I love storms, rain. It's difficult to relate with negative comments about stormy weather. Of course, there can be some inconveniences - too much rain in too short a time ruined my tomatoes last year and I empathize with other's more serious losses.
But the excitement of a storm, the smell, watery reflections and varieties of rain, wind, snow, and skies energize me - even if it is only a local passing shower. Hemispheric scale events like Hurricane Irene, now approaching New England, do more to promote contemplation of the awesome world from which our mundane affairs distract us.
Irene comes with the new moon, darkest of nights, bringing wetness and flooding eels need to complete a life phase: passing back to its origins in the middle of the Atlantic, far from its sojourn to inland waterways and pools. More sensitive and tuned in to these events, eels right now are on the move.
Having just read Eels, An exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the worlds most mysterious fish, by James Prosek, Hurricane Irene takes on an intense shade more meaning. Part ethnology, part natural history, Prosek's book tells us a story not only of this amazing fish but also stories of eels woven through the lives of many cultures - their religions, economies, art and lore. He also points to what has been mostly forgotten in this modern rush of activity in which we are enmeshed, a decline of knowledge that mirrors the decline of the eel. He is also a gifted artist, so reading his book is doubly pleasurable for its illustrations, which reflect the respect with which he approached the native people of New Zealand, other pacific ocean cultures, as well as scientists and others whose lives the eel touches.
I remember fishing when I was young in Wareham, by Buzzards Bay, with my uncle Donald. A sailor, in the navy before WWII, who had the arms and attitudes that made me think of Popeye, he was a demolitions expert tasked with killing Japanese soldiers in the tunnels of Iwo Jima and had seen terrible things. Did this make this tough man more aware of every small magical, delightful detail? Perhaps; his salty stories did touch on wonderful things he'd seen 'round the world on the water. Fish featured big to him. He had built a row boat - it leaked and was as heavily built as a battleship. But we got about the pond by the cottage he and Aunt Peggy kept, catching horn pout, pickerel, bass, and sometimes eels. He encouraged me to eat eels some day, but as Peggy would not clean and cook them, we had to throw them back.
Long years after, I ate eel in a Japanese restaurant. It was like mackerel, but sweeter, darker, and more buttery. I would have eaten eel often if caught myself - since who knows where the restaurants get them? China, most likely, as Prosek describes, mostly for the Japanese market, for which eel has a still vibrant culinary, mythical, and tremendous economic appeal. The Japanese eel has all but been fished out. Heavily funded research of ways to farm them in man made ponds has been under way for years. Now I know eels everywhere are possibly endangered, I am hoping for the success of the scientists involved in this effort, as well as for those working to protect the habitats for which the eel has surprising and profound influence.