Like raindrops hitting the water. But nothing was falling from the sky. This was wrong.
Out of the darkness, things were flapping into my face, flicking off my arms and head. It was like swimming through a sea of locusts, and with each impact my muscles tightened. I was tingling with fear, and all I wanted to do was to turn and sprint for shore.
But I told myself, Stay calm. You need to focus. You need to figure out what this is.
Taking a deep breath, I looked down into the deep black sea.
Thousands of baby anchovy were darting through the water like lit sparklers.
Blinded by panic, they were frantically tearing away from their schools and leaping out of the ocean like popcorn cooking on high heat. They were trying to evade something larger.
Light was exploding around me like hundreds of tiny blue flashbulbs constantly firing.
When I turned my head to breathe, something leaped into my mouth, wiggled across my tongue, and flapped between my teeth. It was larger than the water bug I once inhaled on a lake in Maine, larger than an anchovy.
Without thinking I spat it back into the sea. It had bright silver sides and was about six inches long. It was a grunion, a fish nearly twice as large as the baby anchovy. The grunion were chasing the anchovy, snatching them from the water and swallowing them whole.
More grunion were swimming in, bumping into my thighs, raking their pointy fins across my shoulders, but I smiled. The grunion had returned. Every year the grunion return to California in the spring and summer. They wait just offshore for the full moons or new moons when the tide is high, so they can swim ashore and lay their eggs. It always seems to be a miracle that they return every year and know exactly where and when to swim ashore.
A lone male grunion, a scout, swims ahead, and if the coast is clear, hundreds of female grunion follow him in, each with as many as eight male grunion swimming alongside. They choose a special wave, one that is on the receding tide so that it will carry them higher onto the beach, and the female's eggs will not be washed out to sea.
Once a female reaches the beach, she digs a hole in the sand with her tail, then wiggles back and forth, drilling herself down into the soft wet sand until she is buried all the way up to her lips. There she lays up to three thousand eggs, and one of the male grunion arches around her and releases his milt to fertilize the eggs. Then the adult grunion swim back to sea while the eggs incubate in the warm sand for ten days. Then the baby grunion hatch and ride the tide back out to sea to begin their lives in the ocean.
I I loved to watch them come ashore and I loved to go grunion hunting. It was a big event in Southern California. In summer, I would meet friends on the beach on moonlit nights and wait for the grunion. We'd spread our large bright-striped beach blankets on a berm, at the crest in the beach, beyond the reach of the incoming waves. We'd sit wrapped up in more warm woolly blankets, sometimes alone, or sometimes snuggled up with friends to stave off the cool, damp swirling ocean breezes. We'd talk, in muffled tones so no one would scare the fish away, about boyfriends and girlfriends, about summer plans and BBQs, about our lives and our families, our dreams and how we felt. We'd explore our lives, and sometimes touch hands under the blanket. We, too, were restless, awaiting our own high tide.
Excerpted from Grayson by Lynne Cox Copyright © 2006 by Lynne Cox. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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