June 28, 2008

Damp Animals

There were more herons this year. I must have seen seven or eight. My favorite was The Grand Old Gent who made a dignified stalk down the boardwalk every morning, the length of his spiky backhead plume indicated he’d been making that promenade for many years. He was polite with me but distant. He knows my kind isn’t quite to be trusted.

Then there was teenager heron, with hardly any spike plume to speak of, who patrolled around from fisherman to fisherman in the early morning, bait begging. He sidled his lanky way up to people with his head cocked to an engaging angle. More than one sucker tossed him a little something. He had none of the older heron’s dignity but he did have boatloads of unctuous charm. I liked them both – I like all herons.

This year I got in a fight with a sandpiper. The tide was going out, and a wave tossed several little minnows up onto the sands where they flipped about like silvery panic-strings. I started scooping them up and tossing them back in, and this feisty little sandpiper landed near me and CUSSED ME OUT. I do not speak sandpiper, but LORD! If I did? My EARS would be blistered. I realized I was mucking up the food chain and quit and let the poor remaining minnows be eaten by the angry sandpiper and all his hungry kin.

If you get up early at the beach, you learn to not be sentimental about such things; it’s a secret ecosystem at dawn with things very busy eating each other up before the sun and the tourists come. The little bioluminescent planktons I can’t see in the daytime are eaten by minnows that the big fish and the sandpipers eat, and the herons and porpoises eat the bigger fish, and Mr. Nguyen tries to eat the bigger fish, too. I passed him pulling in two more ladyfish on my walk this last dawn here.

“More soup,” he said shaking his head at them. Teenager heron coughed politely, as if to ask what Mr. Nguyen planned to do with the heads.

And of course, there are things out there that would be perfectly willing to eat Mr. Nguyen---that Bull shark certainly would have if nothing he liked better was about.

I AM sorry Mr. Nguyen’s shark was not caught and eaten – unabashedly so. I do not have it in me to anthropomorphize sharks. Sharks have not evolved or changed in LITERALLY millions of years. For countless millennia they have been a muscular tube with a toothy hole at the front where the food goes in, and then the tube changes the food to poop and energy. The poop comes out the back end and the energy is spent finding more things to stuff down the front.

They are sleek and lovely in a purposeful and singular way, but sharks do not have friendships or philosophies or life plans or aspirations. They have digestive systems and vigorous, lithe, eat-centric aliveness. They do not have souls.

I know that some people think animals in general do not have souls, but not me. I have met too many horses who CLEARLY do. My dog certainly has a dim little wriggler of a soul. I had yellow cat once who had a blinding white soul as big as a houseboat; it made his eyes shine like beautiful lamps. He died of weak lungs and old age, and I still miss him.

Schubert has no soul at all---pirates seldom do – and if he DID have one he would trade it post haste for canned tuna. Boggart, my teenager cat, has not grown to be wholly himself yet. I don’t know if he has a soul or not. It’s hard to tell with adolescents---even the human ones sometimes.

Posted by joshilyn at June 28, 2008 9:51 AM

Joss Wrote: " ... a wave tossed several little minnows up onto the sands where they flipped about like silvery panic-strings."

I think I would pay just to read your blog. I certainly get a vicarious trip to the beach!

Posted by: JulieB at June 28, 2008 10:14 AM

Today it was the apt and odd description of the shark that got me. I, too, would pay to read the blog. Thanks, Joshilyn, for making we wnat to use better words for the everyday stuff.

Posted by: Sara at June 28, 2008 10:57 AM

Okay. I KNOW you profess to be a clumsy, sci-fi, Conan loving, Mr. Spock lusting geek of ginormous proportions.

But you are so cool.

You poetically drew a line in the sand regarding your feelings about sharks, then discussed poop, pirates, and souls at the same time--with all of it making sense and twisting itself into a whole.

Man alive.

Posted by: Roxanne at June 28, 2008 12:46 PM

I love herons, too.

Posted by: nik at June 28, 2008 2:04 PM

Indeed, Joshilyn, beautiful descriptions. Someday I will contact you to see how you get your poetic words flowing so seamlessly.

I do want to make clear, though, I wasn't attempting to anthropormorphize anything (though I do love me some anthropomorphization on occassion). I respect sharks (and crocodiles and other such ancient, toothsome predators) for the same reason that Joshilyn dislikes them--they have literally not evolved for millions and millions of years and we are screwing up their fine tuning (I'm not bashing people who catch them to eat them, but people who screw up the ocean and catch them to lop off their fins and throw them back in the water to die slowly and painfully). And if I were a parent, I could see the fear of having a bull shark in the midst of your children's beach fun, so I was never dissing anyone, just sticking up for poor sharky, since no one else seems to.

(Oh, and they do have personalities, they aren't *ALL* instinct--read Casey's aformentioned book if you don't believe me!)

And, thanks Joshilyn, for being funny and poetic and inspiring to us hopeful writing types.

Posted by: Kate at June 28, 2008 4:26 PM

AH oops Kate, I meant ME, not you. *I* am the one who has a tendency to anthropomorphize ALL things -- down to the poor bug who died on my windshield on the drive home. Then Scott and I had a long talk about his short sad life, and I decided it was suicide. I was saying *I* draw the line at sharks. I did not think YOU had anthropomophized them! You write about them eloquently I thought, with the same sort of avidity that my husband expends on quarks.

Passion is cool.

Posted by: Joshilyn at June 28, 2008 9:01 PM

Oh, I am so glad I don't have to pay to read Joshilyn's blogginess, because I'm not sure what bill I wouldn't play to indugle my senses. hhmmmm, the gas bill.

Now I'm rich.

Posted by: Cele at June 28, 2008 9:26 PM

I could ditch the cable bill cause this is way better than tv ... if only the cable co didn't bring me my trusty internet, too.

Posted by: Patti at June 29, 2008 12:01 AM

The descriptions of the animal personalities kind of made me think of "our" feral cat. He likes to hang out not too far from us, sometimes within 30 feet or so, but he will never ever ever admit that he secretly likes us. That would be far too demeaning.

The sandpiper made me laugh, I've been cussed out by a few birds and squirrels too.

Posted by: Brigitte at June 29, 2008 7:53 AM

"It's hard to tell with adolescents..."

Truer words, woman.

Posted by: RuthWells at June 29, 2008 8:57 PM

Heh... cussed out by a sandpiper. I've never been scolded by a piper, but I have been scolded by terns and piping plovers. The piping plovers are very fierce, and will PEEP at you if you disturb them. Peeping *sounds* innocent, but you can just tell they're little potty-mouths.

Posted by: Aimee at June 30, 2008 10:39 AM

“More soup,” he said shaking his head at them.

Now, if you are like me and hadn't read the post of the day before, this comment is freakin' hilarious in its randomness. Mr. Nguyen is my hero. Reminded me of the Old Man and the Sea.

You got my attention and loyalty when you were describing the sad passing of Snickers and you wrote "'Is it very dreadful?'" [said Maisy]. Anyone who has children that have such a wonderful grasp on vocabulary as to ask this question using the word "dreadful" has my undying love and loyalty. The way the English language is used and abused these days makes me despair for the children of the future.

Posted by: Erin at July 2, 2008 3:40 PM

Oh, Joshilyn... you so lie to yourself! You say you have an empty hole in your core where the love of flowers and sunsets and music and all things beautiful/romantic/lovely would sit. You're so wrong about that!

Maybe you don't see those things the same way that someone else does, but you do TRULY see the wonder in the world. And you have the gift of being able to share that wonder with others with your words. I'm jealous and honored to be part of this big group (of groupies?) who share a little part of your life with you.

Thank you for letting us visit the beach with you!

Posted by: Beth at July 4, 2008 2:31 PM

I enjoy your writing SO much. I feel as if I am standing beside you when you spin your story. Brava!

Posted by: Dory at July 4, 2008 5:18 PM