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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Pond Elephants

 According to Wikipedia, a white elephant is an idiom for a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth. The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam (now Thailand) were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious, in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance. -I couldn't have said it better myself.
 Only  two survived the ice and snow of winter, but only the 49 center made it through the harrows of an all too early spring. By the second week of March we were breaking records on a daily basis. I have a habit of recording the weather in my journal. On March 13 is was a record +16 C whereas the average for that date would have been +5.On the official day of spring (March 20 here) it was 25 degrees as I watched the last of my fancy gold fish succumb to having emerged from its winter's nap too early. You see winter isn't as stressful for fish as you might think. Protected against supercooling winds by a layer of ice (with at least a small air hole in it for gas exchange) they go to the bottom and metabolically shut down. It is the spring that causes them problems. Their immune system is usually at its weakest,while parasites have already emerged.  Suddenly warm temperatures will tempt them to eat but the enzymes needed to digest their food have not kicked into gear. In general large fluctuations in water temperature are a death sentence to most fish. Most fish that is except for the 49 centers. Sometimes they are just called "feeders" and are sold to be torn apart by piranhas and other predatory tropical fish. The are always the cheapest fish in the store and are crowded into large tanks with signs on them saying that you can't "pick" your fish because its not worth the shop keeper`s time. Last fall I insisted on picking one anyway because I liked its unusual colour - red spots on a white background, paid my 49 cents and tossed it into the pond to see how it would fare. By the end of March the temperatures were diving to minus 9 at night and rocketing up to plus 18 the next day only to fall again but the 49 center was still hanging in there as sole occupant of its 800 gallon domain.
  About a month ago a neighbour knocked on our door and wondered if I could help out his friend. It seems that he had these fish which had outgrown their aquarium and wondered if I would take them. When asked what kind of fish they were he answered, "Koi". Well I didn't know anything about koi except that I had heard they could be expensive so being a man who enjoys a bit of thrift I said that we should arrange it for me to have a look at them. It could be the problem was that my neighbour's first language isn't English or it could have been that their original owner was desperate to get rid of them but about an hour later my neighbour arrived back at the door without his friend but with two koi splashing around in a small bucket. Apparently this was a done deal. Not being a koi fancier I didn't know what I was looking at. They were white with black splotches on their backs. They sort of looked like ugly cows but it seems that they were my ugly cows now. They came with a warning that the previous owner thought that they didn't like people and would freak out anytime anyone approached their aquarium. Fine. I did the proper release method into the pond and they immediately went and hid under the rock shelf that hides the pump. And they hid and they hid and they hid. 
 The articles on the net kept going on about how friendly koi are and that they would eat from your hand so after an entire week of not seeing them I began to wonder if they had been scooped up by a raccoon or heron. I reasoned that if they were still there maybe if they had some buddies they would follow the buddies and come out and play where I could see them. If there are 49 center koi I didn't find them. Koi it seems come in all sorts of colours and patterns that all have fancy Japanese names to go with their fancy price tags. I ended up with two gin rin and some sort of butterfly koi so that my free koi now had sixty something dollars worth of play pals. When released into the pond they mulled about in the centre until the cows came out, herded their new buddies up and took them back under the shelf - for another week.
 Since I wasn't too busy not seeing my fish I had time to spare to do some research. It seems that you have to feed koi. This was a bit of a revelation as I had never really bothered to feed my cheap goldfish. They had been very content to eat the algae and pond plants and aquatic insects on their own schedule. So after a pit stop at the pet shop I now had $36 worth of flakes and pellets that I was supposed to throw at them several times a day. I did the whole bit even soaking the stuff first before making my offering. No response. The koi remained hidden while the 49 center raced around shoving everything it could into its mouth.
 Back to the research. Apparently water lilies and koi are not a good mix. The koi root around in the pots looking for worms and make a mess of things. I managed to give away one lily before climbing into the pond and lifting out the two special bushel baskets filled with special aquatic soil and the remaining three lilies. Let's see -three lilies at $35 a piece plus containers and special planting medium. -lets say about $125 worth headed to the dump. On the bright side I found out why the koi had not been eating. Although the top water was at 58 F the rest, let say for example at crotch depth was considerable colder which meant that it was just too cold for them to be eating and much too cold for me to have chosen to wear a bathing suit instead of my insulated chest waders. 
  The water in the pond decided to go cloudy and green so I wasn't about to see my fish even if they ever did come out from under the rock shelf. This is normal at this time of year but it had already been through this cycle and had cleared. Now what? Well it seems that if you have koi you have to have a pond filter. In thirteen years of pond ownership we have never had a filter as goldfish basically don't put out enough poop to bother with. Koi do and you have to clean it up. Something called a pressure filter costs $338.99 after tax. If you need hoses to attach it that will be about two bucks a running foot. You will need lots. 
  Okay, fine now a least all I had to do was install the filter and my problems would be over. According to what I saw in the manual I should be able to do this myself if I just take my time and work carefully. All was looking optimistic until I got to page 3 where it said IMPORTANT-The maximum operating pressure is 0.04 Mps (0.4 Bar or 5.8 PSI) What the heck did that mean? It meant that if my existing pump was too strong it would blow my new fangled filter (with its extra special algae killing ultraviolet light and maybe a decoder ring included) to bits. Problem- I had not installed the original pump nor had I made its acquaintance in over a decade so I had no idea what I was dealing with apart from the general perception that it seemed like it was a pretty strong pump. Back into the water. Thirteen years of slime and rust had erased any sign of a name but oddly there was a sticker on it that looked all but brand new and on it was a model and serial number. Back to the internet.
  You guessed it. I needed a new pump. So tax in some $283.79 later I had a new one. Matches perfectly with that new filter I had recently purchased or so the guy said. All set now. Smooth sailing. Too easy mate.
  Installing the pump was going to involve more than a casual pop into the pond. A quick splash in and a look see wasn't going to cut it. No, for this a proper draining was in order. Ladling it out with a bucket was going to take forever, however for a mere $108.76 plus tax-lets call that $122.90 shall we, plus a 50' length of hose (on sale for 29.99 plus tax) better still to get two lengths in case I wanted to fertilize the front lawn with fish poop water as well.
 Even with the sump pump emptying the pond took some time. I really don't know how big it is, as it is an odd shape and very hard to calculate. Perhaps my water bill will give me a clue.
 Perhaps it would have been wisest to have netted the fish before entering the pond but by the time there was only a foot or so remaining enough stuff had been churned up that they were impossible to see. I had learned by bitter experience that getting into the pool rarely went as hoped. The rocks are covered in a green slime that defies your best attempt at grip. You bum scooch along the edge as best you can  then at some unplanned moment physics takes over and you go on a short but violent rock water slide to the bottom. Getting out involves some sort of humiliating grovelling in scum. Your clothes are in for at least a double washing or a good burning. The solution at least in part is to sacrifice a good long towel or two over the intended path of entry. It seems to provide more grip but don't use anything that you might ever want to see again.
Once in I was of course in danger of stepping on the koi. However by this point I really didn't care. Somewhere along the line I had gone over to the dark side. This was now about me against the project. This was going to be a properly working koi pond whether it had any koi alive in it or not. Maybe if I stood on a few of their little heads it would smarten them up and they'd get a bit more with the programme. Now fully focused I connected the bits and pieces with relative ease.
 Clambering out I now had to refill the pond to the point that the pump could be tested, but not too full in case it didn't work. It sort of did. The old pump took about 1000 watts to run it. The new one takes 150. That's just not going to be the same. The original pump was so powerful that the stream had to be cut into two and a second less visible less attractive fountain head was added to deal with the extra force. The new pump put most of the water to the secondary fountain head and a trickle to the main one.
 Cutting time. The area behind the start of the waterfalls had had 13 years to fill in with bushes, vines, and wayward tree branches . It took four large yardwaste bags worth of cutting to clear the area enough so that I could do what came next.
  Shovel time. Only those who have tried to dig in dry Ontario clay will fully appreciate this but for those who haven't it is much like trying to dig a hole in a sidewalk with a spoon. The old water system would have to be unearthed in the hope of controlling the water flow and a three foot hole would have to be dug to hide most of the filter from the gaze of the neighbours. That took two complete days and $9.65 for something called a ball valve.
  The next day I hooked up the filter with hardly any swearing at all.  I filled the pond, and added the two bottles of  bacteria boost  ($29.99). Two days later the water was crystal clear and if the fish hadn't been hiding you could have seen them.
 Some facts in brief
  Peas- fancy grade sweet petite to be exact are so far the only food that these creatures will touch. A large bag which is twice the size of the official koi food costs $3.79.  They will even briefly come out of there hidie hole to eat it. The 49center loves it too.
 Colours and patterns- If you are going to buy some koi you should probably do a little research first. It turns out that the ones that look like cows (or if you scrunch up your eyes - little blotchy short snouted white elephants) are probably the valuable ones whereas what I picked out only demonstrated how much I didn't know about the subject.
 Size - If you manage to do your job well these characters will just keep on growing no matter what size container you have them in. 
  It may well be that one day I will be standing on your front porch  with a bucket  filled with splashing, colourful fish. Oh don't worry, I`m not going to charge you for them. They`re a gift.  Ken

Friday, 8 June 2012

Almost a Tiger

Something was wrong with Time . It was supposed to be my time, my
turn, but there seemed to be a problem.  When I looked up, the punt
was heading into the stratosphere in slow motion.  When I looked down
field, the defensive hoard was charging at me in fast frame. I looked up - the
ball now coasted leisurely like a hawk caught in a thermal. I looked down - too
many, too fast, too soon.  I finally cradled the ball and started to
pivot to the left just as one of the attackers became airborne. I
didn't make many yards unless you count the ones that I was driven
 Early sixties, late spring, Hamilton, home of the Tiger Cats.  How I
got to training camp that year was more a matter of minor influence
peddling, and self promotion than it was of any real proven track
record.  You see, I had convinced myself that I was just like Garney
Henley, that good things could come in small, fast packages. I saw
myself as the new  phenom who would be running back kicks and
sprinting over the goal line to the roar of the home town crowd.
 It was a chance to play with my heroes of the game.  Perhaps it was
a little different then  because these were the days before the
multimillion dollar salaries, running shoe endorsements, and media
hoopla that generally puts sports heroes out of the reach of the
common sports fan. Most of the players were very approachable, heck
Bernie Faloney was a phys. ed. teacher at my high school and Frank
Consentino coached the rival football team. Maybe working two jobs
just helps to bring you down to earth.
  We were in an offensive huddle and this time the quarterback
Bernie Faloney gave me the nod. "Go out ten yards and then turn
  "Turn left or right?"
  "Just turn around."
   I caught the ball all right because that pig skin was thrown so
hard that it punched into my stomach causing my hands to involuntarily
cover it. I have often wondered  how my life would have been different
had I spun off that first tackle and then put on the jets to zig zag
down the field and sprint across the goal line. Would I have had my
own collection of Grey Cup rings, and lived in a city where like
Cheers everyone would know my name ? Unfortunately, the instant that I
was being impaled by the ball some guy who had the size and speed of a
Mac truck and most probably a cute nick name like "The Crippler",
slammed me into the ground. I was lucky to have held onto my insides,
never mind the ball.
 Given my lack of size, I knew that my stint as a defensive lineman
wasn't going to be pretty.  There were some terribly intense people
who wanted on that Tiger's line. Some were top rated American college
players and some were already pros or even team regulars like Angelo
Mosca who prowled along the sidelines looking like he couldn't wait to
test out anyone who was showing real promise. The guy across from me
was from the US college leagues and he wore some cast affair on his
forearm. At the "hut", I found out why. His forearm came up and
connected with my jaw. My body twisted as I flew backwards. As I lay
face down the first person to run up my back was the ball carrier.
After him came everyone else involved in the play. Probably from both
teams.  As I lay there struggling to push my shoulders off the ground,
Vince Scott came over and offered some advice. "Son, you've got to
learn to back up!"
 In the end they never actually cut me from the roster so much as I
just knew not to come back. Not getting to wear the uniform didn't
stop me from remaining a loyal fan. Every year when the smell of lilac
fills the spring air and I know that the new crop of lads are out
clashing in the field, I close my eyes, play back the memories and
smile.  After all, I was almost a Tiger.
 Fact File
 Vince Scott- member of the CFL Hall of Fame, selected an All-Eastern
Guard 10 times
 Angelo Mosca-member of the CFL Hall of Fame, 9 Grey Cup Games, CFL
All Star 63, 70, elected an Eastern All-Star Defensive Tackle 5 times
 Frank Consentino -Tiger Cats 1960-66 including 63 and 65 Grey Cup
 Bernie Faloney- CFL Hall of Fame member Schenly Award in 61 for Most
Outstanding Player, Grey Cup record for most completed passes, most
yards thrown, most touchdowns, career-1,493 pass completions, 24,264
yards, 153 touchdowns
 Garney Henley-CFL Hall of Fame Member, defensive back, wide receiver,
20 punt returns for Hamilton Tiger Cats, 1960-75 career receiving
yards 4,657
 Ken McLeod -no officially recorded yardage