About a month ago, I was surprised by the response to a post I wrote about my Big Dead Goldfish Dilemma. My extra-large goldfish, Princess, had died very suddenly late last year, and unable to decide what to do with the body, I put her in my kitchen freezer.
I got a range of suggestions from concerned readers in the comments and via social media. They said I could fling Princess into the ocean, cremate her, feed her to a cat, or take her to the woods, cover her body with rocks, pray and burn some sage. I appreciated every response.
But one answer in particular caught my eye. My neighborhood pal Michaelann, who lives just a few blocks away, said I should bury the fish in her garden. I don’t know if Michaelann was serious, but after thinking it over for a few weeks, I messaged her.
And so, on a warm Saturday afternoon in early March, I wrapped Princess in a towel and strolled up the street, where Michaelann and her partner Jerome were waiting.
With an extensive garden, a beehive and a chicken coop, Jerome and Michaelann are serious about urban farming (check out Michaelann’s blog, Elkins Park Front Yard Farm). I met them last year, when I was working on a magazine story about backyard bee- and chicken-keeping.
When I arrived, there was already a foot-deep hole waiting, cushioned with straw.
Michaelann explained that it was the perfect place for the burial: this spring, the grave will be the site of a Native American-style Three Sisters Garden.
A Three Sisters Garden is a trio of corn, beans and squash all in one hill of soil. The beans add necessary nitrogen to the soil while using the cornstalk as a pole, and the squash’s leaves shade the ground, preventing too many weeds and naturally deterring pests. And apparently, Native Americans of the Atlantic Northeast buried an eel or a fish under each hill, to help fertilize the plants.
I unwrapped Princess and laid her in the hole.
Michaelann covered the orange scales with another handful of straw, to ensure successful composting, and we pushed the dirt back in with our hands.
The grave left a small mound, which we covered with straw and then a weighted screen, to deter digging animals.
I wiped my hands on a towel and we stood around the grave.
“You were a good fish, Princess,” I said.
Jerome asked if we shouldn’t have some kind of song.
We fell silent for a moment, wondering if there were any hymns about fish.
“Fish heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads…” Michaelann murmured at last.
I know Princess will rest in peace.