Someone in our group would whisper excitedly, "There he is!"r>
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 warmth.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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