Posts Tagged ‘water’

The Post – Nursery Update, Ethics, Parenthood, Friendship, and Just Being a Mere Mortal

February 25, 2008

Just a quick note this morning as I’m on the run. The next installment of my author journey is partially written. Those take me a bit more time. Pondering, reflecting, remembering. Lots to sift through. So those will resume this week.

For now, just to update – Scarlett O’Hara is still alive in the new tank – the “nursery.” Frankly, I was worried. I’d have felt better if I’d set that tank up last week and it had a week to run and settle out. I just hadn’t come to the point of “embracing” trying to raise larval crabs and when I did finally decide this weekend to try, it seemed like birth was imminent. Kind of a go/no-go response needed to be made ASAP.

Last night she just wouldn’t settle down in the new tank. Kept running back and forth, kept trying to climb the sides of the tank. Was there something wrong with the water that was hurting her? All the parameters looked great, in fact the water in the new tank was better than the original – that one’s overdue for a water exchange and the nitrites and nitrates in that tank are rising. So this one is actually healthier. However, certainly there’s other parameters I can’t measure. So my worry was that I’d put her in something I thought was better for her, but maybe I was killing her and couldn’t tell?

I wondered if she was just disoriented and couldn’t find a place to climb out of the water to get air. I noticed air bubbles escaping from her mouth at one point and was afraid she would “drown.” She has this lovely live rock with all kinds of crevices she could hide in, better than her old live rock, AND it’s much bigger so she can climb on top of it, but I thought that maybe in her stress she couldn’t find it. So I scooped extra gravel out of the original tank and put it in the new one and built her two gravel hills so she could walk up the hill and be partly out of water. She found them, but that didn’t seem to be the problem. She just kept running back and forth and climbing the walls.

My husband wondered if she simply couldn’t understand why the sides of this tank were so clean and where was all the microscopic algae she likes to eat? The other tank, though the glass sides look clear, apparently have microscopic algae on them because the crabs are always “picking stuff off” the sides and eating it.

Or maybe she was just so stressed out, she couldn’t relax and would kill herself with exhaustion?

I also noted last night that the formerly clear water in the new tank was now cloudy. I was convinced something awful was taking hold and maybe the live rock had something bad in it. If so, you would expect the nitrites to be rising. I repeated all parameters last night and the water looked good.

So by this point, who is more stressed? Her or me?

My husband said little, just said “It’ll be what it’ll be. You’ve done all you can.” I told him it’s not easy being “God.” He patted my back and said “At least not a God who cares.”

Anyway, I struggled with “should I just bag this whole thing and put her back in the original tank?” I decided not to add any more stress to her by moving her back. One of those – just let it go and see what happens, moments.

This morning the tank looks less cloudy. My husband said he came down and she was sitting quietly in the water, “tending” to her egg mass – ie – giving it pushes and pokes, as if turning them. When I came down, she had found her way to the top of the live rock and was just sitting there on top of her world, soaking up heat from the lights and appearing totally relaxed. (Or is she dead? Should I poke her? 🙂 Just kidding).

All joking aside about my being so worried, I guess I felt guilty. As I said to my husband – Did I put her at risk of dying because I so wanted to try and raise the babies? Did my ego cause harm in this and should I have just left it all alone?

The ethical questions are never clear or easily answered. It’s like being a parent. You try your best, knowing that even when you do, you don’t know if you’ve made the right choices. And in your less than perfect moments, and we all have them, you wonder, will they be okay? Why does God entrust such a big job to mere mortals?

I think Lee Woodruff’s final comments in her book, In An Instant, apply here, at least for being parents, maybe not for being God to fiddler crabs. She worried about how her kids were affected by all the turmoil and intensity when her reporter husband, Bob, was in the hospital with a head injury. She had to be away for long periods to be with him. Things were in an upheaval even though family and friends were looking after things. I so loved her observations, because they are the truth. In thanking her kids she added:

“May you always remember that there are no perfect parents, just mothers and fathers doing the very best they can. And there are no perfect spouses either, just those who love each other enough to stand by “for better or worse.” Don’t be fooled: that kind of endurance is, perhaps, the greatest expression of love.”

I think she could only come to that lesson because of the messiness of life. I think it’s the messy low moments that teach us the most about being human, and about understanding the “human moments” in others. Those times teach us about being compassionate to ourselves and to others, especially when life is at its least pretty. We all want to look like we’ve got it together. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. Life gets messy. Thomas Moore, a former Catholic monk, in his book, Care of the Soul, I book I read, reread, dog-ear, highlight…in three different colors, quotes something from the Renaissance humanist Erasmus, that applies. Erasmus wrote in his book, The Praise of Folly, that “people are joined in friendship through their foolishness. Community cannot be sustained at too high a level. It thrives in the valleys of the soul rather than in the heights of spirit.”

So, from one very imperfect human, friend, wife, mother, fiddler crab God, go gently into your Monday. It’s really okay, no matter how it goes.

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The Post – Is Birth Imminent?

February 24, 2008

I will be returning soon to the evolution of my novel, Under the Pier, but given the goings-on here, I have to take some time to tell of events unfolding in the fiddler crab world.

I decided to see if it is possible to raise at least a few of Scarlett O’Hara’s and Admiral Byrd’s babies, should they survive birth. It’s a long shot, but I want to try. Scarlett looked really pregnant yesterday – that abdomen of hers is large and when she pushes at it, it’s like jelly. I have these observations again from my husband.

It is TRUE LOVE when your husband acts as midwife for your pregnant fiddler crab, keeping close eye on her while I ran out today to get a chunk of live rock for the aquarium. He even called me on my cell phone at the aquarium store to tell me that Scarlett was picking at the larval mass, pulling out a brown thread here and there and planting it in the gravel. He felt birth was getting close and I should hurry home with the live rock. I tell you, is that a friend or not? How many people would call you on your cell phone to let you know your fiddler crab is getting ready to deliver? 🙂

To back up, we went to Petsmart last night and picked up a new 10-gallon aquarium, tank top, light, light bulb, thermometer….. yes, another whole set-up. My husband is laughing but then, he is a geek, just one with different interests, so he respects this endeavor I’m involved in.

In fact, he is working on setting up his own blog that will have all kinds of tweaky things that reflect his interests. When it’s up and running, I’ll be sure to mention it. He finds the most unusual and interesting things out there. To give you a sample of the man, when we are out on a date it is not unusual to walk through the parking lot and have him explain to me the mechanisms for the inner workings of car backup lights and such. I just love it. Going somewhere with him is always interesting and an adventure. Sometime I’ll have to share how he and I hunted down the overgrown boarded up command bunker for a former Nike missile launch site in Newport News VA. 🙂 But a story for another time. Those are the kinds of dates I love. Anyway, I’ll let you know when his geek site is up and running.

To get back to fiddlers, I spent last night setting up the tank. This time I started with distilled water. We have a small water distiller and I proceeded to use up our drinking supply to make up salt water for the “nursery tank.” Mixed up Instant Ocean powder in the distilled water, set up the filter, and within a couple of hours, got the water parameters just about where I wanted them: pH 7.8, alkalinity 180, hardness >300, chlorine, Nitrite, and nitrates all zero. Salinity was about 1.008, a little lower than I wanted because I want this tank’s water to be an almost exact match for the main tank.

This morning I used some marine buffer to bump the pH up to 8.0 and alkalinity closer to 300. Added a bit more Instant Ocean to get the salinity up to 1.010. I seeded the new filter with a strip of “very well colonized” filter material from the old tank to jump start the nitrogen cycle, and brought home from Fish Pros the MOST amazing chunk of live rock – ALREADY had all kinds of marine invertebrates and microscopic algae on it because it had been in another tank that had just been dis-assembled. So, the live rock is well underway growing organisms and probably has another dose of nitrogen-fixing bacteria ready to go.

I debated about what to do with Scarlett O’Hara, leave her in the old tank and struggle with where to release her babies or put her in the new tank with plenty of room for all. Finally decided to take a chance and I’ve moved her into the new tank. She seems to be doing okay in spite of being rattled by being moved. I’m hoping it didn’t disturb her too much. It always shakes them up a bit to move them around. I have done my best to make her a good nursery and here she is free from Admiral Byrd’s claw-waving. I even took the heater from the old tank and gave it to her in the new one. I ordered a new heater for the main tank which should be here Wed. But I figured Melanie Hamilton and Admiral Byrd will be fine for a couple days with the tank lights to keep them warm. I figured “momma” needed it more.

By the way, the tank heater I use is a small one geared for 3 gal aquariums. It’s pre-set and can be mounted sideways with suction cups, and there’s no risk if it touches the gravel. It’s a Marineland Shatterproof Heater (10 watts) part number VTMD10 and found it online at That Pet Place.  Since my tanks are only a third full of water (to allow space for the crabs to get out in air), regular heaters won’t work. Not enough water for them to be fully submerged. And regular heaters are generally large and have to be vertical.  This guy is short and can be sideways. Keeps the tank in the range of about 78-80 degrees F. So for what it’s worth.

So…the nursery is up and running. So very much hoping that 1) Scarlett will do okay in the new tank; I would feel terrible if she doesn’t make it because of the move 2) the babies do okay.

Then all we have to worry about is how to sell off many many many many many grandchildren? 🙂 I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, if you want to have a few seconds of just staring at some nice marine creatures swimming amidst coral, click on the Instant Ocean link above. Neat intro.

The Post – Extra! Scarlett O’Hara is Pregnant

February 17, 2008

Well, that is life for you. One minute you’re choking in the ER, the next maybe we’ll be surrogate grandparents for our fiddler crabs?

Again, it is my husband, the one who made fun of my fiddler crab project, who notices changes in the fiddler crab tank.

We have noticed Scarlett O’Hara on occasion, seeming interested in Admiral Byrd. Admiral Byrd of course, ALWAYS waves his claw even when no one is around. My husband explained this is a guy thing – you always stand around looking cool, just in case. Well, apparently things happen when the lights go out.

For the last 2 days my husband has mentioned, with concern in his voice, that Scarlett O’Hara has been climbing all the way up the water filter, almost to the top of the tank, and has been hanging out up there. We just thought she wanted to be queen of all she surveyed and liked being up high.

Today he looked at her and said: “I think Scarlett is going to have babies! Do fiddler crabs carry their eggs on their abdomen?” I glanced at her and there was this wad of brownish spongy stuff tucked against her abdomen, underneath her mandibles.

Sure enough, a glance at a web site of the Fiddler Crab Life Cycle, shows pictures of pregnant females carrying hundreds of thousands of fertilized eggs on their abdomen. The pictures look just like Scarlett O’Hara. So, she’s pregnant!!!!

Now my understanding from something I read, was that female fiddler crabs burrowed down into the sand 23 inches or so, to lay their eggs. So I felt assured we would not be contending with “babies.” In fact, maybe that’s why Scarlett’s been climbing on top of the water filter. Maybe she’s been looking for someplace deep to lay her eggs.

However this same website on the fiddler crab life cycle indicates that female fiddler crabs RELEASE their fertilized eggs into the water and they float around as plankton. When they molt and get big enough, then there’s JUVENILE CRABS running around the tank.

My husband’s reaction was almost identical to 20 years ago when I invited him to have lunch with me at the hospital one weekend when I was working, so I could tell him the results of a certain pregnancy test I had just run: “Oh my God.” My husband said, “I’m not ready to be a grandfather yet, especially to a few hundred thousand fiddler crabs . . . ” But you and I both know, if there’s babies in the tank, he’ll be watching over them and concerned about them.

Now another site I found, About.com’s Keeping fiddler crabs as pets, (which by the way is a GREAT summary of how to raise fiddler crabs in general AND has instructions on setting up a brackish water tank) indicates it’s near to impossible to raise the babies in captivity. Apparently the babies need to go out into deep ocean water to grow then return to the brackish water estuary when they are older.

Well we shall see. Who knows? We may yet have BABIES in the tank!!!!! 🙂 So, the $4 fiddler crabs, with the >$100 of support gear so I could establish a brackish water tank so they wouldn’t die, have apparently not only not died, but thrived! Now we may need ANOTHER TANK so the thousands of babies have a home. Anybody want to buy some fiddler crabs? I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the pregnancy.

Stay tuned this week for pictures of the pregnant mom!

The Post – Another Side Trip – In an Instant, Life Changes – The ER and Patton

February 17, 2008

One minute you are moving through your day, clearing tasks off of your to-do list and anticipating all the things you will still tackle during the rest of the afternoon. The next moment you’re wondering if you will make it through the afternoon, and can you ever get what is choking you, out of your throat? In an instant, life changes.

I talked the other day about “awareness and staying in the present moment” in relation to my racquetball game. Shift to the future and you blow the present shot. The same thing happens in life.

My meditation class talks every week about paying attention to what you are doing, and that anything can be a meditation if you do it mindfully, full of awareness. I never thought about this extending to swallowing pills. I also never thought about how I swallow pills as a possible life-altering moment.

It’s something we do automatically. Grab the pills, toss them back, throw in a mouthful of water, all while in motion through the day’s to-do list. As you tip your head back to swallow, your mind is already on the afternoon’s plans and everything you want to get done. Suddenly there is this sense of something horribly wrong.

It is said that when we are in pain, our world narrows. While that’s usually said about emotional pain and our tendency to pull away and close down our connections to the world, the same is true of physical pain.

In just a second or two, the brain, reacting to that sense of something horribly wrong, starts reeling in the attention and cranking down the focus. It shifts gears from 4 p.m. back to 2 p.m. Within another second or two, it registers panic and pain. It tries to rally its resources to deal with the emergency. Whatever was on your mind before evaporates. It is suddenly incredibly irrelevant. You may never get to it.

Now focused very much in the present the brain is frantically trying to get a clear picture of what the hell is happening. It’s processing emergency signals from several places in your body simultaneously – heart rate, throat, blood pressure, lungs, mouth, cervical nerves. The eyes bulge, hands go up to the throat, and the left brain finally grasps that the pills you swallowed without thinking, tumbled down the wrong way. In a one-in-a-million shot they’ve lodged side by side in your esophagus and are blocking the whole passage.

At the same time you’re looking for a waste basket to throw up in and get those things out of you, additional panic shoots through you. The brain has further grasped that not only can’t you swallow, but that the water you took with the pills has backed up into all of your air passages and is now choking you. Inside your head you hear the liquid close off passages. For an odd moment, like time standing still, you notice that the sounds in your head right now are the same as when you’ve dived underwater and everything is flooding with fluid. Except you’re not in someone’s pool. You’re standing in an office wondering if you’ll ever take another breath.

The breath. All those meditation classes. Come back to the breath. Breathe in your pain and fear, breathe out caring and calm. But even the breath has been taken from you. Panic. Focus. Panic. Focus. The battle in the brain begins because it knows if panic wins, you may lose the battle completely.

Suddenly the water drains out and you can breathe. The breath. Come back to the breath. You’ve been given another shot. Don’t blow it. The brain is in command. Stay in the moment. Just this moment. Breathe – just one breath. Assess. What’s your next move? Think. Take stock. Breathe again. Just one breath.

You determine you can’t swallow except for tiny amounts. Okay. Focus. One swallow at a time. Look around. What are your options? Get help. Someone to be here in case they have to call 911. You remember the pills are large. Hard. Coated. They’re not going to dissolve. You need assistance. Get to the ER.

Someone stays with you. They’re trying to help. It’s a comfort and calms you, even though you can’t really respond. You’re using all your focus and energy on “Breathe – just one breath. Swallow – slowly. You cringe. Intense pain shoots up your throat as the liquid shoves the pills against the esophagus wall and ever so slowly drips around them and down your throat. Breathe. It takes a few seconds to swallow saliva that you normally don’t even notice is there. A few seconds more and the swallow is finished. Take another breath.

The brain starts to race – how long will it take my husband to get here? How long to get down the street? How long to the ER? How long before they can do something to make this better? Panic. The brain takes charge again. Stop. Stay in the present. Breathe. Swallow.

Every shift of the car gears hurts. You want to be sick. Take a breath. Swallow. Another bump. Breathe. Rounding the corner. Still a mile to go. Breathe. Swallow. Traffic backing up. Panic rising. Breathe. Swallow. Close your eyes. The ER doesn’t exist. Just this moment. Breathe, swallow. Breathe, swallow. Lean forward because it doesn’t hurt so much. Breathe. Swallow. You turn into the hospital. The ride to the door might as well be an eternity. Close your eyes. Breathe, swallow.

You struggle through admissions. Whisper name, date of birth, insurance, address. Breathe. Swallow. The nurse typing in your vitals seems to be taking forever. Will you ever get relief? Come back to the moment. Breathe. Just one breath. You spot your blood pressure and heart rate. It scares you. Close your eyes. Breathe. Swallowing is harder. Lean forward. Get ready. Breathe, swallow, tighten your fist to take your mind off the pain in your throat. Breathe. Stay calm.

I know my husband is there. His presence is calming. I can’t respond to him. Can’t even focus on him because I am focused on breathe, swallow. For a second I feel his hand on my back. Its warmth relaxes me, radiates through my muscles. Calms them. But I can’t tell him yet. Just breathe. Swallow.

The doctor is approaching the room. Breathe. Swallow. You stare past the doctor and see a room across the department that looks just like the one your husband almost died in a little over a year ago . . . when he almost choked to death. Breathe. Swallow. The nurse pushes in the needle for the IV line. Breathe. Swallow. Meds are moving through your veins. Breathe. Swallow. Breathe. Swallow. Calm. The meds are calming. The muscles in your throat unlock. Breathe. Swallow. Suddenly, a tiny burp. Air is moving up. Breathe. Swallow. They give you water. Tiny sips. It slides down your throat. Pills shift and hurt. Breathe. Swallow. Ever so slowly, the burps get bigger. The sips of water larger. The medicine slows your heart rate. Your blood pressure has dropped. You can swallow and breathe without total concentration. Will you ever take another pill unawares?

Joan Didion wrote a book, The Year of Magical Thinking, about what it was like the year after her husband died of a massive heart attack. She was with him when it happened. It happened in an instant. In that moment as he fell, dead, everything changed.

Even as Kate Braestrup stared at her husband’s cereal bowl in the sink that morning, he already lay dead in his state police car, killed when another vehicle lost control and crashed into him. Her life changed in that instant as she described in her book, Here If You Need Me. Lee and Bob Woodruff wrote a book, In An Instant. He was covering a story for ABC News in Iraq when an IED exploded near his vehicle. In an instant he nearly died. In an instant everything in her day changed dramatically.

It happens so often. It happens to everyone. Yet we all try to ignore that an end will come. We pretend that reality doesn’t exist even though it does. In an instant we are reminded that though we think we are masters of our fate, we never are. It’s out of our hands.

Friday night, terrified after what had happened to my day, my body, and with the calming effects of the valium wearing off, I scrambled to put myself in a place that brought me back to a time where I felt I had power. I retreated to the movie, Patton, about the controversial, powerful, and legendary World War II general, George S. Patton, Jr. His nickname, given by his men, was “Old Blood and Guts.” He never retreated.

It’s a standing joke in my house, that especially when I was younger, I was Patton. I was the general. I ran the situations. Whatever needed doing, I gave the order or executed the action. Failure or retreat was not in my vocabulary. Back then, my thought was, work hard enough, push hard enough, refuse to be defeated or back off, and you can do, achieve, overcome anything.

In the movie, there is one scene where Patton, played by George C. Scott, speaks and my family looks at me and laughs. Patton, has been reprimanded and his command taken from him. Patton, like him or hate him, was a brilliant field commander. He also put his foot in his mouth constantly, and some of his actions were controversial. Yet he was a power to be reckoned with. He bludgeoned his way through things, though aware of the pecking order, did manage to yield some deference to God. In this scene he is speaking to his aide after being told he might be sent home from the war in disgrace:

“I feel I am destined to achieve some great thing, what I don’t know. But, this last incident is so trivial in it’s nature and so terrible in its effect, it can’t be the result of an accident. It has to be the work of God. The last great opportunity of a lifetime . . . an entire world at war, and I’m left out of it?! God will not permit this to happen!! I am going to be allowed to fulfill my destiny!!!” [LONG PAUSE] “His will be done.”

The last four words are said almost as an afterthought, Patton remembering that God just “might” have some say in things. For some reason, at that time in my life, maybe even now a little bit, my family saw a lot of me in that scene. 🙂

So Friday night, I took comfort from retreating to a place and time in life where I felt powerful and in control of everything. Yet, in truth, even as I watched that movie I knew it was just an illusion, a temporary salve for a traumatic day. None of us are really in command of our destinies, only our responses to life’s questions. Even the powerful General Patton learned that. He preferred to die in battle. Instead, in Dec of 1945 he was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of injuries in a car accident. He died a couple of weeks later from an embolism.

I took temporary sustenance from the movie, even as I am aware that we can only take charge of some things, our choices, but for the rest, there is just the one and only powerful tool we can use: stay aware in the present moment, and breathe.

The Post – and finally, Admiral Byrd

February 2, 2008

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To round out the fiddler crab trio in our household, I give you the sole male in the tank, Admiral Byrd. He is fearless, commands the tank, explored every inch of it the moment he first entered the tank, and so he deserved a name fitting for a courageous explorer.

The first picture shows Admiral Byrd under less than optimal circumstances. In one of the first blogs about the crabs I mentioned the problem of getting the salinity level right in the water. Being brackish water crabs, they like lower salinity. Not knowing this, I had made the water the same as regular sea water. That drove Admiral Byrd literally out of the water, up the gravel hill, and as seen here, climbing the walls of the tank to get out. I quickly diluted the water, thus calming him down and convincing him to stay.

The second picture seems to sum up Admiral Byrd’s standard pose: “Stand back! I have a claw and I’m not afraid to use it!”

The third picture shows Admiral Byrd trying to get closer to the ladies by nestling in against the live rock while they were sleeping inside. (He was too big to fit inside). I guess he figured if he slept outside their front door, they’d have to run into him sooner or later. Admiral Byrd may be brave, but he is not too smart. The ladies just exited the live rock by the side entrance.

The last shows dinnertime. Admiral Byrd is chewing on a shrimp pellet clasped in his smaller front claw.

That’s the crew.

In another post, I will talk about a couple of ways this photo project helps my writing.

The Post – Scarlett O’Hara and her molted ghost

January 31, 2008

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Well, I’ve been promising pictures of the fiddler family members so let’s start with Scarlett O’Hara and her recent molt.

The first picture shows her just after she molted, climbing down the side of the water filter. I love how they can have their eyestalks going in two directions as they move about. If you look closely, the right eyestalk is vertical, while the left one is scanning in a horizontal direction. Off to the right in the picture, her whitish “ghost” sits, discarded. With the water currents waving the legs and claws back and forth, the discarded shell looked eerily alive.

The second one shows her nestled safely under the water filter and behind her old self (fuzzy part in front), where she rested for some time. It is not unusual for newly molted crabs to hide. Their new shells are soft at this point and they feel vulnerable. So they hide to give themselves protection as their new shell hardens.

The third picture though a bit dark, gives you a close-up view of the ghost version. You can see the empty leg, claw and eyestalk casings. I will add that the “ghost of Scarlett O’Hara” no longer exists. Admiral Byrd ate it. Perhaps he is getting ready to molt. Crabs often eat discarded shells to reclaim the calcium the shells contain.

Last picture shows Scarlett O’Hara when she finally emerged from under the water filter. Still a bit tentative, she sought shelter under an overhang on the Live Rock.

These were all from Saturday, the 26th. Today she was back to her old self, running around the tank and eating. Maybe I can get a lighter picture of her now that she’s out and about. I need to work on “lighting” issues for these, but still, not bad considering no flash and long exposure times.

Soon to come, Admiral Byrd and Melanie Hamilton!!!