn it up too high. Each lesson was underscored with a finny tragedy.

A few months ago, I decided the aquarium was a little lackluster so I bought a half-dozen fish with the scientific name of “Little Red Guys with Dark Tails.” They are obviously in the class of live-bearers and, in fact, they are world-class prolific live-bearers because they’ve had so many offspring, they are doubling in number every four hours. I’ve got so many now I’m starting to build salmon-ladders to get them over to Grand Lake.

Maybe I can teach them to eat Zebra and Quagga mussels.

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