Sunday, May 15, 2011

May life, May death

Some years I fish, with joy and exuberance, ecstatic at the pull of an animal on the end of the line.
Other years, I avoid it, acknowledging the pain and cost of life to the fish. It's not something I'm ever going to resolve....

I tossed some plastic out at the setting sun on the Delaware. Striped bass are around, and as much fun as they are to catch, they are even more fun to eat.

A large bunker had hurled itself out of the sea, away from the jaws of a striper, onto a slightly less inviting scenario, the edge of the surf. Were I a true striper angler, I'd have stuck a hook through it and tossed it back at the striper that precipitated its predicament.

I didn't. I tossed it back. It may well be striper poo by now.

And we had pesto for dinner.


I do not like to kill, but I'm pretty good at it. We all are. Every step we take, every spadeful of dirt, every short jaunt in our car, no matter how "green," results in destruction.

We mostly ignore this. This has not always been so.

People used to die at home. People used to get buried without embalming fluids contaminating the earth. People used to wake kin under a shared roof.

I know a lot of people who never witnessed death, except on a screen. Most of us have witnessed a lot of deaths on screens.

Witnessing the last hours of agonal breathing will change you. If nothing else, it puts things in perspective. Exxon and Pearson and Microsoft will be here long after I'm gone. My priorities should not be their priorities. If more of us realized we're mortal, we'd be a kinder culture.

There's a cemetery in Cape May county that still buries folks the old-fashioned way: no diesel backhoe, no embalming, and the casket is optional. The Steelmantown Cemetery has been this way for over three hundred years.

Steelmantown Cemetery--where the dead are treated as the dead

I find it ironic that my children must limit their intake of certain fish because of the chemicals they contain:
In coordination with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and agencies in six other states, the DEP updated its fish consumption advisories and is recommending that the public consume no more than one meal every other month (six meals per year) of bluefish larger than 24 inches.

For women of childbearing age, the recommendation is none. None.

The less we know of death, the more ill we've become.

This morning I wandered out to the bay again, this time to the ferry jetty, as steel gray fog rolled in ahead of a thunderstorm. I got to the party a bit late.

Several old men dragged the limp bass carcasses like sacks of manure, leaving abraded scales on a jetty  that was not here 100 years ago, and will likely be gone before the hundred years pass.

The bellies of the bass are full of bunker, and one may have held the partially digested corpse of the bunker I heard slap against the sand last night.

Tomorrow an old man will excrete the undigested remains of a magnificent creature into a bowl, and the water will wash it away into the sewage below our streets, our River Styx now laden with the poisoned remains of animals we no longer dare to feed to our children.

The world is a wonderful and terrible place for all living creatures, incomprehensible in both its beauty and its entropy.

If we cannot teach this, we cannot truly teach biology, or really anything that matters.

The Steelmantown Cemetery picture from an article here. And yes, it is a green cemetery.
The woodcut by Gustave Dore, 1861, via Wikipedia

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