I like journalling. I especially like it when it helps me to remember important things, or follows the progress of something I'm working on.
Plus, I'm a poet. We never can shut up, anyway. ;)
I bought my deep red VT betta (Sid Fishus) from the typical can't-be-arsed pet shop, with no real clue of how to keep him. The ensuing panic, once I discovered everything I thought I knew was a load of old cobblers, has amounted to a crash course in betta-keeping.
Sid went from a gallon barrel-vase to a 2-and-a-bit gallon IQ3 cube, to a 3-and-half-ish gallon IQ3 cube (which is where he'll stay put for a while!) in a week and a half, poor little guy. I'm happy with his present tank, which has several species of low to mid-light plants and a nice mangrove root sculpture that doubles as hidey-place for Mr. Fishus.
During this week I discovered Sid has a parasite problem, which I'm working on fixing (though his poo seems to have normalised somewhat; still, I am keeping a eye on that and will buy the cure anyhow just in case). And then his fin tips grew fuzzy white balls, so he resembled some sort of miniature aquatic Santa's helper for a day or so - I still don't know exactly what that was, but it seems to be clearing up of its own accord. Again, keeping a close eye on it.
He has curling and sticking at the tips of his dorsal fin and tail, too -- it looks like somebody's tried to wring his fin out and quit halfway through. I'm assuming these are old problems as the rest of his fins seem healthy. I read that this is caused by bad water conditions, and sometimes by not having any room to swim properly. Maybe those problem bits will grow out, eventually.
He's also really small. I noticed this only by actually seeing some other bettas in person at the pet store (Sid was the only one in the store I bought him from). The others were much larger than him in length and body mass. So he's a squirt. That's okay.
Sid is really a happy guy now. He's a tuffypants, and has weathered all these massive lifestyle and environmental changes really well. We just did a 50% water change and now he's patrolling about, perhaps just to see whether I snuck any rival fish in while he wasn't looking.
Anyway, here's some pics of Sid looking a bit thin and pathetic, taken quite recently. I'm hoping over time that his general condition will pick up and he'll come to look as magnificent as some of the Veiltails in the picture thread here. And - if not? I'll just have to love him to bits anyway. ;)
I haven't found a poem about bettas yet, but I'd like to share this fish poem by Elizabeth Bishop, which I've always loved:
by Elizabeth Bishop
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
--the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly--
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
--if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels--until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
Poor Sid. He hasn't flared properly or blown a bubble nest since I brought him home.
That's been perfectly okay by me. He's thin and kind of sickly, and lots has changed in a week for him. He'll get around to these things when he's feeling better, I thought.
So, I'm walking out of the kitchen just now, after making a very late-night snack of various yummy sliced things. I pass Sid's tank and as usual give him a little wave and hello, and was expecting his usual friendly feed-me-please finwiggle.
But -- nope. No finwiggle. Sid Fishus was fully flared and out for a fight. Clearly something had him worked up, but I couldn't figure out what. It took me a full minute of looking around for the cause, before I realised that he was malevolently eyeballing the slice of cheddar cheese I was holding in my hand as I waved to him.
So, this morning my darling Daughter (who is 13 and currently seems to enjoy a solitary, cavelike habitat) comes bolting in to wake me up, super-early.
"Mum! The fish! Hurry!"
I can't move all that quickly at the best of times. But move, I did. I was expecting some massive aquarium disaster or perhaps a dead betta, and steeled myself for the worst.
What I found was Sid swanning around his tank like a Spanish galleon in full sail. Daughter was beaming.
"I think he's feeling better, Mum."
I had to agree. Daughter also pointed out that his fins had no sign of white fuzzies at all, and while they looked a little ragged (which I'll watch) they had also lost many of the knot-like lumps on their tips that had previously prevented him from flaring properly, I think.
Now, to sort out his parasite issue. If anyone had told me a fortnight ago that I was soon to become an obsessive observer of fish poo, I'd have said they were mad.
His poo seems to curl into a tight spiral at the end, and I am thinking this is the 'white blob' I had been observing (and stressing out about) a few days ago. Today it was a more normal colour, but I am still not happy with how white it has been since he got here.
He seems to be filling out, very slowly. I upped his food intake to two pellets per feed (twice a day) and two small or one large brine shrimp. He's still skinny, but not so bony as he was a few days ago, when he appeared to be declining in weight.
So perhaps I can at last relax a little bit and simply enjoy my on-the-mend and very happy fish.
Here's another fish-related poem, this time by Marianne Moore. I'm not a huge fan of hers, really, but I do enjoy some of her work.
Still no betta poems to be found! Perhaps I'll write some. :) Or maybe somebody else would like to write one? Or has already? I'd love to read it, if so!
by Marianne Moore
through black jade.
Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
adjusting the ash-heaps;
opening and shutting itself like
The barnacles which encrust the side
of the wave, cannot hide
there for the submerged shafts of the
split like spun
glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
into the crevices—
in and out, illuminating
of bodies. The water drives a wedge
of iron through the iron edge
of the cliff; whereupon the stars,
bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
lilies, and submarine
toadstools, slide each on the other.
marks of abuse are present on this
all the physical features of
of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
hatchet strokes, these things stand
out on it; the chasm-side is
evidence has proved that it can live
on what can not revive
its youth. The sea grows old in it.
I think Sid has ich! In fact, I'm sure of it. Just three spots, right now, small ones. Off to the shops for aquarium salt tomorrow, and ich cure in case the salt isn't effective.
Oh, well. I hope being treated for ich doesn't stress him out too badly. I'll have to pick up a heater for the little 2g tank, as I can't put salt in with his plants, apparently. 25w ought to be not too much?
Poor wee fishy. He deserves a break! And just when he's really beginning to enjoy life, too. He's been flaring at me all day - I think it's the fuschia pink t-shirt I wore. And scooting about his tank like a little shark, on the prowl for 'elusive' brine shrimp and those sneaky, invisible bettas that he just knows are lurking, somewhere....
Here's a poem by Nancy Willard, who I haven't read very much of, but probably ought to:
A Wreath to the Fish
by Nancy Willard
Who is this fish, still wearing its wealth,
flat on my drainboard, dead asleep,
its suit of mail proof only against the stream?
What is it to live in a stream,
to dwell forever in a tunnel of cold,
never to leave your shining birthsuit,
never to spend your inheritance of thin coins?
And who is the stream, who lolls all day
in an unmade bed, living on nothing but weather,
singing, a little mad in the head,
opening her apron to shells, carcasses, crabs,
eyeglasses, the lines of fisherman begging for
news from the interior-oh, who are these lines
that link a big sky to a small stream
that go down for great things:
the cold muscle of the trout,
the shinning scrawl of the eel in a difficult passage,
hooked-but who is this hook, this cunning
and faithful fanatic who will not let go
but holds the false bait and the true worm alike
and tears the fish, yet gives it up to the basket
in which it will ride to the kitchen
of someone important, perhaps the Pope
who rejoices that his cook has found such a fish
and blesses it and eats it and rises, saying,
"Children, what is it to live in the stream,
day after day, and come at last to the table,
transfigured with spices and herbs,
a little martyr, a little miracle;
children, children, who is this fish?"
So, another trip to the LFS, to get ich cure and salt and stuff. It left me cranky. They've replaced the really ill and dead bettas with an array of fresh ones. Poor little sods. And the bimbo working the counter was so proud of her five bettas at home all kept in 500ml betta boxes, because they're all so healthy, and I was actually wrongheaded in thinking that my betta needed as much as 3.5 gallons because SEE? Right here, it says they live in mud puddles and IT'S IN A BOOK LADY so SHUT the hell UP OKAY -- was the general vibe.
I grit my teeth, paid for my salt. I hope get I better REAL soon so I can find another place to buy my fish related things.
Aaaanyway. Sid's on the ich cure - the one guy in that shop who knew his arse from his elbow was actually pretty helpful and talked to me about the parasite's life cycle, etc, and seemed to give a damn about the well-being of my wee fishy. And since the ich is in its very early stages, it ought to clear up just fine.
Sid seems happy enough, burbling around as he has been these past few days, flaring at the flies (Aussie summer = tiny black flies EVERYWHERE) which land on his tank. He gets cross because he can't catch them and goes to sulk in his hammock. Cute factor 9.5.
To cheer myself from the trauma of dealing with the fish bimbo and her cupped array of doomed bettas, I went looking for today's fish-related poem.
Another poet I haven't read before, but really must: Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915. He was a terribly handsome, terribly emotional young Englishman who was buddies for a time with Virginia Woolf. He died at age 27, of a mosquito bite.
There's a lot to like about this poem. The phrasing is really very beautiful in places - "the exquisite knocking of the blood".. sigh. <3
by Rupert Brooke
In a cool curving world he lies
And ripples with dark ecstasies.
The kind luxurious lapse and steal
Shapes all his universe to feel
And know and be; the clinging stream
Closes his memory, glooms his dream,
Who lips the roots o' the shore, and glides
Superb on unreturning tides.
Those silent waters weave for him
A fluctuant mutable world and dim,
Where wavering masses bulge and gape
Mysterious, and shape to shape
Dies momently through whorl and hollow,
And form and line and solid follow
Solid and line and form to dream
Fantastic down the eternal stream;
An obscure world, a shifting world,
Bulbous, or pulled to thin, or curled,
Or serpentine, or driving arrows,
Or serene slidings, or March narrows.
There slipping wave and shore are one,
And weed and mud. No ray of sun,
But glow to glow fades down the deep
(As dream to unknown dream in sleep);
Shaken translucency illumes
The hyaline of drifting glooms;
The strange soft-handed depth subdues
Drowned colour there, but black to hues,
As death to living, decomposes--
Red darkness of the heart of roses,
Blue brilliant from dead starless skies,
And gold that lies behind the eyes,
The unknown unnameable sightless white
That is the essential flame of night,
Lustreless purple, hooded green,
The myriad hues that lie between
Darkness and darkness!...
And all's one.
Gentle, embracing, quiet, dun,
The world he rests in, world he knows,
Perpetual curving. Only grows
An eddy in that ordered falling,
A knowledge from the gloom, a calling
Weed in the wave, gleam in the mud--
The dark fire leaps along his blood;
Dateless and deathless, blind and still,
The intricate impulse works its will;
His woven world drops back; and he,
Sans providence, sans memory,
Unconscious and directly driven,
Fades to some dank sufficient heaven.
O world of lips, O world of laughter,
Where hope is fleet and thought flies after,
Of lights in the clear night, of cries
That drift along the wave and rise
Thin to the glittering stars above,
You know the hands, the eyes of love!
The strife of limbs, the sightless clinging,
The infinite distance, and the singing
Blown by the wind, a flame of sound,
The gleam, the flowers, and vast around
The horizon, and the heights above
You know the sigh, the song of love!
But there the night is close, and there
Darkness is cold and strange and bare,
And the secret deeps are whisperless;
And rhythm is all deliciousness;
And joy is in the throbbing tide,
Whose intricate fingers beat and glide
In felt bewildering harmonies
Of trembling touch; and music is
The exquisite knocking of the blood.
Space is no more, under the mud;
His bliss is older than the sun.
Silent and straight the waters run.
The lights, the cries, the willows dim,
And the dark tide are one with him.
Oh oops, I also bought a bottle of Prime and some Stress Guard, to add to my fishy first aid kit. The ich cure is Protozin, which Mr. Elbow said was less stressful for a betta.
I wanted to try salt, but one of the ich spots looks like it could become quite huge and nasty very soon, and I'm not very confident yet about my ability to get the salt thing right.
Sid's eating well. He had one last mystery-fuzzball appear on another fin-tip and then vanish a few hours later. His fins could be in better shape, but that was the case when I got him and they don't seem to be infected or falling apart. I'm wondering whether this might actually be him shedding the gnarled-up knot bits that were compressing the ends of his fins.
Time will tell, I guess. I am remaining fin-vigilant.
My housemate came with me to the shop today and we went to visit the lovely macrostoma and his fry there. The display tanks (unlike macro's poor cousins in their godawful, dirty cups) there are kept quite well, and this macrostoma is the first one I have ever seen. Impressed? Why, yes I am.
He looks a lot like this one:
and is kept in a dark water tank, very natural looking.
I want. This fish. Want it. Yes, I do.
They're much bigger than betta splendens - a good 3-4 inches long and bulky with it. I was surprised at how robust it was, compared to the fancy bettas. The fry are stripey and .. well, cute. Bigger than they were a few days ago.
Being a parent isn't easy. <--- call me Cap'n Obvious
More specifically, it isn't easy to recognise that your child isn't an extension of yourself, and therefore may hold some radically different ideas, ideals and values.
Even more specifically, Daughter has no issue buying a betta from the LFS, whereas I have made a bit of a stand on that front and sworn never to buy a betta from a pet outlet again. Nevertheless, she wanted to give one of these pathetically neglected bettas a home.
How can I fault her for intending a kindness, when at her age altruism so often is not a priority?
I did warn her that the fish were in bad shape. I agreed to go with her, and she agreed to choose one of the healthier fish.
So - it was awful. Daughter held herself together pretty well at the betta display, where fish were in two inches of water, some with a thick green algae grown over it, others lying listlessly in a bed of their own waste. So many beautiful bettas - and some that had lost all their colour. But then she saw the littlest fellow of them all, dead in his cup - and she burst out crying.
Nobody cries like Daughter. It's enough to break your heart. We chose a blue/turquoise half moon betta boy, though she considered some of the weaker ones. I told her no - this is her first betta, as Sid is my first one, and I want her to have as healthy a fish as we were likely to find there. So, the HM it was.
We both said some strong words to several staff members about the state of the bettas. I was so, so proud of Daughter for being mature about it, even though she was visibly upset. "The way you keep those fish back there in dirty water is just wrong," she said, through tears. "And some of them are dead."
I quietly mentioned that I had come there to purchase a pet, not adopt a neglected, sick animal and the betta's conditions were shameful. And if the fish were so badly off that it made my daughter cry, it ought to damn well tell them something.
Perhaps the fact that LFS was full of customers who were all witness to our dismay prompted a promise from the staff members that they "would see to it".
We left on a polite note. I will not tell Daughter what to believe in or what to stand up for, it's not my place to do that. But I hope she saw my point of view at least, as I can see hers.
She said she's going back in a week, to check on the bettas. And has sworn she'll call the RSPCA if thier condition has not improved.
That's my girl. :)
The HM boy is a little shell shocked (being literally DUMPED out of his dirty little cup into the take-home bag by the idiot tending the tropical tanks did not help ..)
He's quite pale, and I'm worried the transition from neglect to a clean, warm tank was a bit much for him, though we did bob him for an hour and added a little Stress Guard to the tank water.
So now we have two bettas, and several important lessons learned, and a lovely new hobby to share.
But that tiny little colourless fellow who'd passed on well before we got there will stick in my mind for a long while, I think.