Originally I got him as a decorative object, but now we have a relationship. I\’m talking about my Betta splendens, my Siamese fighting fish.
I could not believe that a creature with an iridescent blue body surrounded by a corolla of pale yellow fins veined with delicate blue and pink could be had for a mere $4. So I whipped out my Discover card and brought him home and gave him an elegant apartment in a two-gallon flower vase that I found at Target. I also bunged a nice green plant in there, and some aquarium gravel and, to give him privacy, a hollow floating \”log\” to hide in.
When the weather turned cold it became apparent that an ambient temperature of 66F was not appropriate for a creature that evolved in the rice paddies of Thailand. So we got the little warrior a heater of his own, but that didn\’t raise the temperature enough, his optimal range being between 70F and 80F. We replaced that heater with another which still didn\’t do the job. We tried a third heater, but when a cold wave came through yesterday and it was -14F in the morning and the furnace couldn\’t quite keep up, I set the flower vase on top of a warming tray, and that finally got the water temperature up to an acceptable level.
Why, you ask, go to such trouble to ensure the comfort of a potato chip-sized creature? Basically, because he lets me pet him. I never thought such a thing was possible. Pet a fish! Who would even want to? But I noticed that whenever I came near his flower vase, which sits on the kitchen counter, he would swim in my direction. That led me to put my finger on the outside of the glass and move it around slowly, and by golly, he followed it, flaring his fins. The next step was inevitable: I put my fingertip in the water, and he came up to it and I made the slightest stroking motion on those butterfly-thin fins and he stayed put, saying clearly, \”Do that again.\” So now every day, as I do my rounds misting the houseplants, feeding the chickens, and brushing the dogs\’ teeth, I make sure to remember to pet the fish.
This puts me in a philosophical quandary. If an inch-long creature can actively solicit petting, what does that imply about the rest of the minor fauna around? What about the chickadees at the feeder– are they longing to perch on my arms? And the field mice who invade our basement in the fall–would they like to join us as we read by the woodstove? And those poor squirrels we deported…. Then there are the houseplants. Who knows what they think of me, what they long for? Maybe I should murmur to them while I mist them. At this point, I can\’t even bear to think of the chard and the kale and the spinach I grow in the garden. How, I wonder, do they feel about being cut down in their prime and eaten?
This living, feeling biomass that pulsates around me often leaves me feeling anxious and confused. The only thing I know to do then is to mumble the Buddhist blessing, \”May all beings be at ease….\”