Most people are startled to discover that I keep seahorses.
The reaction doesn’t surprise me. For most of us, seahorses inhabit a mental space somewhere between sharks and dragons–real, but almost mythological, and exotic enough that we see them in public aquariums, if at all.
Even then, it’s sometimes difficult to catch a glimpse, between the crowds in front of the tank and the seahorses’ expert skills at camouflage.
I’ve adored seahorses all my life, but decided to start keeping them in 2010–eighteen months after my father died. After doing “responsible things” with most of the money I inherited from him, my husband suggested that I use a little of the money to do something for myself that would help me remember him in a positive way.
My father loved sailing ships and the sea. He taught me to fish, and to sail, and encouraged my love of the things that swim, and creep, and slither in its depths.
When I was small, my grandmother had a beachfront home with a private pier on the shores of Balboa Island, California, When we visited her, I loved to lean out over the side of the dock and watch the seahorses and pipefish (which are actually seahorses’ relatives) swimming in the little tidal reef beneath the dock. They looked like a cross between horses and dragons–two things I loved (and still love) more than almost any others.
I’d kept freshwater aquariums, but never dared to try marine–and yet, a reef would give me a living reminder of something important my father and I once shared.
The decision was made. Seahorses it would be.
As I started researching what I would need, I discovered that on the scale of home aquarium fish, seahorses rank among the most difficult specimens to keep, because of their highly-specific needs. For example, they’re easily startled, and need a set of peaceful, non-grabby tankmates–and yet, seahorses themselves grab onto anything and everything they see. So, basically, you’re looking for fish and corals that will go along with “don’t grab me, I’ll grab you.”
And it gets more complicated from there.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that seahorses really aren’t that hard to keep, as long as you know the “rules” and make sure that everything else in the tank and its upkeep meets their needs as closely as possible. (“Special needs pets” doesn’t even begin to describe them–but the needs themselves are not that difficult to meet, as long as you’re diligent.)
In other words, they pretty much rule your life.
But here’s the payoff:
My tank is a 60 gallon marine (salt water) reef, with live rock and live corals as well as seahorses and assorted companions, along with a typical reef “janitorial squad” (I’ll share more about them in future posts). The tank sits next to my writing desk–within arm’s reach–and it’s actually far less distracting than you might think. If anything, it keeps me in the chair (as opposed to getting up and wandering around the house) when I hit a pause or a snag in the writing process.
Also, they remind me–constantly–of the things I love about the natural world, which keeps me grounded despite the time I spend in worlds of my own creation.
Why seahorses? Because despite their special needs, they have a magical quality that never ceases to inspire my imagination.
Plus…I have to admit, they’re pretty cool.
What pets–or hobbies–rule your life? What inspires you?