Goldie, the Suicidal Koi

I was at work on January 11, 2019 when I received a phone call from my wife. Reyna had found the one of the koi in my pond had jumped out. As far as she could tell the fish was dead.

Reyna wanted me to come home immediately. I had 20 minutes left to work and a dead fish did not seem worth the effort it would take to leave work 15 minutes early. I waited until my work day ended and embarked on the 40-minute drive home.

When I got home Reyna immediately led me to the dead fish. I recognized the fish as Goldie. I bought Goldie as a young 2 or 3 incher from a Petco about 2 years ago. I named him (I don’t know if Goldie is a he or she, I call him he for convenience) for his coloration.

As I looked down at Goldie he did appear dead. When I squatted down to pick him up I noticed that his gills were still moving. This surprised me. I thought it might be the last nerve impulses from his tiny brain, struggling to cling to life. I picked Goldie up and the gill motions increased.

It occurred to me that it had been at least an hour that the fish had been outside the water. There was no way this fish should be alive. Yet, I held the fish in my hand and watched it struggle to breath. I was amazed. I decided to let it die in the water hoping this might ease its suffering as it died.

The fish struggled to swim when I placed it in the water. It could not right itself in the water, barely able to propel itself as it floundered on its side. As I watched the fish I resigned myself to the fact that I would be scooping the dead fish out of the pond in the morning.

Saturday morning, I woke up and went out to the pond to scoop out a dead fish. Except, there was no dead fish. I saw all 5 of my koi swimming around the pond. I counted several times. 1, 2, 3, 4 … 5. I saw this fish that I had put in the water the previous evening, mostly dead, swimming contentedly with its fellows.

From what I could tell, the fish was suffering no adverse effects from its hour, at least, suffocating on the side of the pond. As I watched the fish swimming around the pond I considered whether a fish could suffer brain damage. This led to the question of how much brain power does a fish require to live a good fish life?

A human will live about 6 to 8 minutes before suffocating. They will suffer irreparable brain damage long before they die. After 3 or 4 minutes the brain damage suffered will guarantee that a human will be unable to take care of themselves for the rest of their lives, requiring around the clock care to survive.

This fish survived for more than an hour without breathing. I cannot see any ill effects the fish has suffered for this. I do wonder, though, if the other fish can tell that something is off with this particular fish. Can the other fish tell if this fish is brain damaged? Will this fish continue to live a happy and healthy life despite its ordeal?

Then it happened again. I found one morning when I was feeding the fish that Goldie had jumped out of the pond again. I figured Goldie was done for, but he moved again when I picked him up. I threw him back in the pond and he lurched away again. When I got home from work 11 hours later Goldie was doing fine.

I wondered if I had a zombie koi on my hands. Then I wondered if Koi can be suicidal. Again, Goldie seems not to have suffered any long term effects, at least there was nothing I could discern that was different from outside the pond. Do his pond mates notice anything amiss?

Goldie is humming along, seemingly, fine. He hasn’t jumped out since the second incident. Perhaps he is no longer suicidal. Maybe he is waiting for the perfect time to try again. I don’t know. I will update if anything interesting happens.

P.S.: The picture at the top of the post is not Goldie. It is a random internet picture of a koi that resembles Goldie. I am trying to respect Goldie’s privacy,

The Battle of the Backyard

It Begins With an Escape

This morning as Reyna (my wife) and I walked out the door to drive to work we saw our dogs, Jasper and Ginger, playing in the front yard. It took a few seconds for me to process what was wrong with that picture. I do not usually see my dogs in the front yard. Then I got it; it meant that they had escaped from the back yard.

The dogs did not take as long to process what was going on; they ran off in opposite directions when they saw us walk out the front door. We dutifully got in our cars to chase them down. Though they initially ran off in different directions, Ginger, thankfully, changed course and ran after Jasper. I was able to quickly overtake them in my truck, When I reached them I opened the camper shell and the gate and both dogs quickly jumped into the bed of the truck.

I got them home and took them into the house. I did a quick reconnaissance of the back yard and found the weakness they were able to exploit to escape the back yard. I recently moved their kennel a few feet; this had the effect of leaving a small stretch of unreinforced fence they were able to dig under. Reyna and I quickly moved some barriers (trashcan, assorted bricks, and some plastic milk crates filled with gravel) to keep them from getting out that way again.

They have not gotten out in quite a long time; years. This is because I have been practicing defensive landscaping techniques since we have acquired Jasper. We got Jasper on February 21, 2015 when he was a 3-month old puppy. He went to obedience training (he still retains the ability to sit on command, though staying is still not within his power, and he is especially good at sitting if he thinks a treat is involved). He quickly became comfortable spending his days in the backyard while my wife and I were at work. It was at this point that I began to realize that the backyard garden was about to become Jasper’s domain.

The Battle Begins

I noticed when I came home from work and fed Jasper his evening meal his body language changed immediately. I sometimes would observe him before letting him know I was home. He seemed to be depressed before he realized I was there. When I came out his expressions changed and he would run to me tail wagging.

I was happy to see him too, but sometimes that would change when I realized he had been hard at work destroying my yard. Plants, yard decorations, wooden furniture all seemed equally edible to him. He chewed his doghouse to pieces. After a month or two of this I decided that I needed to limit his access to parts of the yard.

I built a fence and gate to formally separate the yard. The part of the yard closest to the house belonged to Jasper; Reyna dubbed this The Dog Yard. This left a nice chunk of yard at the rear of the property safe from any canine vandalism; ironically Reyna dubbed this  Jasper’s Gardens.

Soon thereafter Jasper made the acquaintance of a stray who taught Jasper how to dig. Jasper thereafter dug himself out of the yard on a number of occasions. I would get occasional calls from neighbors who had captured him and I would dutifully leave work to pick him up.

My next great effort in the yard was to lay paving stones around the perimeter of the entire yard, both The Dog Yard and Jasper’s Gardens, to discourage any new digging. This stopped Jasper from escaping.

In December 2015, right after Christmas, Reyna saw a Facebook post wherein someone was looking for a home for a stray puppy. This puppy had somehow made its way from Bakersfield to Los Angeles and became part of our family. Ginger is a mutt of indeterminate origin; all we know for sure is that she came from Bakersfield.

Jasper’s reaction to Ginger was immediate. He did the best he could to care for her: he made sure she ate before he did, he would come running to Reyna and me whenever she cried, and he followed her around the yard to make sure she did not come to any trouble. That was his initial reaction; he has since gotten jealous of the attention she gets. They also bicker and fight like any human siblings might.


Ginger is a natural digger. Ginger is also a lot smaller than Jasper; she weighs about 40 pounds to his 90. She constantly found weaknesses in my paving stone digging shield. She was eventually able to dig a hole large enough for both of them to escape the yard. I strengthened the paving stone shield, filling in the gaps in the system and adding extra pavers at the most vulnerable points.

Then Jasper learned he could chew through the wooden fence that surrounds our yard. Another escape. I fixed the fence and screwed metal chicken wire fencing to our wooden fence to mitigate another escape of this kind. Not very attractive, but effective.

The dogs learned to open the gate that keeps them out of the Jasper’s Gardens. Jasper can reach the gate latch and learned how to open the gate. I added a rope to make sure the Jasper could not push open the gate. Ginger then learned how to squeeze through the lower half of the gate. Now there is a bungee cord attached to the gate that doesn’t allow it to open wide enough to let either of them through.

Lessons Learned

The battle of the backyard is never ending. The dogs will find another way to cause me some consternation. It is inevitable. A pair of dogs sitting in a backyard for 10 or 11 hours a day can get bored.

My dogs are endlessly energetic. They seek to avoid boredom. They respond to only a limited set of stimuli. They never concede or compromise. They are not amenable to logic or reason. I am sure this describes most, if not all, other dogs as well. I have read articles that advised against anthomorphizing pets, but I found this impossible because interactions between living creatures are complex. If animal behavior was simple enough to explain there would be no animal behaviorist admonishing me not to ascribe feelings and emotions to my dogs. They have distinct personalities and reactions. Though they may not be quite human, neither are they soulless and predictable.

The point is, that they, my dogs, are each in their own way a force of nature. We, Reyna and me, have to do all the compromising. However, seeing their excitement and wagging tails when we get home from work makes it all worth it.

Hanging Garden Day 2286

I originally posted about my Hanging Garden way back on May 9, 2013. That is two thousand two hundred and eighty-six days ago. This is a picture of the jalapeño plant I planted in those Topsy Turvy planters about 6 years and 3 months ago; this picture was taken on Saturday August 10, 2019, or 2284 days later.

This little jalapeño is tough. I cannot honestly say that I have taken good care of it. It has dried out on many occasions and I have thought it was dead quite a few times. I always give it some water and watch as it comes back to life. It is the only plant that is still alive from the original hanging garden.

I did not experience any real success with the Topsy Turvy planters, this guy notwithstanding. The tomatoes I planted were poor producers; not enough room for them to grow and fruit. This particular jalapeño had me thinking for a year or two that the Topsy Turvy planters might be better suited to peppers. They were not. This plant is my greatest success with the upside down planter experiment.

The hanging garden itself has gone through a lot of changes. The jalapeño is the only plant still hanging. The rest of the things hanging from the frame are decorative. It was an interesting idea that was not well suited to my style of gardening; again, this particular plant notwithstanding.

Topsy Turvy Results

I started using Topsy Turvy planters about four or five years ago. They look interesting enough. The plants in them hang upside down out of a non-porous cylindrical bag, which has a cover on the top with a hole to pour water through, and an opening in the bottom that the plant emerges from. I thought I would give them a chance. Now, after two years of close observation, I think I am ready to voice an opinion about them.

I have attempted to grow several different types of plants, using both the individual planters and the larger Topsy Turvy garden planter. I have planted numerous types of tomatoes, various chilies, bell peppers, and lemon cucumbers. I have had mixed results.

The cucumbers were a complete failure. I got one cucumber from the individual planter, and it was small and underdeveloped.

I have only been moderately successful with tomatoes. Tomato plants never grew very well and did not ever provide more that one or two small growths of fruit. Meanwhile, I have tomato plants in the ground that were massive and produced fruit for months. There was no comparison, tomatoes in the ground performed spectacularly better than those in the Topsy Turvy planters.

The quiet success has been a jalapeno pepper that I planted in the summer of 2013. The plant itself is not large, but it produces a moderate number of peppers consistently. I also have a bell pepper and habanero plants that are doing pretty well, though they haven’t produced a lot of fruit. Peppers seem better suited to life as an upside down plant than anything else I tried.

I may not be completely without blame in this limited success. I am sure I could have done something better, like water more, or use better nutrients. However, I like how when I stick a plant in the ground my biggest problem is keeping it from overtaking too much of the yard.

It might also be a problem of expectation, perhaps I expected too much from these planters. I like when my plants establish themselves and depend on me for an occasional watering. I am a lazy gardener. Perhaps these planters don’t fit my gardening style.