Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spring in Bloom

We discovered an old stone cistern hidden behind the house. Cut into the hillside, it was covered by a dome of brambles that took two of us three long days to clear. Spring-fed and the size of a backyard pool, it had been built to gather water for pigs and cows and to irrigate the big orto—vegetable garden—beside the courtyard.

I had always admired Japanese gardens: their serenity, simplicity but especially their ponds, and thought our carrots, spuds and tomatoes wouldn't mind being watered from a cistern full of fish and water lilies, so I set to work. In February, I built two wooden planters for what the nurseryman swore would be dazzling pink and white water lilies but for the moment were slimy, wet roots. With incredulity, I watched the muddy planters sink to the bottom.

Next, I bought some fish. I imagined they’d be wonderful to gaze at, swimming gracefully among the flowers. I bought eight of them. Each the size of a child’s finger. They had looked golden and lively in the pet shop aquarium, and sparkled in the sun as we slipped them into the cistern. But then, instead of entertaining us with their grace, they vanished into the mud. Day after day, I scattered flakes of fish food but the only ones to show up were a frog and our cat, who watched for the fish with a gastronomical eye.

Then April arrived. Spindly green shoots sprang out of the mud, and the eight fish darting about had tripled in size—three of them with bellies like pregnant sows. By May, the shoots unfurled into lily pads with fat little buds that bloomed the next week. And the fish? Hundreds of them: tiny, gold and black, and pearl, swarming in schools among the lilies, racing to the surface when I came to feed them, then playing under the waterfall that tumbled from the spring.

Now, sitting on the wooden bench in the shade of the old oak and watching them—the lilies, the fish, the frog on the lily pad—you breathe deeply as you escape the day’s petty troubles.

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