In the Deeps

A little more than a year ago, I moved from the dry, wild mountains and plains of Montana to the watery world of the Pacific Northwest.

I’m still astounded by the differences.  While the mountains draw me up, the waters pull me down. And what an intriguing world there is in those dark and mysterious depths.

A few days ago, I met an underwater videographer named John Williams at our local Green Drinks event. By the way, Green Drinks is a great social event for people who love life on this planet. International in scope with regular events in more than 770 places, Green Drinks here happens once a month. I play a minor role in organizing the event and have met fascinating people because of attending them. John Williams is one of them.  As we chatted, he mentioned how flat the land world seemed to him after so many years spent in the depths of water. I instantly sensed what he meant. If I think of landscape as the skin of the earth, paper thin and bare before the light, then oceans are the unfathomable depths where life forms teem in the planet’s dark, like the limitless unknowns of our unconscious nature. This observation rivets me, gives me a whole new appreciation of all watery worlds.

So it’s not surprising that beach seining has me in its tentacles. What is that? Beach seining is the act of floating a long net in the water near shore, pulling it tight into a circle and gathering up what has been trapped in the center mesh.

We start early – 8:30 a.m. Today is cloudless, perhaps the calm before the storm expected to move in tonight and tomorrow.

The boat is crude and functional – dented metal, tiny cockpit, buckets and tubs for seats, and a flap door that rises to close with ropes and pulleys and drops down to let us hop onto the beach.  Here’s fish biologist photo Paul Dorn on the first day I went, which as you can see was heavily overcast.

Run by the Suquamish tribe’s fish biologists, volunteers do much of the grunt work of hauling in the net and tabulating the catch.

The first thirty of each species is counted and measured, then released. All fish of each species are counted. Everyone crowds around and peers intently into the folds of mesh…the living creatures are often only two inches long and match in color and value the sea weed, plant debris, grasses, and yard waste. It takes all our eyes to spot everything.

Working with bare hands, slimyness, sandpaperyness and wiggliness require lack of squeamishness. I’ll get better with practice!

I’ve been seining twice now and expect to continue in the new year. It impacts me greatly. What astonishes me already is the variety of fish I’ve seen and the vast differences in absolutely everything each time I’ve gone.

The first time as we were laying out the first seining, three porpoises swam by. The haul of fish was gigantic. We surmised that the fish had run into the net as they fled from the porpoises. We counted 1052 snout nosed tube fish for instance…a relative of the seahorse … that first day. We counted one snout nose today. In fact, we counted only five other fish today. A Starry Flounder, one Shrimp, a Sculpin, a Steghorn Sculpin and a Striped Perch. I may have grossly misnamed these fish, but you get the idea.

Amazed by discovering 20 varieties of garlic last summer, now I’m shocked by discovering 25 varieties of fish right offshore. And some of them are wyrd! Creatures of an imagination run wild are real and I’ve held them in my hand! I marvel, for instance, over the marble sized jelly fish that are completely clear but for a thin dark line of gut in the very center, a dark line as if drawn by a mechanical pencil with size .5mm lead. In the bottom of the lavender mesh of the net, these jelly fish masquerade as bubbles.

Masses of sea birds were all about today, huge conventions of scoters and conferences of mergansers. Saw a river otter holding a big fish in its mouth, running for safety as our boat approached its beach and “cowboy sea lions” puffing up their chests as if to say, “Don’t mess with me. This is MY navigation buoy I’m hanging onto as it bucks the waves.” And then there were these two kibbitzing about our every move.

My new habitat grows on me.

About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, writer, mother of four, grandmother of eight. who inspires humanity's Great Turning: our evolution to living as a "whole" human, with headbrain and bodymind collaborating, with science and spirit dancing, with rationality, intuition and the ephemeral co-creating.
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3 Responses to In the Deeps

  1. The bear within you is strong, Deborah 🙂 Your experiences with fish continue to delight me. I never thought of being committed to fish before, but as I look at the Thames, filled with all the wrong stuff, I think of you and your counts. This is an amazing post, thank you. You never fail to broaden my horizons. Are the photographs yours? They are beautiful. The light is so refreshing.


    • Deborah says:

      Yes, Kate, the photos are mine. The light was refreshing – brilliant day on Friday ( which made photo taking easy. ) and of course, rain and clouds all day Saturday. Glad for that opportunity to be out on the water. . .one of the gifts of moving from the mountains.
      Did you notice my comment to your Fructus post? It was a bit later than all the other comments and I’m unclear still how this blogging program really works. I enjoyed reading that particular post only a few days after reading the dietary account of the Victorians in Bryson.


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