Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

on fish and plant

"We are beginning to know our house plants--more important still, they are beginning to know us".--Xena Field

"For those who are contemplating the keeping of tropical aquarium fishes, the platies are excellent choices for a number of reasons.
Not only are they quite hardy, but they readily breed, a big plus for the novice"--Donald Mix

In my mind, a twenty gallon aquarium filled with wild guppies at play is gently lit with fluorescent bulbs in our home. It's well planted with both natural and artificial plants, and the fish cavort in the tank, enrapt in pure joy. The tank is flawlessly clean, though it has a mild, green hue, as if algae, while gone, is not quite forgotten. I imagine myself sitting in an easy chair I don't now own, quietly meditating about things that reflective people think about, between gentle feedings of high protein TetraMin Color Flake food and perhaps the occassional treat of brine shrimp (which I never call Sea Monkeys in this context), dried tubifex worms and a plethora of alternative flake foods.

In fact, my last tank was donated to the neighbor girl in California, to whom I also donated my guppies when we moved. It was only ten gallons in size, though it did house hundreds of happy wild ("feeder") guppies, who dined on a wide variety of foods, and multiplied at will. I had no easy chair, and the tank perpetually looked like an advertisement for a new program on the Discovery Channel called "Discovery: Thick, Green Algae".

In my mind, my indoor garden would be like the small cactus greenhouse at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden--ten feet long, six feet high, and filled with cacti from Andean and Sonoran climes. I'd step inside my greenhouse to a world of painstaking care, and the cacti would frequently bloom. Indeed, when we lived in California, my cacti bloomed all the time, making me feel so gifted in my giftlessness. In my current reality, though my small collection of one dollar pots of cacti and succulent plants does well, but not extravagantly so, while my sansiviera (snake plant) thrives, and my pony palm seems quite jaunty.

My theory is that love is but one element of a successful relationship, and thus feasibility must also enter into the equation. Thus, while I love plants, I am wise enough to raise only the hardiest succulents and dark-loving tropicals. Once in a long while, I will set up a terrarium, proud of myself for knowing where to find good charcoal and the origin of the original term, Wardian Case. Although I love tropical fish, I know to confine myself to the easiest livebearers, which can thrive under even the enthusiastic yet imperfect conditions I manage to create.

I went to an orchid sale a few weeks ago. Orchids, once seen as a demanding plant grown only in detective novels by men like Nero Wolfe, now are known as an "everyplant", accessible to anyone willing to invest ample time in their care. But I must confess that I prefer a rebutia cactus to an exotic orchid every time. I've nothing against the orchid--I just prefer to see myself as a force for light and life, not as a plant killer.

Although on some level I'm sure I should feel diminished that my skills in such matters are limited to raising easy things well, I posit that it's all too easy to forget what a miracle it can be to have a plant or fish at all. I think that in life, not everything need be an extreme or hair-raising experience. Sometimes it's okay to have a tank of easy, shimmering guppies, even though it requires no special skill to keep them alive. I think it's okay to have a thriving snake plant, even if almost the only way to kill a snake plant is to pay very much attention to it.

I used to buy cactus seeds from the Theodore Payne Foundation, this wonderful native plant resource in an old home amid the Verdugo Hills in Sun Valley, California, and then sell the seeds to buyers from across the country on ebay. As with many ebay sales I do, money was a secondary consideration. I'd offer a dozen of this or that curious succulent plant seeds. At auction close, I'd have the seller mail me a stamped envelope (along with the dollar or two of auction funds), and then return two dozen or so of the seeds in a sandwich bag placed inside the envelope. Cactus seeds are not as easy to grown as cacti themselves, but the buyers always seemed thrilled to get unique cacti in the mail this way. I wonder if those seeds sprouted? Do they sit on plant ledges facing sunny windows even now?

We've had a lot of news stories lately about the problem is succulent plant expropriation in the west Texas desert. Apparently, the laudable Arizona xerigraphic plant movement, focused on putting Tuscon and Phoenix back on the straight and narrow path of growing desert plants in desert climes, have spawned a host of homeowners who now pay top dollar for ocotillo and cacti of a certain size. The result is that cacti and other succulents are being uprooted from their former estate in the Chihuahuan desert in Texas and artificially transplanted to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. There's some sad lesson there--homeowners and landscapers could not simply wait to grow slow-growing plants to create native plant displays--they had to import them from wild locales elsewhere. Even in our greenest moments, the consumerism and instant gratification is inescapable. Meanwhile, a new brand of desperado--the cactus rustler--roams west Texas. Where is Roy Rogers when you need him? He'd have a song like "Little Needle Friends of the Cowboy", with lines like "it may seem like a burr in the saddle/but podner it's the cactus plant I love".

In the tropical fish hobby, meanwhile, aquarium hobbyists imported the snakehead fish, a voracious carnivore from Asia and Africa, into the aquarium hobby. The snakehead, which, in a burst of true advertising, has a head that looks a bit like a snake, now has gotten loose into the waterways of seven states, wreaking havoc on native fish stocks. Prior to the snakehead problem, literally hundreds of species of freshwater fish were available for the aquarium trade, and posed no threat to local wildlife. But collectors seem unwilling to be content with what works well in aquariums, but instead must always go for the exotic or dangerous import.

But for me, I wonder what happened to my tank full of guppies?
Did the girl to whom I gave them keep the tank going, or did she tire of it and move to more exotic fish? I don't believe it is worth the trouble to track down the answer to that question. Maybe it is time to start figuring out the most inexpensive place to get a new tank, and if any pet stores in this area have "feeder guppies".
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