Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly...and who would have thought that would have to do with quilting? Of course, I've always believed that hidden deep in the recesses of her brain, in some rare speck of genetic tissue, perhaps in some stray DNA that had lost its natural way long before her birth, she was programmed to quilt. I will never know what predisposition she had nor what triggered the desire many years later in her life. She had always insisted that she had never considered quilting as something SHE would do, but nevertheless she became a quilter, and, last month, fish and birds entered into her quilting life.
Two months ago we moved into our new house which has a small koi pond. We knew nothing more about koi ponds than that they had water and fish. But, within a few days, they became part of our home, our lives, and my Darling Wife's passion. Within days she had them eating out of her hand. She actually put her hand at the surface of the water and orange and black and white koi sucked the food from her open palm. Three weeks later the bird came.
When we moved near the coast of California for the first time in our lives, we expected seagulls and other shore birds. We knew seagulls. And as long as we weren't standing below them, we liked seagulls. What we didn't expect was a great blue heron to fly inland five miles and see our koi pond hundreds of feet below. We didn't expect one morning to walk out by the pond and see blood spotting our patio. We didn't expect "Clown" to be missing from the pond. She had named them all. The fish she had named Clown looked like a clownfish, orange and black and beautiful, and it was gone.
"Once a heron finds out about your koi pond it will keep coming back," we were told by our son and everyone else to whom we told our story. We listened in dismay. "We lost two last year," one said. "I lost seven one year," said a woman we met at the pet shop where we went to buy koi food. "I know someone who lost his whole stock," said the clerk.
"Yow," said my Darling Wife.
"Yow," I said.
The heron came back the next morning as we were sitting down for breakfast. A blur of grayish blue filled our view through the kitchen window, and in less than a moment, a huge, Godzilla of a bird was perched on our fence. More like a giant prehistoric pterodactyl. "Killer!" Darling Wife shouted as she banged on the window to scare the bird away.
The bird flew away. Only to return another day. The next morning it was perched like a giant rocket on the edge of the pond. I slammed open the kitchen door and this feathered space shuttle took off, streaking over the hill behind our house.
The third morning, as I began researching blue herons and protection for the fish on the Internet, she went upstairs to try to quilt. But her mind was on the fish and the blue heron, not the projects she had lined up for the next few weeks. Unable to sit at the sewing machine without thinking of the red spots on our patio just days before, she wandered the rooms until she was at the window in the back room, and there she saw the bird strutting on the roof below the window. She pounded at the window and the monster took off. "If the window were open, I would have strangled it," she said. This from a woman who loved birds, who had feeders set up for birds, who would in any other time and place have loved the magnificent blue heron. At that moment, this woman would have strangled it.
"Try to quilt," I said.
"I can't. It might come back. I'll stand guard."
And stand guard she did. She paced the back yard. She stood by the window until I had to drag her away. I offered her the new quilt book that had come in the mail, the new quilt magazines that had arrived. I dangled fabric in front of her eyes. She pushed them all aside. "I can't," she said as she went out to the patio to check the sky for any blur of blue.
I found catalogs of blue heron deterrents that ranged from decoys to nets to motion sensors that set off blasts of water to trigger wires that set off .22 caliber shells in loud succession. Others who had had the problem wrote on the Internet about pellet guns and shotguns. A lot of people suggested shot guns. Cannons.
"It's probably a protected bird," she said. "It should be protected, but it should be living at some lagoon somewhere, not eating our koi."
"Maybe it won't come back," I said on the morning of the fourth day. We were staring at the early morning sky, fog blocking out the sun and allowing us to see for miles.
"It had better not," she said, and she turned and counted the fish in the pond. Three times a day she counted the fish to make sure they were safe. She fed them and talked to them and told them she would protect them.
"I think we scared it away. Three times should be enough for any bird." I was whistling in the dark. I had no idea if the bird had been frightened at all or whether it was hiding behind the hill waiting to pounce when we left the yard.
"I need to quilt," she said.
"Go on. I'll stay here," I said. We were told the heron usually fed early in the morning and at dusk, so we were always home then, going out during the early afternoon to walk on the beach and shopping for food in the evening after dark when we hoped the bird would be asleep.
"I really have to quilt," she said.
On the fourth day, the bird didn't come back, nor on the fifth or sixth. She went up to quilt on the seventh day that the bird didn't come back.
"I'm quilting something different," she said on the tenth day. We hoped the bird was gone for good.
"A heron quilt?" I asked, joking, but it was no joke.
"That bird was a vulture," she said.
"It was a blue heron," I said, but it was a bad bird for the koi to have come visit.
"I want you to tell the world," she said.
"About your quilting?"
"About Clown and the bird and my new quilt," she said.
"You want me to write a story?"
"A koi story," she said. "Now."
"And I'll show you and everybody the quilt."
"All right," I said, and did, and she showed me that she had brought to life three new koi that no bird was ever going to touch, an appliqué wall hanging of her own "Koi Story."
Copyright 2001 by A.B. Silver
In Memory of "Clown"
From a pattern by McKenna Ryan: "Fish Tales" (Pine Needles Design , Inc.)
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