Of water, sound, and memory

June 2, 2008

Our small backyard goldfish pond in Northeast Portland sparkles from its annual cleanup today. The pond is compact: eight feet across at the widest point, thirty inches deep in the deepest spot, and nine hundred gallons. Just large enough that I can zoom in on a Google satellite map and spy its blurry roundness, as if I’m watching over it from space.

The pond came with the house when we moved in nearly five years ago. But (he boasts!) I transformed it: super-duper pump and filtration system with ultraviolet light hidden discreetly away and, more important, the addition of two marsh areas and many types of aquatic plants. Wild enough in summer that a heron swooped down into the urban landscape last year and feasted on a few unsuspecting fish.

A clump of cattails wagging in the wind reminds me of my boyhood lake in Florida. Red-wing blackbirds constantly flitted in and out of Sybelia’s cattails. Their song never varied but, depending on my mood, sounded like a greeting, a question, or a lament.

I find a recording of the song online. The sound rockets me back through more than four decades. I’m deposited in Sybelia’s bath-warm waters, where scene after scene of memories play unbidden. None is more vivid than this: I’m underwater, far beneath our two Labrador retrievers, Rogue and Sadie, swimming at the surface. Seen through a lens of deep water, they move in flickering frames of film faded with age. The dogs advance nowhere, passing each other in looping arcs.

They’re waiting for me to surface.