The Winter settles on your mind like the inversion over downtown Salt Lake City. A metallic imitation fog chokes the joy out of your brain and makes you wish for just a glimmer of that desert sun — the same sun you cursed six months earlier.
Some fight the oppression of winter with exercise, but you won’t find me jogging in the 6 a.m. darkness. Some wrap themselves in vintage cardigans and crochet by the fire, but I have neither specialty knit nor hearth.
Though the southwest is not subject to the howling winds of the Great Plains (famously inflicting settlers with “prairie madness”), or the wet unskiable snows of New England, our neck of the woods faces dull, dark, cold months just the same.
How does one suffer the season, year after year? Some may tell to keep a consistent schedule and to make time for friends and family. Those things may help. But I have a bit of novel advice borne of lived experience — buy a fish.
Buying a fish
Walk into your local big box pet store and head directly to the wall of water. Do not be tempted by animals with hair. Approach the array of fish tanks with exaggerated caution, to communicate that you mean no harm. Employees and store patrons will appreciate this gesture.
Watch exotic grey-speckled zebras and green neon tetras drift through silk plants. Notice how they casually avoid the translucent shrimp, furiously tap dancing on the marbles lining the bottom of 150-gallon tanks. One jet-black Molly fish breaks from its shoal and wriggles up to the glass, where its permanently smiling mouth gapes at you.
After briefly observing the jeweled armor of tiny sea creatures, you’ll run into a woman with mournful eyes, the color of the turbulent ocean.
She has witnessed much in her day, as you’ll soon learn.
“Can I help you, young man?” The fish woman will ask you, if you are a young man like myself. Answer in the affirmative. “I am looking for my first pet fish.”
She will shake her head in dismay.
“How big is your tank?” Tell her you bought a one-gallon bowl from a different big-box retailer. She will shudder, before directing your attention to the minimum tank sizes listed under each fish description.
None are less than 30 gallons.
She will claim that “Swimming in the bowl you bought would be like living in the linen closet.” After feeling sufficiently guilty, brace yourself for this woman’s explanation of the store’s impressive aquatic infrastructure. 20,000 gallons of water behind the curtain, cycling through every tank. Filters the size of office printers, changed three times a day.
Temperature, pH, and hardness — all continuously monitored.
This is an opportunity to introspect on your inability to effectively care for the living things in your life. Take a moment to meditate on your hubris, believing you could provide a good life to a little fish for less than what you paid for your 2001 Dodge Stratus.
Turn your gaze to the bookcase full of betas in take-out containers. Realize, despite the woman’s bowl-size protestation, that you are capable of providing for this very self-sufficient breed of fish.
Choose the one that looks the most living (not all will be moving). Get tricked into buying a $20 tank heater you don’t need. Accept the pamphlet given to you by your Virgil-like guide — “So you just bought a beta, now what?”
Carefully drive that sweet little swimmer home.
Taking care of your new friend
The winter is cold, but by this point in your fish ownership journey, your heart should be warming.
Congratulations, you have just filled your empty life with the responsibility of caring for something that is dependent on you for survival. This new friend, Ribby-Mae Bowflex, will force you to wake up in the morning to sprinkle exactly three pellets of food in her water.
You will worry about the temperature of that glass bowl in the middle of the night (good thing you bought that heater). You will start to dream of fancier plants to make Ribby-Mae happy. You will research the natural proclivities of this creature (they take little naps!).
Some may say: Are you compensating for a lack of human companionship? Ignore the haters.
Ribby-Mae swims faster when you walk up the stairs, isn’t that cute?
When you stare at your pet, you should be able to feel a little glimmer of personal change, that promise of a future Spring. Your small acts of care, day after day, bring good into the world.
After going through this journey of buying and caring for a fish, you may be ready to move on to bigger things, like houseplants, quiet birds or, someday, low-maintenance humans.
In time, the earth will thaw, trees will blossom and you’ll have survived the Winter blues.
Take my advice. Go buy a fish.