The Fish and the Forester

A close friend, Paul, and I have known each other since grade school. Even though we lived in separate communities, we managed to spend much of our summers together by coercing one of our mothers to make the 5 mile drive to one house or the other. As a result our mothers developed a good friendship, which we soon learned to use to our advantage.

I’ll not bore you with stories from our formative years, but will simply state that we had some good times. Eventually, Paul and I both studied at Utah State University. Both in the same major, mechanical engineering. However, Paul soon found that his interests (and a cute girl) were better aligned with forestry.

This subject lead Paul, shortly after his marriage, to study at the University of Montana. As a parting gift we gave one another a goldfish.

Fast forward four years …

Paul, Jody, and their young child are preparing for a 4th-of-July trip from their small Montana town to visit family and friends back in Logan, Utah. Due to the distance, they usually stayed a few days at his parent’s house.

While my fish died within a year, Paul was determined to show that he was a more conscientious caretaker of the environment than a mechanical engineer. His gold fish was now about 5 inches long and he always brought it for a good thumb-in-the-eye moment with me (and it was easier than finding someone to care for it). For previous trips, they had transported the pet in a mason jar. Now the fish was too big.

Searching the house for a suitable container; one that could be sealed, was sufficiently large, and adequately durable for the travels, he settled on a stove-top pressure cooker. He also surmised, that while it would be dark for the fish, they would be driving during the dark much of the trip anyway. His engineer mind also surmised that the container would protect the fish from the altitude changes on the long drive.

From the Audience: “Hey, didn’t he think about aerating the water so the fish could breathe?”

Yes, he did.

Knowing that they would be making frequent stops to entertain a 2-year old and a pregnant wife on the 9 hour drive, Paul developed a system of containers that he would pour back and forth before exchanging some of the water with the fish.

Having left Montana at 4 in the morning, Paul and family arrived just before dinner at the Bastian home where all his siblings and many small children were gathered. The car was quickly unloaded and they were soon involved in various conversations and childcare.

The men of the family were grilling out doors and entertaining the kids when a scream was heard from the kitchen. Paul’s mother flew from the back door and collapsed on the lawn. (She was always a bit of a drama queen.) The rest of the women came pouring out of the house and stood on the porch in total silence, staring at her.

Seven months pregnant with their second child, Paul’s wife Jody had been resting in the living room. She soon emerged on the porch as Mr. Bastian, kneeling and surrounded by curious grand kids, was comforting his hysterical wife.

Paul looked quizzically at Judy and shrugged. Judy answered Paul’s shrug by loudly by saying: “I guess she doesn’t want fish for dinner.” This elicited a cry and moan from Mrs. Bastian and blank stares by the rest of the crew.

Paul immediately broke out in laughter, but was cut short when he realized that no one else was laughing. The men, of course, didn’t know about the pot and the fish. When he told them, “We brought our gold fish in a pot,” they giggled at Paul’s creativity, but didn’t quite know how it all fit in.

But, the women just looked uncomfortable.

Judy, always frank and practical, yelled out: “It’s cooked.” (She never did like the fish.)

The Moral of the Story

We can draw several lessons from the above story.

  1. Don’t transport fish in opaque containers.
  2. Forethought is always (at least) half blind.
  3. The probability of accidents is proportional to the population.
  4. Don’t mess with a pregnant woman.
  5. And, a story doesn’t have to be true to be valuable.

The Religious Tie-in

We can get worked up about what is known and what is unknown, what is true and what is unverified, what is logical and what is silly. Did Mark really write the Gospel of Mark? Who wrote Genesis 1 and 2?

Issues like authorship of scripture, conflicting interpretations from dueling authorities, church administration, and even the nature of God can overwhelm our observance. While these issues are important, they can be more distracting than useful.

And what is useful?

As James says:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (KJV James 1:27)

Alma conveys a similar sentiment in his invitation to baptism:

[If ye] are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God. … Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

If we get caught up in arguments about what is true or not, we may lose sight of our personal journey.

The parables of Jesus were fiction, so far as we know. Yet they are valuable.

The nature of God described in our scriptures is often ambiguous and contradictory. Yet, the tension makes us think.

Despite the tensions on other subjects, our mission relative to our fellow travelers in mortality is quite clear. Isn’t that interesting?


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