Today’s fish tale of an edition comes from Will Maddox: father of two, managing editor of DCEO, and self-appointed pond stocker.
I saved six fish from a slow death this week.
I don’t think I realized why I felt compelled to do so in the moment, but looking back, I realize I needed a win. The day prior, we at D Magazine Partners received word that 20 percent of the staff would be laid off because of the economic downturn brought about by COVID-19. Several of my closest work friends lost their jobs through no fault of their own. I couldn’t sleep thinking about them, wrecked with survivor’s guilt and greater worries about the future. So when I saw the fish struggling to breathe with nowhere to go, pushed into a ditch by flooding over which they had no control, their small pond shrinking in the afternoon sun, I empathized with them.
Earlier that afternoon, my Twitter friend Martin Russell let me know that the giant fish were in a ditch between the Reinhart and Dixon Branches on the northeast side of White Rock Lake behind the hospital (he knows we often take our two toddlers into nature). Caring for two young boys during the stay-at-home order is endlessly more fun and frustrating than the average workday, and an important part of surviving social distancing while doing so is taking them on outings that are fun and engaging and don’t break the social distancing rules. Creeks, lakes, and the woods often fit the bill.
We parked and walked out to the small stream, one of several that had formed in the shallow ditches just inside East Lawther Drive due to the heavy rains of the past week. We could see several large carp swimming in circles, the ridges of their backs sticking out of the shallows. We could see that the water ended on either side of the puddle; the fish were trapped. We weren’t too far from Reinhart Branch, a creek that empties into Sunset Bay on White Rock Lake, so I thought I could get them there one way or another.
We couldn’t have been more ill-prepared for the rescue, but I began to improvise. I took off my shoes and commandeered a park trash can and emptied a trash bag (I returned them as I found them after), while my most patient wife narrated the action for our 2-year-old and held the baby. The water was murky from the fish’s movement, and the mud was squishy in the ankle-deep water. My son kept asking to see the fish and would squeal when they would thrash about. After a couple failed and slimy attempts at catching them with my hands, I perfected a method where I used a stick to guide the fish into the trash bag. I dropped the fish and water from the bag into the trash can, which was actually a metal drum. Soon I had three fish in the barrel, but I faced another conundrum; it was far too heavy to lift and carry to the car, much less to the larger creek.
But in a week that didn’t have many bright spots, a pickup truck full of a family with nets and buckets pulled up to the same spot, having been told about the fish as well. They had been told of the stranded carp, and were here to rescue the fish as well.
We kept our social distance from the mom and two boys, who used their far-too-small nets to guide the fish into their buckets. The fish thrashed and splashed and hated being trapped, soaking me in muddy ditchwater as they attempted escape. The fish, like most of us, don’t like being forced in a direction they don’t want to go, even when it is for the best. They can’t see the whole picture and rage against the guidance that is saving their life.
We loaded the buckets into the truck, the four boys into the car, and made it to the creek, which was deep and clear, full of other fish and connected to the lake. The time in the buckets had taken their toll on the fish, and many of them panted slowly, if at all. I worried that the struggle had killed them, that all our hard work would be worthless.
When the massive carp flopped out of the bucket and down the grassy bank and into their new home, we watched with a bit of trepidation as they splashed into the water. For a moment, they didn’t move. Like many of us this week, they were in a new world, unsure of what to make of it. There would be new threats, new opportunities, but most importantly, there would be life. Each of the six fish we dropped into the water swam away happily, to the joy of the kids and adults taking part in the rescue.
There were several little streams full of wayward carp in the area. We didn’t save them all, but we made a memory. I leaned into adventure with the family, even if it meant wading into muddy ditches to save some fish. In a time when so much is out of our control, it was nice to make a difference.
Thanks, Will and sons, for your ever-growing hearts. If you have a tale of a recent random act of kindness, email firstname.lastname@example.org.