Heron vs Koi?

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I’m not a bird or fish expert. I took “Biology for Dummies” at Saint Vincent College. (The class was officially titled “Biology for Non-Science Majors” or something.)

I have this weird obsession for bird photography, though. I spent an afternoon in St. James Park in London once. I took something like 300 photos of ducks in the pond there. I had more pics on my memory card of ducks than I had of Buckingham Palace.

I just lose it when I see heron. I’m not the world’s most observant person. Still, I remember the first time that I saw a heron “in the wild” here in Western Pennsylvania. I was an adult. We were driving on a highway that spooned a creek. I yelled, “Hey, there’s a heron standing in the creek!”

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

Now, in the warm months, I see at least one heron fly directly over my backyard in Parnassus. Same time each evening. Perhaps my yard sits under the flight path between Pucketa (Puckety) Creek and the Allegheny River? What do you think? Again, I took “Biology for Dummies.” My bird knowledge comes from the Audubon Society’s website.

I have a lot of, ahem, “feelings” about the air and water quality here in Western PA. I grew up in rural Central PA and in the rural Laurel Highlands. My mom grew up in Pittsburgh. I travelled to the ‘burgh to visit her family. I don’t mean “the affluent suburbs outside of Pittsburgh.” I mean Carrick and Brownsville Road.

One of my strongest memories about Pittsburgh from back then was the smell. Everything smelled like sulphur. You know, because of the mills. I was born just about the time that the Pennsylvania steel industry started to collapse. It collapsed all throughout my childhood. Here’s the thing that gets me though: Mom lived in Pittsburgh from birth to age 20. She lived in rural PA for the rest of her life. Mom never smoked. (I smoked occasionally when I lived on my own. But my mother never smoked. She never lived with a smoker.) My mom died of lung cancer two days after her 64th birthday. So, yeah, even non-smokers get lung cancer sometimes. Pittsburgh’s air kill my mom?

Back to the birds. From what I understand (again, from “Biology for Dummies” and some internet science articles), Western PA was filthy for decades. Then, a bunch of folks tried to clean up things. In fact, Saint Vincent itself has a cleaned-up pond. Now we’re sort of a kinder habitat for birds and such. Including my heron.

So, anyway, my employer held an Earth Day photography contest on its intranet. Prizes are bragging rights only.

Since I took millions of bird photos, I entered one of these for the contest. I posted a heron photo. I wrote in the caption that to me, the heron is a symbol of the air and water clean-up efforts here in Western PA.

Within hours of my posting about my heron excitement, this one employee (who I don’t know) from another office (on the East Coast of the US) left a comment on my post. The comment went something like this:

I used to have a Koi pond my backyard. The pond had about 20 fish that were all worth a great deal of money. One day, I came home and all of the Koi were gone. My neighbor showed me a photo of a blue heron sitting on my roof looking down at the empty pond. So, I blame the heron for eating all of my expensive fish. I had to close my Koi pond.

(She capitalized the word “koi.”)

I have family friends who lost their own koi to raccoons. I’m sorry to hear this. They went out and got fencing to protect their koi pond from predators.

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. September or October, 2021.
This one’s blurry. Oh well. You try asking a heron to stay put so that you can get a photo.
Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I learned from a five-second Google search that heron are native to our part of North America. Koi are not native to North America.

Really, how privileged do you have to be for you to view photos of an Earth Day contest, see a photo of a bird that’s making a comeback in its native habitat, and complain that a bird from the same species ate your (non-native) exotic fish?

Heron. Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 25, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

In honor of heron just doing their best to survive in their natural habitat on this Earth, here are a bunch of heron photos that I took.

Heron. Moraine State Park, Butler County, Pennsylvania. October, 2020. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

CMU Fence with Ukrainian Colors

Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA. March 11, 2022. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Carnegie Mellon University has a fence that gets painted a lot as part of a fun campus tradition. I’m going to link here CMU’s own explanation of the fence painting. Everything that I know about the fence tradition came from the internet or from a random friend-of-a-friend who attended CMU. If you want more information about this, a Google search will serve you much better.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the most (very possibly the most) rigorous and respected schools in the Pittsburgh area. I’m not privileged enough or ambitious enough to have attended CMU myself. I know a lot of people who work for CMU. From what I have heard, CMU is a good employer. I even know a few highly gifted CMU alumni. I don’t know any of them well enough to have heard any first-hand stories about this fence.

Anyway, here’s a photo that I took showing the fence, painted with Ukrainian colors on March 11, 2022. My husband rents a parking space for his job on one end of CMU’s campus. On March 11, he and I visited Phipps Conservatory. Phipps is located outside a different end of the campus. Rather than search for parking right outside of Phipps, we parked in my husband’s “free” (that he already paid to rent) parking spot and walked across CMU’s campus to reach Phipps.

I agreed to do this because I got a pedometer watch for Christmas. The walk across the CMU campus increased my step count on the watch.

Well, the path that we intended to utilize to cut across CMU was actually blocked due to a campus construction project. So, we detoured around campus. We saw much more of CMU’s campus than we originally intended on seeing. We caught this glance of CMU’s legendary fence.

I apologize that the photo is so grainy.

I could have gotten closer to the fence. I would have had to walk across a muddy field. I was already tired from walking around the construction detour. I’m still out of shape from sitting around and drinking all day during the 2020 Covid lockdown. (I’m kidding. Maybe. Why do you think that I had to ask for a pedometer for Christmas?) So, I took this photo from quite a distance away.

After I burned so many steps walking around CMU and Phipps, we walked to Schenley Plaza and drank bubble tea.

I’m old enough to remember when Schenley Plaza was just a parking lot across the street from the Cathedral of Learning. I rode with my friends Erin and Nate when Erin parked her car there once.

Erin said, “You know, they’re going to replace this parking lot with a park.”

I said, “But where will everyone park?”

Well, last month I learned that if you want to partially walk off your Covid binge pounds, you can park on one side of Carnegie Mellon, walk over to the other side of Carnegie Mellon, walk through Phipps, walk over to the former parking lot that is now Schenley Plaza, and then walk back to your parking spot at CMU.

Just take it easy on the bubble tea.

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