Tag Archives: fish

Waves of Panic

It didn’t last for long.  But for the briefest of moments, the ocean’s surface had begun to buzz, bubble and boil – like a cauldron’s substance, sprinkled with green salt and membranes of kelp.

Breaking through the surface were the bodies of fish, their muscles and spines contracting in uncontrolled leaps, their efforts evaporating in the air before they fell, helpless, back into the toothsome waters.  Their panic was anarchic; a school of bedlam.

Danger surrounded the little fish.  Danger sought them.  The sense of the coiling progress of a hunter, its quiet and bloody hunger, pricked their nerves into a scintillating panic.  Their only means of escape was a quick, confused leap into the suffocating air followed by a helpless collapse into the sea’s watery embrace.

The fish repeated their chaotic vaulting – the ocean’s surface was dimpled with the tracks of their frenzied attempts.  Instinct told them that the aerated arc above them was their only hope of escape although their gills fluctuated and gagged at every contact with the arid tides of barren molecules.

Image result for mackerel - vintage color lithograph

But suddenly the air was torn apart by an approaching mayhem. As it drew closer it was heralded by cries that were sharp and pitched, by feathers that wandered into the froth – soft, curling messengers that presaged a secondary slaughter.  Like an armada the color of dusk, they floated on tiny, aimless journeys before sinking – to warn a terrified, submerged population.

Image result for sea birds - vintage

And just as the cries became shrieks, the water was assaulted by all the tools of hunger.  Screaming avian jaws lanced the surface of the water like needles perforating a quilt.  In a tumult of competition gulls, cormorants, shearwaters and terns plunged their faces into the ocean, their sharpened beaks an affront to the watery, fish-frenzied world.

And then just as suddenly, it was over.  The anarchy of the waves became serene; the muddle of violence was silenced.  The sky was unpopulated:  the dialogue of birds became a distant murmur, hidden in the pockets of salt and fog.  The predatory fish, sated and sleepy, sank into dark grottoes thick with alloys of green and coral.  As for the rest, the panicked prey, all that remained was a scent of oil and blood in the water and a silent flurry of scales beginning a slow descent:  witness to the terrible plan Nature had in store for them.


Seagulls Remind Me

"The morning beckon
       With water praying and call of seagull and rook…"
             – Dylan Thomas

I am a devoted admirer of seagulls.  I find them humorous, charming, ridiculous, beautiful, clumsy, graceful and full of webbed aplomb.

I know that many people disagree with me.  I remember visiting Hastings, an ancient town crowned with battlements, tumbling into the English Channel.  Every morning I would join our group for breakfast, and inevitably the conversation would lead off with bitter complaints about the gulls' crying throughout the night.  I had to disagree.  I enjoy being reminded that the ocean is near; that if I were to open a window I would be embraced by the sea with a veil of salt, dappled with scales and starfish.  I enjoy listening to their forlorn voices threading through the briny fog and sea clouds.

When they are grounded, their dignity is absurd.  They stare intently into the horizon, looking for the forests that grow beneath the waves and the islands shrouded with maritime breath; for the pock-marked hides of whales; for rainbow-colored grottos.  They sense the tides, they hear the currents.  They gather in serious groups – an open invitation for children to invade and scatter their numbers.

And when that times comes, they run into space, taking a leap into its invisible rivers – swimming higher and higher.  The wings extend so wide and fine, each feather ruffled by the airy fingers holding their host aloft.  Then, like a kite flying itself, after much maneuvering, the seagull becomes a stationary ship on its sea of wind:  staring down with benign interest on the curling waves and the stippled shore.

Sometimes I see their chevron-shaped shadows circling over the rocks and hillsides.  Calm and leisured, they are messages drifting down from their madcap owners.

I occasionally see them in the city, several miles inlland.  Now, I know that seagulls are opportunisitc feeders with a powerfully developed sense of smell, and that they can smell a rancid banana 50 miles away.  But I always liked to think that they were there to remind me – as they did many years ago in southern England – of coastlines, patterned shells and creatures shining beneath the waves.

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The One That Got Away

This is a sketch of myself, taken by my Mother, via ballpoint pen.  I was ten years old when this picture was taken.  Do I look my age?  You can be honest.

It was very unusual for my Mother to go along with us on our fishing trips, so I figured – correctly, as it turned out - that we were on the Malibu pier.  She would have no patience with the boat ride - despite its brevity -  to the Redondo barge.  This day had been a special treat.

I used to love fishing.  When my Dad, brother and myself planned for a trip – Saturdays only – I would look forward to it the entire school week leading up to the fated day. And I didn't ignore my studies either; its just that everything beginning and ending before The Wonderful Trip suddenly became glorious.  I would study the fish report in the newspaper, to note what was hitting, in what quantity and where.  Not that it made any difference.  We either went to Malibu or Redondo.  At Redondo you would get bonito who when hooked would, in clever desparation, pull the line againt the barnacles collected on the barge's bulk in order to snap it.  But at Malibu I once hooked a thresher shark.  And on one memorable, unremembered day, I caught the biggest fish of the day…a 5 lb. perch.

How I looked forward to these outings!  It's not often that a person in this current life looks forward to an event with such intensity that  it achieves an almost mythological status.  The magic of the ocean became plain to me then.

I loved listening to the transistor radios arrayed on the chairs and railings.  I loved the sandwiches Dad made for us:  salami and mustard on Roman Meal bread. I loved the mystery…knowing that your hook and bait (shrimp was a favorite) was hidden below water, possibly being inspected by who knew what kind of creature.  I loved the thrill…as I felt the sudden panicked tug on the other end of the line…I loved the awe…at the first sight of twisted scales and the flash of white underbelly.

Now, when I was younger, I felt no compunction about pulling the fish into the foreign air and stuffing it into a burlap sack where it can suffocate slowly, but at least be good enought to do it out of sight.  Then, when I grew a little older I felt that death should come quickly.  I looked to my brother then, to rap the fish's head sharply against the railings.  But sometimes, as with Mary Queen of Scots, it would take more than one hit.

And I never could disengage the hook.  I would usually end up tearing it out, dislocating the jaw.  I felt bad, but, you know, I had to use it again. 

But this was long ago.  Then, about 20 years later, I tried to go fishing again. And that same initial excitement was there:  but as soon as the fish was brought to the surface,  all I saw was how gruesome it was. I could try catching and then throwing them back – but what was the point?   I simply no longer wanted any part in this.

I at times chided myself for considering so closely the feelings of a fish.  Really, how much pain could it feel?  Then why, I'd answer rather sharply, would an anchovy lie placid enough in my hand, and then start to flap about in gaping terror as soon as I slipped a hook through its nose (I always hated live bait)? 

The point is – I haven't gone fishing since.

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