Last fall, my boyfriend was helping pressure wash my house (the one I recently sold). We were working in the back yard, and when we shut off the noisy washer and moved to disconnect the hose, we startled a doe that was hovering behind us, in spite of the racket we were making. Its half-grown fawn was nearby, and down by the fence stood a buck. Between the buck and the other deer were two rabbits, and not far from the rabbits was a cat.
Although I’d told Didier about the many animals that frequented my yard, it was the first time he witnessed them gathered en masse.
“I feel like I’ve stumbled onto a Disney set,” he said. “Like I’m dating Snow White.”
The creatures had long ago learned a soft touch lived at that house, and their panhandling became so effective I sometimes spent nearly as much for their food as I did for our own.
And then I moved, and Bambi, Thumper and friends were forced to once again forage in a more dignified fashion than aiming their sad eyes my way.
There are no deer where we live now. No cute little squirrels or raccoons or bunnies. Instead, there are fish.
Fish that have learned the best place in the pond is the one nearest our door.
Admittedly, I’m not the fairest of fish feeders. I have one that’s my favorite.
Zeus gets much more food than the rest. His tremendous size (over 3 feet long and 20-plus pounds) makes him easy to recognize, especially since ours is a fairly small pond. This chunky grass carp won my heart the moment I realized he could swim in reverse. I’m no expert on fish, but it seems to me they aren’t designed to go backward. None of the other fish can do it, but Zeus does it regularly, slamming on his little fish brakes to back up just enough to retrieve a piece of bread or stray Cheerio that landed on the water after he passed.
I like, too, that he isn’t skittish, that he doesn’t go slapping off madly through the water in terror like the other carp do the moment he sees one of us at the shore. He’s grown accustomed to our presence, enough so that rather than flee when he sees us, he races through the water to claim his treat.
Even though Didier had lived by the pond for several years before we joined him, he says he’d never even thought of feeding the fish. These days, though, he’s often the first one heading out back with their food every night.
I can’t fully explain what it is about feeding creatures that gives me such pleasure, but I know I’m not alone. Years ago, when I was about eight months pregnant with my daughter, who will soon turn 17, I was at an event honoring the now-deceased pro golf legend, Sam Snead. Throughout the morning, one reporter after another interviewed Snead, and I listened from nearby as he answered many of the same questions over and over again.
When he finished, he plopped down at my table.
“Do you ever get tired of talking about golf?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” Snead said.
“Is there anything you’d rather talk about instead?” I asked.
He smiled. And told me about his fish.
Turns out there was a pond close to where Snead lived, and every day, he would get a few handfuls of a pellet-style fish food and walk down to the pond. There, he’d put some of the pellets in his hand and then hold his hand in the water and wait.
At first, the fish were too fearful to approach, but gradually, they grew used to his hand and began snatching the pellets right off of his palm. The day he and I talked, he had gone to the pond to do his usual thing, but that day, after one of the carp had finished its snack, it swam so that its belly was resting in Snead’s hand. He said it was displaying its trust in him, and called it one of the biggest thrills of his life.
I was thoroughly charmed that this man–one of the top golfers in the world for most of four decades, who won 82 PGA Tour events, including seven majors—was still humble enough to appreciate a gift from a fish.