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Mocha Musings: The rush of time halted by a koi look

Are you as surprised as I am that it is December already? Whoosh. There went another year, or so it seems. I am coming to the unsettling conclusion that it is, indeed, true that the older we get, the faster time goes. And so, winter is upon us once again, bringing snow flurries and chilly temperatures, strands of twinkling mini-lights in store windows, and cozy evenings spent snuggling under flannel sheets watching nostalgic holiday films.

Of course, the advent of the holidays also brings with it such “only in America” happenings as Black Friday and the lemming-like urge to spend, spend, spend. There are those who step off the assembly-line altogether and decide to do something entirely different. A girlfriend told me she was leaving town to — what else, this being Ashland — go trekking in Nepal for a month. (Me, I’m more the type to sign up for sunbathing topless along the shores of the Mediterranean than grab for a backpack and a pair of walking poles.) Would I be willing to feed her koi for part of the time that she’d be gone? Sure, happy to help, I said.

The first morning that I showed up to feed them, I opened her backyard gate and was greeted by the peaceful sound of a gurgling fountain. I walked across the flagstones to the pond and there they were: three magnificent, large carp, placidly gliding among the lily pads in their own watery domain. On one side of the pond was a large Japanese maple tree, its magenta leaves curled and ready to drop; on the other, a stand of bamboo in which sat a statue of Buddha, hand raised in blessing.

I took out a small scoop of fish food as I’d been directed, quickly sprinkled the pellets in the water, and turned to go, my chore completed. Then, I stopped. The granddaddy of the trio, a black and orange beauty, rose majestically to the surface, his large, open mouth gulping for the food. Slowly, deliberately, without haste. The other two followed his lead, their reflections now mirrored in the ripples of the water, giving the fleeting impression of far more koi than these three. The lily pads swayed and parted as the fish kissed the surface, slowly swimming back and forth. Calm. Serene. Peaceful.

Koi (“carp”) are revered in Japan as a cultural symbol for many things: good fortune, longevity, courage, ambition, perseverance and success. They are believed to have a powerful and energetic life force, demonstrated by their ability to swim against currents and even upstream. In the Chinese legend of the Dragon Gate, the koi swim upstream, through waterfalls and other obstacles, to reach the "Dragon Gate" at the top of the mountain. If a koi made the leap over the top after this adversity, it was transformed into a dragon. To this day, the expression, "The carp has leaped through the dragon's gate," is used to communicate that if a person works hard and diligently, success will one day be achieved. Their brilliant colors have special meaning too. Black koi, I’m told, symbolize courage and bravery to challenge the odds, so that one may create our own destiny or be re-born.

The week passed, and every morning, I entered that lovely patio and fed them, now taking the time to observe them for several minutes. Doing nothing. Thinking nothing. On the last day, I put my hands together in a prayer position and whispered, “namaste” — a thank you for the moments of reflection these koi had given to me with which to begin my busy day.

It reminded me that in this busy season where gift-giving can often feel hectic and compulsory, that it is sometimes in offering to help others that the true gift is both given and received.

— Award-winning author, TV presenter and world traveler Susanne Severeid is an Ashland resident who enjoys making time for the important things in life — including mocha. Read more of her columns at bit.ly/adtssmm. For more, go to www.susannesevereid.com. Email her at susannewebsite@olypen.com.