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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.







Tragedy At Lake Bigasanass

Ted Swarts*
December 17, 2001

John had been living along the shore of Lake Bigasanass all his life, which is easily over ninety years. He'd been depressed towards the end, for about twenty years if truth be told. He once said that his depression was not so much because of "All the sucking enviroloonies always on the sucking TV," but rather, because there were no fish left in his beloved lake, as far as he could tell. Lake Bigasanass just wasn't like it used to be, like when he was a child. Back then, he had told me, on more than one occasion, he "used to walk across the lake on the backs of huge trout that filled it from shore to shore."

I'll never forget the day I saw John kneeling at the edge of his lake, about a week before he left us, with a pH meter in hand. "What are you doing?" I had asked. He had mumbled something about acid rain and after he had played with his toy, for what seemed an eternity, he rose to his feet and said "Damn."

"What's the problem, John?" I asked.

"This machine must be broke and I just paid 90 sucking bucks for the sucking thing."

"What makes you say that?"

He stuck the meter in front of my face and I blinked as the number 5.1 leapt from its LCD. "It says the sucking treehumpers are right."

"Maybe they are, John."

"No way, Ted," he barked as he stormed back to his house.

I had barely left his lot when I saw him heading back to the lake with a fish bowl in his spindly arms, his rickety joints squeaking with every step.

To be honest, I hadn't a clue as to what he was doing, but I did know what was in the bowl. He had three goldfish, his friends he used to call them. They were named Fishy, Fishier and Fishiest. When I returned to his side, he had just finished taking three cups of water from the lake and had added them to the little aquarium's.

"See," he yelled gleefully, pointing to Fishy, Fishier and Fishiest while they merrily swam about.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"An experiment."

"You're nuts, John."

"No. Those flower loving daisy pushers are the nuts. And I just proved it."

Against the expense of revealing my culpability in what is most surely one of the largest tragedies of my life, my conscience forces I to reveal what was said next. To the still beaming John, I muttered, "Your test is flawed. You didn't put enough lake water into the bowl. You just diluted the acid."

His eyebrows furrowed and he looked at me for an eerily long while then he took his cup and added four more scoops of the lake to the bowl.

We both just stood there, dumbly, staring at the three goldfish.

"Told you so," he said as nothing had happened but, at that very moment, as a smile started to stretch over his wrinkly lips, Fishy rolled over and floated to the top of the bowl.

Again we just stood there. I was dazed and his face was frozen with a half-formed grin.

Then Fishier rolled over, immediately followed by Fishiest.

I don't think I'd ever felt so bad. And as I turned to John, as a tear was halfway down the old geezer's cheek, I knew at that moment that life around Lake Bigasanass would never be the same.

And I was right.

A few days later, I heard a loud knocking at my door and I immediately opened it to let John in. He was holding his pH meter in one hand and in the other was a leash to which his dog, Rusty, a golden retriever, was attached.

"How you doing, John?"


We just stood there and after a minute or so, I asked, "What's up?"

"I need a ride to the big one," he said.


"I need a ride to the Big Lake, to test its pH."

"What for?"

"I have to prove to myself that acid rain doesn't exist and I need another lake to do that, and it has to be the Big Lake."

The Big Lake, to those who live around Lake Bigasanass, is Lake Ontario and it's just an hour away. I felt obligated to help John, so I drove him, and Rusty, and his pH meter, to its closest shore.

It was a cloudy fall day and I should have known that something was going to go wrong, but I didn't. As John and Rusty and the pH meter slowly worked their way to the lakeshore, I turned on my radio and listened to it, with my eyes closed, while a naked Gloria Steinem danced in my mind.

A yell from John rocked me from my bliss. "I knew it," he was yelling, repeatedly.

I hopped out of my Blazer and ran to his side.

"Good news?" I asked.

"Not enough acid in that lake to kill a flea," he blurted.

Then out of my eye I saw Rusty sniffing a dead fish amongst some dried up milfoil. It was the ugliest fish I'd ever seen. It wasn't indigenous. A gobi I suspected it to be.

Turning back to John I said, "Great," and at that exact moment Rusty started to devour the dead fish.

"Stop it, Rusty," shouted John as he bolted like lightning to his canine companion, and then wrestled for what remained of the fish. Rusty was stronger but a slap to his snout sent the tail of the fish to the ground.

At that moment I felt exactly as I had days earlier, when John had added more of Lake Bigasanass to his fish bowl.

I remained silent all the way home, listening to John pontificate on the inadequacy of science and the stupidity of environmentalists while Rusty sat in the back of the truck, licking his chops.

Two days later, I saw John in his backyard digging a hole. It was a grave, I found out later that day, for Rusty. The grave was right next to three tiny ones that were demarked by tiny tombstones that read Fishy, Fishier, and Fishiest.

The funeral was short. John read the Lord's Prayer and I cried.

Two days later, another neighbor informed me that John had also died, in his sleep. I went to that funeral too. I was the only one there, other than a pastor named Iam Smartasanass. I cried again, as the pastor softly gave a eulogy.


The coroner said that John died of natural causes. I know otherwise.
* Used with permission of the author.
Ted Swarts lives in Kelowna, British Columbia.

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