Ancient Fish

The day I turned 40 I went paddle boarding with four other hot tamales. As we got to the far end of the lagoon, the turning point, in the turgid shallows, the water began to flip, and flip–something was jumping. It was exciting to see life other than ours in the water. It was a little freaky, since we couldn’t see exactly what it was.

When we returned to shore we asked what kind of fish was out there, flipping in the water. The Dude told us it was mudfish. He said small parasites get under their scales, and they try to smash them off by hurling at the water. I wondered about that.

I looked it up, and the mudfish are also (perhaps more formally) called bowfin–the sole surviving species that dates back to the Jurassic Period. Because they can breathe air and water, they are more adaptable. They lurk in murky water, stalk their prey silently, then quickly strike. I read that parasites do bother them, particularly the anchor worm. Carp have been known to leap in the water in late spring in a mating ritual, and to rid themselves of parasites. Maybe bowfin do this, too.

It made for a good story: The glassy water parting for this ancient predator, this relic survivor, which struggles with banal and life-threading rituals, like parasites and mating. This fish that has endured millions of years still has an “itch.”

I felt connected to the bowfin. The mudfish. I wasn’t so very tall, on my paddle board; I was out of my element. One false move and I would have toppled into the oozy slimy silty lagoon bed. The bowfin and I, still enduring, finding our own ways to slap the water, to paddle away our cares, and to navigate even cloudy conditions with a strong, purposeful bite.

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