Sardine elks
Tuesday December 11th 2007, 10:46 am
Filed under: Friends,Life

the sardines in the biggest tank at MontereyOkay, that’s not a post title you see every day, but it fits. We were visiting old friends last night who moved from our town to a beautiful home up against the mountainside in Utah four years ago; we were catching up, and on our way back out, there was a car stopped at a red light in a long stretch of empty road. Mark and Kelly can probably envision just where I’m talking about; there’s only the one light. Except, that other driver had pulled off into what would be, in California, the bike lane, and we wondered why–until we pulled up alongside him.

At the Monterey Aquarium, there’s a freestanding round tank in the walkthrough that is filled with brilliantly silver sardines. They flow along together in a circle, with a few mavericks hemming and hawing along the edges of the school, poking curiously in other directions, lagging behind, dashing to catch up, small children at play, it always seems to me. But if something disturbs the group–if a visitor taps on the window or peers in too close–there is a splash of randomness as some turn to the left, some to the right, and then somehow they all give a leap forward close together, a flip of the tails in perfect focus and a flash of silver as they swim in their new direction. After a calm-again moment, the ones who want to look around a bit more find their ways to the edges again.

Last night I was suddenly understanding why my husband had remarked recently that my camera was inadequate: there was no way it could capture that night picture I so much wished for. A few yards from where we were pulling up to a stop for that red light, there were seven or eight magnificent elk standing in the light snow, the peak of the mountain behind framing them. I have never seen elk in the wild before. It was breathtaking.

The light turned; as our car started up again, I mentally apologized to the fellow in that other car in that bike lane next to us, who had had, it had looked to me there in the dark, a large camera in his hands. At our sound and motion, the elks did exactly what those sardines do: they turned, some to the right, some to the left, and in so turning around they all somehow came closer together, and then they leaped forward as one. Not in a great hurry, and they slowed down as we pulled away, just, this is What They Do. Part of being an elk.

I came away with a sense of awe at the interconnectedness of the patterns, earth and sea. And of what the natural world offers to teach us of the strength of pulling together for each other.

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I grew up in rural Michigan, and had an hour-long bus ride to school each day. One December morning as the bus stopped to pick up another passenger, the sky was just turning pink from dawn.
A light fog was spiraling up from the snow on the fields, and the crystals on the pine branches blushed and sparkled with new light.
Near the forest’s edge I saw a circle of nine deer, dancing.
The were revolving with a gliding run, nose to tail, but as if they were running in slow motion. As the bus pulled away I craned my chin over my shoulder trying to keep them in sight every second possible. It is one of those moments of magic I will never forget.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 12.11.07 @ 11:41 am

Sounds like the trip is going well. And yes, we have a lot to learn from the creatures of the world, don’t we?

Comment by Renee 12.11.07 @ 12:29 pm

Wish I could have seen that!

Comment by Carol 12.11.07 @ 5:27 pm

Just beautiful! I can’t say anymore.

Comment by Vicki 12.11.07 @ 6:30 pm

Wow. How lucky.

Comment by Lene 12.11.07 @ 6:45 pm

That was a once in a lifetime thing to see.

Comment by Sonya 12.12.07 @ 5:05 pm

Thanks for sharing that scene in words. At least you have the picture in your memory bank.

Comment by Toni 12.13.07 @ 8:34 am

That sounds so amazing! I love those sardines too!

Comment by Allison 12.13.07 @ 11:50 pm

[…] ago in their not so new anymore place up in the Rocky Mountains–the one where we saw the herd of elk doing the fishy dance as we came back down from […]

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