I know I promised to write about how concrete imagery draws a reader into a story, but I’ve had such a week that I just couldn’t.
Several months ago we had a huge Red Oak tree cut down after it dropped a large limb onto my neighbor’s driveway. Unfortunately, she was in the driveway at the moment of impact. Fortunately she was not physically injured. A few weeks later a small limb dropped on her red tile roof breaking only five of her three thousand tiles, but still, she was upset.
Then in June, Randle Ross from the Atlanta Water Gardens came to dig a pond next to our tree. There was one particularly large Red Oak root that he needed to cut out of the way, and that prompted my neighbor to type an official sounding letter to us strongly suggesting we take the tree down as she did not relish the thought of it falling on her house.
We had the tree removed.
Last week we hired a stump grinder. He had a new yellow remote-controlled machine that would do the trick. He and husband Clarke covered the fish pond with a raggedy blue tarp, Clarke left, and the roar of stump grinding commenced. Inside the house I tried to ignore the hundreds of wood chips pinging against our wired-against-burglers screens. Finally, when the whining and pinging abated, I went out to look at the results and saw the tarp over the pond slowly filling with water.
The stump grinder and I rushed to pull the tarp off, but the grinder estimated it now weighed a thousand pounds, so he cut a slice in it to drain the water. With all the water gushing out, I didn’t realize it was draining fine particles of dirt and buckets of wood chips, too. Finally the grinder hooked the tarp up to his machine, backed it away, and got the tarp free of the pond.
By now the pond looked like two day old coffee. We had had a clay runoff the first night after we had the pond installed when a tremendous storm hit Atlanta, but this time Randle Ross said the water would clear, and within three days, it did, so we weren’t overly concerned about the coffee water. However, last Friday, continuing my daily habit, I went out to feed and count my eighteen goldfish and koi. All but one were floating belly up.
I yelled for Clarke as I filled a five-gallon bucket, left sitting out for my plants, with three gallons of water and rushed to save the one remaining goldfish. When I put him in the bucket, I could see his gills were lined with something dark. He gasped for an hour before succumbing. When I spoke to Randle Ross, he said oak tannins were poison to fish. He offered to lend us a large pump and said we needed to pump out all the water from the pond, clean it thoroughly, and rinse it several times. Having recently received our Atlanta Water bill, Clarke commented how happy this process would make the city.
And then the Yellow Jackets arrived, buzzing all around us and delighting in the smell of dead fish. Clarke netted the fish one at a time and put them in another white bucket. When I glanced in and saw the dull sheen of black and orange and white, I broke down. I had killed every single one of our lovely, trusting fish. About then a Turkey vulture flew close over our heads, and a Yellow Jacket stung Clarke. He took the fish to the back yard in hopes that the insects would follow.
For the next eight hours Clarke drained the pond, scrubbed it, flushed it, drained it again. I used our old red and black shop vac to suck up oak chips and yellow pea gravel all around the skirt of the pond. The shop vac got clogged up every minute or two. I’d remove the black hose, poke a long green metal plant stake down its throat, shake it out, reconnect it.
The pond liner was slippery. Clarke fell twice; however, he’s a good faller and avoided hitting his head on the wide yellow stone plant shelf Randle Ross had installed so the fish could hide from the Great Blue Heron. He repositioned the water lilies on the shelf after I scrubbed off the outside of each pot of its black mucky coat and then began filling the pond with fresh water. By six at night the pond was filled, clear, and fishless.
That was Friday. Sunday we went to the Atlanta Water Gardens to return the pump and, at Randle Ross’s suggestion, buy only five new goldfish to start. The first one I chose was a six inch dark orange Comet with little black spots on one side and black on his fins and tail. I named him Hob, short for Hobgoblin. Then we got two more Comets and two “clown” fish—white goldfish with orange spots. After letting them float on our pond inside their plastic bags for fifteen minutes, we released them.
That’s the last we saw of them for twenty-four hours. I was relieved when I finally saw their blurry shapes on Monday. Tuesday we returned to the store and bought four three-inch butterfly koi, three golden fantails, and three more Comets, one of which, entirely white, Clarke named Spooky.
On Wednesday I started the slow process of winning their trust by feeding them a few flakes of food and remaining very still. Eventually Hob came to the surface and ate a few flakes. I fed him a little more, and another fish joined him. Over the next two days, I was able to get as many as thirteen of the fifteen fish to rise to the flakes.
There are no oak trees left to cut down. However, we now have a large sunny spot to plant the six old fashioned roses I ordered from The Antique Rose Emporium in Texas, and the three peonies, thirty tulips, one hundred daffodils, fifty crocus, and eight trays of pansies. Yesterday I poured six bags of black mushroom compost over the area and turned some earth over while Clarke moved some of the huge rocks he’s collected over the past twenty-five years to delineate the edge of this new garden.
That is why I have not had the time to write about concrete imagery.
P. S. Dear Reader,
I would like to add that years ago I taught my students about the importance of using concrete imagery. They might write something about being sad, but, I would say to them, as much as I loved them, unless their writing could make me sad, too, their writing wasn’t memorable. The reader wants to see, smell, taste, touch, and hear what he is reading.
Here are some questions for you to see what you can remember about this letter: What kind of tree did we have cut down? What were drawn to the smell of dead fish? With how many fish did we begin to restock the pond? What did Clarke name the new white fish?
Janet -I felt like I was right there by your side while reading this story – seeing, hearing and feeling it all! Whew! What a journey – I am glad we both survived!
Thanks, Laurie! I am glad we both survived, too!
Enjoyed your journey regarding the recreation of your pond. Looks so worthwhile.
Wish you would come and enjoy it with me! Thanks, Joyce.
Janet, you well accomplished your task of concrete imagery and brought us all along for the nightmare events and new beginnings! Making the story so personal gave a memorable lesson in writing. I learned and enjoyed.
Thanks, Lisa! I really enjoy your stories and admire your story telling! And your paintings! Wow!! (Maybe that’s the wrong word for such beautiful work. I love how you incorporate butterfly wings you’ve found among other things.)
Goodness gracious, what a bunch of calamities all at once! You
poor thing (s). I probably would have fainted at the sight of the dead
fish–you were very brave. The concrete imagery was terrific–I could
visualize the whole scene as you described it. Having been to your
lovely backyard before, I will look forward to seeing the profusion of new colorful blooms in the new year and, of course, Spooky and Hob.
So far we’ve named four fish. Because of the cold weather, I am not supposed to feed them until spring warms us all up. Then I can get to know them better (and they can get to know me) and can name them. Right now they are rather blurry oranges! We finished the new garden planting today, and I’m rather excited about all the roses, iris, and bulbs. Thanks for your kind words, Susan.
Talk about concrete imagery! Red Oak, yellow jackets, five, and Spooky 🙂
Oops, that was supposed to say five new goldfish and Spooky white comet—and lots more—don’t know what happened—
Ms. Weeks, this is Chris Swiedler, a student of yours from Dunwoody High School circa 1992. I’d like to get in touch! As tacky as it is to use your comments page like this, it seems to be the only way I can find you on the great wide Internet. Can you please contact me at https://www.facebook.com/cswiedler or firstname.lastname@example.org?
Imposter Janet Weeks, e.g. those who aren’t fans of kinetic-tactile learning, King’s Quest III, and W. Somerset Maugham, need not apply.