Someone in our group would whisper excitedly, "There he
We'd jump to our feet, scanning the beach for a single
fish. When we spotted one flopping on the sand, we'd
watch and wait for what seemed like forever. Then a few
minutes later, a wave would lift hundreds of grunion up.
This wave would be so heavily laden with fish, it would
rise more slowly than any other. As it curled, its dark
glassy face would be altered by hundreds of grunion
heads and tails protruding at all angles.
The wave would crash onshore and the grunion would spin
and tumble across the sand, flipping, flopping, and
pulling themselves beyond the water's edge. Their gills
would beat in and out as they gasped for air. It seemed
amazing to me that they could hold their breath for two
or three minutes, and that they had to leave the sea and
return to shore to continue the cycle of life. In utter
fascination we'd watch this dance.
As soon as the grunion finished laying their eggs,
they'd flip and flop back toward the water, and at that
moment we'd charge across the sand, kicking mud on the
backs of our legs and trying to scoop the grunion up
with our bare hands.
They were always slippery, squirmy, and quick and harder
to hold on to than a warm cube of butter. My friends and
I might catch a few grunion, but none of us had the
heart to take them home and cook them with a dusting of
cornmeal and eat them as some people did. Somehow that
would have spoiled the magic of all that we had
witnessed. We were happy to catch them in our hands,
feel the pulse of life racing through their bodies, and
release them back into the warm salty waves.
As I swam I felt a strong connection with the agile
schools of grunion and I thought I was lucky to be
swimming with themuntil I realized that they were
attracting a small school of albacore tuna.
Usually the tuna lived and migrated twenty miles or more
off the coast, but the abundance of food had lured them
in. Albacore tuna are large fish. They weigh between
twenty and forty pounds. They are shaped like giant oval
beech leaves and have dark blue backs and gray-blue
sides and bellies. They are very fast swimmers: they
swim as if they are turbocharged.
At first I enjoyed feeling the way the water wavered and
yawed as the tuna zipped to the right and left of me.
But when they started leaping out of the water to catch
the grunion, I grew concerned. I didn't want to be hit
by a forty-pound tuna. I pulled to the right and then
off to the left, but they were everywhere.
Then it happened. A big tuna weighing maybe twenty-five
pounds rocketed out of the water. He smacked into my
back and I jumped very high. Then another bounced off my
shoulders. I started giggling. I had to roll on my side
and catch my breath. It was raining tuna. What a weird,
wild, and wonderful thing.
It occurred to me that these tuna would probably attract
larger fish and the only larger fish I could think of
were sharks. So I decided to move closer to shore, away
from the feeding throngs. As I got nearer to land I
started watching what was happening in the homes on the
north side of the pier.
People were starting to get up. Second-floor windows
that had been dark gray and vacant were becoming large
glowing squares of gold, and as the people moved into
their bathrooms and then downstairs more windows became
gold squares. I imagined how warm it must be inside
those homes. I let my mind enfold me in that golden
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