I'd like to start the new year off with an aquatic pay-it-forward gift to some lucky reader.

I'd like to start the new year off with an aquatic pay-it-forward gift to some lucky reader.

The 50-gallon aquarium was gifted to me five years ago, on my 50th birthday, though my piscine journey began a decade ago with a whiskey barrel, two gold fish, and that adage "No good deed goes unpunished."

I'd bought a whiskey-barrel fountain at a local growers market, stuck it up on my back deck, and plopped two gold fish into this gurgling, plant-filled habitat.

My sainted border collie, Twirley Jane, had ensured no predators disturbed their lazy swims that summer. But then fall turned into winter, and frost was on the whiskey barrel. I began to fret they'd freeze their fins off.

Scooping them out of their barrel, I put them in a large kettle and brought them into my bedroom for the night. The plan was to get a proper indoor tank first thing in the morning.

But dawn's early light was greeted by the sound of smacking fish lips. Fearing they were somehow suffocating, I quickly filled my huge, old porcelain bathtub with the cool water and slipped the two finned ones in. They swam several laps around their new white world — fins flapping and fantails swishing. They looked happy. And so was I.

The fish were fun to watch while doing my own ablutions. So instead of getting a tank that morning, I went to the pet store and got them several fishy friends and several sacks of colored gravel. My sainted mother was most amused, once she got over her initial shock.

"Sandra Lynne! Only you!"

Life was good — for two years. I was always a shower girl anyway. And cleaning the tub tank was no more complicated than pulling the plug, and watching to ensure nobody went swirling down the drain.

But then I was considering selling my cottage and moving closer to the Muddy Tributary, as my column-writing colleague, Paul Fattig, has dubbed our hallowed newspaper.

My friend/Realtor delicately tried to explain that a bathtub full of goldfish might be a bit off-putting to potential buyers. Mentally recounting the number of shrieks I'd heard from guests who discovered my watery pets by flipping on the bathroom light, I figured she might have a point, so I said I'd better buy a tank.

I was thrilled when she generously offered to give me her 50-gallon beauty. "Free!" she said, on the condition I take her last two survivors: a humongous goldfish and one scraggly beta fish.

My fish and hers soon joined forces as the tank was set up in my living room. And that's when things got murky. Literally.

Enjoying the show, I kept the tank light on 24/7, all the better to watch my aquatic pals — and consequently created the mother of all algae blooms. Green mucky water oozed in the big tank. Soon the fish were looking a little green around the gills, too, so I sought professional help.

New tank accoutrement and fish meds for the Tank of 10,000 Horrors topped out at $350. Not including therapy for my anxiety. But it was worth it.

There were also many happy adventures to write about, including the birth of several babies.

The bug-eyed progeny were the result of two of the tank's mismatched denizens. I never figured out exactly who did the deed.

But all but two of the babies have gone to live in ponds and tanks and whiskey barrels of friends.

For the past two years, the burbling aquarium has stood drama-free, in the corner of my living room, with two fat survivors swimming idly around its depths.

I've considered adding to the mix. But it feels like every corner of my life is at a crossroads as the new year, and another birthday, approach. So I'm opting to lighten my load. And offer this gift to you, gentle readers, on the same terms that it was gifted to me — freely and with love.

Just take good care of Bubbles and Flow. (And bring six men and a boy when you come. This sucker is heavy.)

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.