Condor Man

Sespe Wilderness

The condor soared for hours on its nine-and-a-half-foot wing. The great vulture had drifted one hundred miles without a single flap floating on plumes of heat blowing skyward, the radiant land shimmering under the sun far below like a skillet in a broiler.

The condor spotted a body near a creek. A prostrate figure in the mottled shade of sycamore and cottonwood trees.

The giant bird banked a fluid turn grabbing the sky with wingtip flight feathers eighteen inches long and trailing them through the hot air for stability like a surfer dragging fingers across a wave. 

The man sprawled on the ground to cool beside the creek. Water-worn gravel in the shade of trees held the chill of night into late morning and the cold stones pressed like ice cubes against his hot cheek skin and the tender undersides of his soft forearms.

An intermittent breeze ebbed and flowed through the canyon and whooshed through the trees rattling the leaves in sudden eruptive bursts of applause from those thousands of tiny paper palms.

Then stillness and the bloom of quiet again but for the susurrant riffle of water through creek stones.

The man opened his eyes, resting on belly and face, bare palms pressed against the cold gravel. The world lay sideways. A riparian tangle of branches and leaves and vines and bushes and towering columns of wood jutting from the sandstone riprap of the creek bed.

The air smelled alive, muddy and green. A thick and heavy organic fragrance, rich and full-bodied, like the black mud of a lake bottom or a rocky beach at low tide.

The man bathed in the fertile backcountry air as if soaking in a hot spring.

He sucked in mouthfuls, chomping his jaws and smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, tasting of the forest, the air laden and thick through his nose and mouth.

If only he could jar the air, take it home, and once in awhile crack the lid for a whiff to remind him of what that other world out there smelled like, beyond the end of the road and free of the fences, outside the urban cage, in the way out.

Vapid city air was dead by comparison. When the city didn’t reek of exhaust or some varietal of industrial effluent the air smelled of nothing at all.

On occasion Santa Ana winds swept the interior scrublands and blew the herbal aroma of chaparral into town. Sometimes the sweet gassy fragrance of natural seep bitumen from Coal Oil Point wafted in on the Pacific sea breeze and could be smelled all the way across the littoral plain to the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Three or four rainstorms a year moistened things enough in town to tease out some trace of natural fragrance on occasion, from the creek corridors and other green cracks where that bit of wild remained between the city hardscape and the buildings and homes and roads and parking lots and sidewalks.

But otherwise the city air smelled of nothing, nothing at all.

The man rolled onto his back to see the sky and wallowed himself into the cold stones, laying spread-eagle with lips cracked and eyes locked in a distant gaze.

A tiny dark smudge materialized out of nowhere appearing on the otherwise spotless blue dome overhead. The man blinked his eyes thinking the fuzzy spot was an eye floater.

The smudge solidified into a definite black dot. The man watched the dot slide through the depthless blue sea and grow into the form of a bird that settled into a circular orbit directly above him. The man laid still as a plank watching the condor watch him.

The anthropoid sprawled on the canyon floor near tall trees. The still body was obscured in broken and shifting indigo shadows that fluttered with tremulous splotches of honey-hued sunlight shot through the breeze-blown leaves.

The great vulture circled steady and stable with wings locked, riding a thermal, a solar glider, always falling toward earth but descending at a slower rate than the hot air was rising, and so held aloft indefinitely with minimal effort.

The condor cast its inspective gaze upon the man far below and the forested earth and cloudless sky reflected as an entire world in miniature in the glassy sphere of the great vulture’s beady eye, as if all that ever was in the world and all that ever might be were found therein, the story of all life itself held in that glistening crystal ball.

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Condor In A Cage: Timeline of Tragedy 

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Lion’s Mane, the Smart Mushroom

“H. erinaceus can be considered as useful therapeutic agents in the management and/or treatment of neurodegeneration diseases.”

A comprehensive review of the therapeutic effects of Hericium erinaceus in neurodegenerative disease (2014)

“Hericium erinaceus, an edible and medicinal mushroom, displays various pharmacological activities in the prevention of dementia in conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.”

The Neuroprotective Properties of Hericium erinaceus (2016)

“Moreover, results have indicated that administration of H. erinaceus mycelia enriched with its active compounds can promote functional recovery and enhance nerve regeneration in rats with neuropathic pain or presbycusis.”

Neurohealth Properties of Hericium erinaceus Mycelia Enriched with Erinacines (2018)

Adventures in wonderland. It sounds like the stuff of storybooks. A mushroom growing in the forest that when eaten makes you smarter. A wild nootropic sprouting from the nooks of trees, elusive in its singularity and fleeting appearance. In the magical land of the Los Padres.

The lion’s mane mushroom may preserve and expand cognitive function and enhance memory, and not just slow the onset of mild brain damage caused by certain diseases, but reverse and repair the damage.

In this particular mushroom may grow the phenomenal potential to combat cognitive decline as we age.

A pinch out of a lion’s mane mushroom found by my eight-year-old daughter on December 19 revealed pristine white flesh and a fruitful fragrance, despite the outer browning from no rain and low humidity. This mushroom was found on a tree standing all alone in a dry, sunblasted field of brown grass.

The first flush of hericiums I saw this season came in October following a number of days of high humidity and occult precipitation, which swept in with the morning marine layer. The trees dripped rainwater.

These conditions happen to immediately follow the Forest Service’s emergency decree closing the entirety of the Los Padres National Forest due to dry conditions and extreme fire danger.

Again a month or so later similar conditions triggered another minor flush. The precipitation was meager or unmeasurable on most rain gauges, as the County’s webpages reflect. Several mushrooms I saw did hardly more than sprout before browning and withering in this dry La Niña winter.

The precipitation was spotty throughout the land leaving only swaths and select pockets of the forest moistened while most other areas remained dry. ‘Twas just a sneeze.

Yet where it fell the heavy misting was enough and in a few select places choice mushrooms could be harvested and brought to table. In the magical land of the Los Padres.

Renowned mycologist Paul Stamets offers a novel idea to be explored. What has been dubbed the Stamet’s Stack.

He suggests microdosing psilocybin with lion’s mane and adding niacin to drive the medicinal benefits of both mushrooms to the farthest recess of the body, where neurodegeneration often first manifests, such as the finger tips.

Stamets, wearing a hat made from a mushroom, as quoted from the video below:

“I, personally, would love to see it legal to stack them both together. Stacking psilocybin with lion’s mane and combining it with vitamin B3, niacin. . .The advantage is, and this is hypothetical, but is something I think is well worth testing, is that niacin can help drive the neurogenic benefits of psilocybin and erinacines [lion’s mane] to the end of the peripheral nervous system.”

Research of the medicinal benefits of pysilocybin or “magic mushrooms” has recently taken on new found legitimacy with the opening of the Psychedelic Research Center at Johns Hopkins.

 First-of-Its Kind Psychedelic Research Center Debuts at Johns Hopkins.

On another front, David Bronner, of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap fame and fortune, has been bankrolling efforts to legalize pysilocybin mushrooms in several states such as Oregon.

“Dr. Bronner’s soap company was a major financial supporter of the measure, donating more than $1 million directly and providing most of the money behind a political committee that gave another $1.5 million.”

Oregon becomes first state to legalize psychedelic mushrooms

Bronner says he hopes to have an initiative on the ballot in California in coming years.

“Next up for psilocybin legalization, Bronner says, is Washington state in 2022. Then, in 2024, maybe California and Colorado, cash willing.”

How COVID-19 Is Helping Bankroll Magic Mushroom Legalization

The future of fungus for medicinal purposes looks promising.

Related Post:

Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Pom Pom Blanc

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A summer morning in the Santa Barbara backcountry.

Weigh your counsel, Priest, he said. We are all here together. Yonder sun is like the eye of God and we will cook impartially upon this great siliceous griddle I do assure you.

–The judge in Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

I stagger deeper into the chaparral wilderness listening to the rhythm of the fuzzy systolic blood-gushing beat pounding in my skull like a kick drum and I gauge by the pace of the muscled pump how far to push into the sere wastes any longer before pulling up short for critical rest.

I find little shade when I need it. I claw into the shadows of greasewood and mountain mahogany and ceanothus, scrunching up in the fetal position trying to dodge the summer sun and the heat, cowering under a bush like a beaten dog hiding from a vicious aggressor.  

The spangled shadows offer little relief. A hot slash of unfiltered sunlight falls across the lower half of one leg and even this much is intolerable. This is no way to rest. This isn’t rest. I must move on. After a brief pause to calm just a bit my throbbing heart and head. 

Deeper into the lurching olive drab slopes, seared and withered by the white hot hole in the sky. Parry. Riposte. Thrust. A step at a time I fight my way over the land and through the forest, struggling to merely walk.

The local weed patch within the Los Padres National Forest.

Shrubs leer in mocking silence. Giant weeds quivering in hot puffs of breeze as if laughing. They bob and weave along the edge of the trail, rocking back and forth like the creepy distortions of clowns in a horror funhouse.

I struggle through the gauntlet under a pack, heavy footed with my jaw clenched and nostrils whooshing, surly and sinewy, dragging my body with trekking poles like a sack of wet canvas.

The shrubs watch the spectacle with amusement, I’m sure. They dance in the hot mountain air rooted in soil so dry I wonder if it hasn’t turned hydrophobic. And they love it.

It’s late June as I hike and no rain has fallen for months and although I don’t know it at the time no rain will fall for another six months, not until the very end of December. The weeds don’t care. I could die here. They thrive.

I lumber on, glistening and beaded in sweat with sticky lips and fingers puffy and swollen from the heat. A freak out of place. “Where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Who cannot remain. Who can barely get by. No better than a weed. The shrubs leer and chuckle.

Trail through weeds and rocks.

I pass between needled clumps of yucca and cross over blistering bare slopes of dry ravel. Hillside fields rattle and ripple in waves of sunroasted wild oats and dried grasses all gleaming in golden buttery hues so brilliant in the fierce sunlight it nearly pains the eye.

The blasted land radiates heat like a wall furnace, trembling and wavering in my vision through squinted lids. The sun sears from above like a broiler and the heated earth bakes from below like a pizza stone. I walk through a cookery of short and long wave radiation.

The ground works as a force multiplier absorbing and radiating the sun’s energy, baking and blow-drying my body at once.

The radiant heat flows in sustained updrafts from the sunhardened ground underfoot like a breeze from a street vent and across the bare trail swiftly rising plumes cast thin fluttering shadows.

Through convection the hot dry airflow heats my body while also drawing water out of it and exacerbating dehydration. I cross the hard packed trail like a strip of beef laid out to jerk.

A lot is said about the wind chill factor. I don’t hear much mentioned about the ground heat factor.

A crab spider on a yellow mariposa lily.

Prickly poppy

I walk through a creekside camp without breaking stride, chin to chest, trekking poles poking earth with gloved hands and shaded eyes on the relentless trail.

Hiking a mountain trail is like playing tennis against a wall. No matter how long you hike, the trail still goes on. “I played a wall once,” Mitch Hedberg said. “They’re ******* relentless!”  

The cool shade of the treed creek pools in the cleft of the canyon, but I resist the lure of its shelter and comfort. I do not stop. And the glare and heat of the dryland furnace comes soon again like a punch in the face as I step from the shelter of the riparian canopy.

I claw my way up the mountainside, a lumbering quadrapod. Some odd sort of bionic beetle with metal poles raking back and forth like spindly insect legs. I feel like a bug scurrying about in search of a rock to hide under. It’s too bright and too hot. 

I hide under a wide brimmed hat chosen half a size too large for that added bit of shelter from the ball of fire in the sky.

A thin stalk of grass between crimped lips teases saliva glands just enough to keep the mouth from going dry.

A kerchief drenched in water and tied around the neck, about the pulsing hot blood pipes of the carotid arteries, for the evaporative cooling effect.

Pant legs rolled up to mid shin for breezy ventilation with each stride and the fly open. Even an open zipper makes a noticeable difference, each stroke of a step working to pump fresh air in and out of the pants and vent heat.

Tactics of mitigation in a battle of thermoregulation, the guerilla marches on through the empire of sun.

From the exposed hot south slope I plunge with great relief into the deep shadows of the mixed forest around the old oak and the massive stone.

The gnarled and knobbed oak has pressed through decades against an enormous sandstone boulder and the tree now grips the monolith with a smooth and rounded woody lip like the foot of a gargantuan garden snail.

I move beyond the boulder and the oak locked in their monumental grappling match, a violent clash held in repose silent and still. The short meander of a seasonal creek has gone dry. Everything looks very dry. The stones in the creek bed appear crusty and without the slightest trace of moisture.

I had seen a half-inch deep pancake of bubbly moss-fringed water holding in a low spot, a moment’s walk back from where I now stand gazing into the dry creek bed. But that’s it at first glance. Foul muck and it’s not enough anyway.

A few bay laurel and oak and sycamore line the creek bed and the deep shadows and cooler temperatures provide relief from the sun and heat, but I need water. Lots of it. Several gallons at least. Clear and clean water. And I find it.

Ded Ted cooling down in a cave.

A weak trickle emerges from a slope of bedrock. The water pools under the trees in a small tank formed by a jumble of rocks and roots and hardpacked mossy soil.

The tank is not readily apparent as I walk up the draw, but sits above eye level, up out of the dry creek bed, at the foot of an otherwise dry cascade. The pool of water is small and relatively hidden.

Hot and sweaty and dehydrated, I’m in need of lots of water presently, more than what little I have on my back, and much more over the next several days. The tank is a marvelous and precious find.

Now I will not have to turn around and hike back so I don’t run out of water. Now I can camp for two nights and take my fill as needed. Here in the comfort of the spaceship oasis in a sea of sun and scrub.

I’ll sleep on a large bench of windblown sand beside a heaving wall of gnarled sandstone, the clean golden grains soft and the deep lithic dust beside the cliff creamy as baby powder under bare feet.

I’ll wander into the bristling wilds for one day choosing my own exploratory adventure off trail into land I’ve never seen, after first having spent several hours in a futile effort searching for a petroglyph.

I will not know where or if I will find water on the day hike away from camp so I will have to fill up at the tank and carry several liters.

I’ll ration water from the start and sip little from my backpack as I hike. The ferocity of the sun and the dryness of the land will dictate much of the day’s excursion.

My thoughts and decisions will largely revolve around not running out of water, avoiding overheating and not getting too dehydrated, with frequent calculations regarding how far and where I can go afoot, way out there, and get back.

Wild gooseberries

I kneel beside the tiny pool and stick the tip of a finger into the gorgeous crystalline wetness, parting the tension of its unctuous surface heavy and oily as a glassy sea and the still water envelopes my swollen finger in a titillating coolness.

I stand over the tank hot and sweaty, wanting to plunge my bald head to the shoulders and cool off and refresh after hours of strenuous hiking in the summer sun. I resist the urge. That the water remains undisturbed and clear, so still and clear, and sweet tasting.

I ladle water from the tank a billy can at a time and I stand in the fluttering shadows of the tremulous trees dousing my hot steamy head, the water splashing and washing over my bare body in cool waves and the breeze coming now and again as a sensuous evaporative blast horripilating my skin and triggering a shiver and suddenly I’m gloriously chilled.

Some shade, a bit of water and a breeze.

Nothing has never felt so enjoyable. 

Something happened along the trail, somewhere. Somehow I passed through the wardrobe and into a wondrous land where nothing is something and something is everything.

I revel in the enormity of the miniscule wallowing in a ridiculous pleasure wildly disproportionate to what measly comforts the wilderness allows and I wonder what little in the city ever offers a human so much.

The tank

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They outlawed walking in the forest. They said it was too dangerous.

They told me it was “critical” that I didn’t walk in the woods for my “own safety” and that of others.

They said the conditions in other places of the world were exceptionally hot and dry and windy and very dangerous and that wildfires were burning in ways nobody alive had ever witnessed and more havoc would come and firefighters could not stop it.

And so they outlawed walking in the Santa Ynez Mountains in Santa Barbara. They said it was too dangerous.

In the days following the forest closure here hundreds of thousands of people elsewhere in California and Oregon found themselves under varying degrees of emergency evacuation orders. Thousands of structures and hundreds of homes burned and many people died and several people were arrested for setting fires.

They closed the entire Los Padres National Forest the day after temperatures reached 117 degrees in Santa Barbara County and many days after meteorologists had warned of the coming heat wave.

They closed the forest at 5 p.m. on Labor Day Monday. One hour before the end of the heat wave that broke records in some places.

“Good move,” somebody said.

“A bit late,” said another.

Cool fog filled the air the morning after they closed the forest.

I sat reading in the chill morning bundled in sweat pants and long sleeves and a beanie and I could hear falling drops of occult precipitation hitting the ground in that moist muffled quiet.

September is typically a hot month in Santa Barbara and for a few days it was, indeed, very hot. But now we had maritime fog like the seasonal phenomenon of May gray and June gloom.

The marine layer flowed in off the Pacific over the city and pooled against the Santa Ynez Mountains up and down the coast along the back of town.

Temperatures varied in the seventies and for the next week we woke to cool and moist foggy mornings that blurred into mild and calm afternoons.

The fog burned off each day to reveal a high ceiling of depthless gray of varying hues. We didn’t see blue in the sky again after the holiday.

For days smoke from distant fires covered the sky like high clouds. The sun shown through in that dread orangey-red hue that is the telltale sign of wildfire and the shadows on the ground took on a purplish opalescence.

The smoke settled in and smothered the town in an unhealthful gray-blue haze that lurked through the days and ebbed and flowed like the tide.

Society simmered like a cauldron on a bonfire of angst and fear and loathing, kindled and stoked by the fright and grief of the pandemic and the enormity of 190,000 dead with no end in sight and the flames fanned by a whirlwind of racial and political discord, protests and riots and arson and killings in the street and vandalism and the destruction of hundreds of private businesses.

A coming presidential election more divisive and contentious and fraught than any in living history fired the already simmering social pot to a roiling boil.

People were at each other’s throats.

The fire-lit city streets ran with blood and tears.

Mesa Lane beach barricade. 

They outlawed sitting on a beach in Santa Barbara a few days before they outlawed walking in the forest. They said it was too dangerous.

On a sunny Labor Day weekend during a heat wave when it hit 117 degrees in the Santa Ynez Valley and a 100 degrees in Santa Barbara.

They said for my own safety and that of others, because of the novel coronavirus, it was critical that I not sit on the beach.

So I didn’t sit on the beach. I paced around as permitted, like other people, zombies traipsing aimless and lackluster up and down the shoreline.

Groups of people sat filling the chairs and tables gabbing away without masks at the seaside Boathouse restaurant behind me, right on the edge of the beach, just back from the sand.

I opened an umbrella on the sand near the waterline to shade a gallon of water while I swam with my wife and three children.

The ranger drove his 4×4 vehicle over and made me fold up the umbrella.

The sign posted in the sand explicitly outlawed umbrellas, the item mentioned by name, contraband.

The next day they outlawed walking in the forest. They said it was too dangerous.

The snake appeared to have nabbed the rodent and then something (tire?) smashed both of them dead.

We sat at a dead stop each in our own truck facing in opposite directions in the middle of Paradise Road.

We looked at each other through our side windows over the painted line of the center divider.

I wasn’t going to say anything.

I had just finished guzzling some water from a gallon container when the ranger pulled up.

“Hello. Are you aware of the forest closure?” she said finally.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Sooo are you driving out of the canyon orrr. . .” she said trailing off.

I had been driving into the canyon.

“I don’t answer questions,” I said.

She said some more words.

I wasn’t going to say anything.

Then she started in again with the questions.

“Where are you going?” she said.

“I don’t answer questions,” I said.

“You have no legal right to ask me anything and I’m under no obligation to tell you anything,” I said.

“Why are you asking where I’m going?” I said.

I was in my vehicle minding my own business. She drives up and starts questioning me and carries on with it as if I was not allowed to be there.

“I know the law. I’m well within my rights,” I said. “There’s no problem here.”

This is what I felt necessary to tell her in response to the manner in which she continued to press me with questions about my intentions.

She drove off not too soon. Not before picking a good haggle with me.

I wasn’t going to say anything.

Western toad

Lines to food banks stretched for miles.

Folks waited for hours for basic necessities.

People argued over face masks and the proper etiquette of social distancing in public spaces and fistfights broke out and people killed each other over these things.

The collateral damage mounted from government mandated prohibitions and inside lockdowns and outside lockouts, enclosures and exclosures, separation and isolation, the shuttering of businesses and economic ruin and financial hardship.

The stress pooled deeper. A rising tide of tumult.

People in search of safe harbor and escape.

News articles piled up daily in the press about increasing mental health problems and dependencies and addictions and overdoses and suicides and domestic violence and other violent crimes.

People were losing their minds.

Santa Barbara backcountry

I read of an ambulance ride posted by Roger the Scanner Guy of a “Cal Star Transport to Cottage, Heroin overdose North County.” A friend died that day. He left behind a young child.

My grandfather died. We had planned to visit my grandmother in March of this year.

Then the virus arrived in the United States and everything ground to a halt and we called it off and hunkered at home as if in a bunker.

We were thankful again for a home and our health and for a moment at least we didn’t take everything for granted so much.

I am afraid to visit my grandma. We might bring the virus to her in our interstate travels through airports and whatnot, a death sentence at her age. But how much longer does she have?

My mom drank herself to death. My stepdad died of cancer not long afterward. That’s bad, but not to say I have it any worse than everybody else. Nonetheless, my brother lives under a bush, out of his mind, a panhandler on the corner, helpless and unhelpable. I see him out there drifting in a parallel dimension. He’s the one wearing the florescent dayglo safety vest.

My younger sister and her boyfriend have a young child. They had recently by some stroke of miraculous luck secured a home. But then came the virus and the lockdowns and closures and the pay checks stopped.

It’s nationwide.

How long can people tread water?

They outlawed walking in the forest. They said it was too dangerous.

Forest Service Temporarily Closes Southern California National Forests, Adds Prohibitions in Others

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Halibut Surf Fishing

“Conservation of animals and plants was a burning, emotional, personal issue. A properly socialized individual had a powerful sense that the wild world was feeding him, and he ought to be as grateful and as anxious to act decently as he would to any human who fed him out of sheer kindness. Naturally, wanton killing was virtually tantamount to murder, and ungrateful murder at that.”

—E. N. Anderson, “Ecologies of the Heart: Emotion, Belief, and the Environment” (1996)

In late April I hooked my first keeper halibut of the season. The next day I threw back four more; two long shorts and two small shorts. The legal size is 22 inches and above.

I fished for two hours in the morning throwing lures from the beach at high tide. A week earlier I didn’t get a single bite. This time I hooked something small on my first cast, but it got off. Probably a small perch. Maybe a yellowfin croaker.

A short time later I hooked the halibut. The fish attacked the lure nearly as soon as it hit the water from the cast. The line pulled tight as if snagged on a rock, then came the tugging and the whine of the drag set loose as the fish took a little line.

I anxiously weaved the halibut around and through clumps of rocks in the rush and gush of the surging high tide, somehow managing to bring the beautiful creature to shore before the line snapped or the hook shook loose.

Or the knot unfurled. That’s happened. The fish at my feet on the beach in inches of water mere inches from the sand. To watch a big halibut slowly swim away. To lift the slack line and see the curly pig tail end where the knot in the monofilament failed and slipped open.

I never seem to remember the fish I keep quite as much as those I nearly caught.

I landed the April halibut, grateful and excited, yet calm and collect, without a show. Nobody was around anyway.

Sometimes, without thought of it, I must show no emotion whatsoever. I once threw back a halibut before remembering to measure it. Only afterward did it occur to me that it may have been of legal length.

Matters at work far larger than what little may be revealed on the surface, to a bystander or a casual onlooker.

I’m not telling you anything not already known when I say that not all fishing is for fish all the time.

That is the difference between fishing and angling, a fisherman and an angler.

The feeling of releasing a legal-sized halibut.

I’ve seen slipshod fools on the pier butchering live bat rays to death for fun in their mistaken idiotic belief that what they had hauled ashore was a stingray, hacking and slashing and slicing off fins and tails, quartering the wretched animal flopping about and quivering as they laugh and drink and smoke as though throwing darts in a pub.

Those ancient impulses and the ability to kill, born of necessity for survival of the species by tooth and claw in nature’s arena of evolution, that men could hunt and take by hand in a running assault with spears large deadly animals to provide for the clan, may be let loose to evil ends.

Some men enjoy assassinating animals for sport like serial killer Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” toys with humans. “I want to stab you to death and play around with your blood.”

Are these fishermen psychopaths of another variety? Maybe they just suffer from arrested development and immaturity.

They never grew beyond the “boyishness of killing things,” as John Muir put it to Teddy Roosevelt over a campfire one night in the woods.

In their actions we see symptoms of a troubled culture, which routinely produces such characters.

A tourist questioned me about the crude men we both witnessed on the pier, appalled at their behavior, but I stammered and didn’t know what to say to the man.

I don’t want to kill some idiot fisherman, but I was of a mind to tell those men that I’d like to do to them what they did to that innocent big fish.

Yellowfin croaker

“We came to Dummy’s fence and found a cow wedged in up against the wire. She was bloated and her skin was shiny-looking and gray. It was the first dead thing of any size I’d ever seen. I remember Orin took a stick and touched the open eyes.”

—Raymond Carver The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off

Whenever I brought a fish home my three young children were always quick to gather round, to get close to the animal and touch it and poke it.

In particular they liked to stab at the rubbery eyes with sticks and they’d run to the kitchen for forks and butter knives to poke at the fish and the guts were always a big attraction.

If allowed a sharp knife I am sure they would have attempted to slice and dice and hack the fish in pieces themselves and they would have found some form of delight in the blood of it all.

But the kids acted out of innate curiosity and wonder and not malicious intent. Children are naturally inquisitive.

In a properly socialized individual those ancient impulses are turned toward positive ends as guided within the bounds of a holistic ecologically conscious culture.

Poking the fish was the curious first explorations of young scientists, biologists, oceanographers or doctors to be.

How do people fall from the innocence and wondrous possibility of our beginnings to the horrors of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and the embarrassment of the butchers on the pier?

“The killing and eating of other beings is understood by most tribal peoples as part of a larger gift of life rather than a victory over nature.”

“What emerges from a million years of such study is much more than a practical knowledge for killing—it is a knowledge of the typical life cycle of each species, its details and peculiarities. This is natural history.”

—Paul Shepard The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game

Carefully guided, the child’s natural enthusiasm and interest about animals moves from the crude poking of eyes and guts to the thoughtful exploration of the animal’s anatomy, biology and natural history.

And, when possible, visceral interaction with the animal in the field in its own habitat on its own terms; experiences for which there exist no substitutes.

Yet also never to celebrate killing as a victory over nature rather than a life sustaining gift.

The sacred duty, to take care.

To not be the pirate plunderer of the commons, the barbarian with a grin out to get his and to hell with everything and everybody else.

I took the fish home to nourish family, deeply thankful for the bounty the sea afforded us one lucky morning on a Santa Barbara beach.

The children learned something about the give and take nature of life on this one and only planet Earth.

They learned something about the work and the knowledge and skills necessary to harvest and prepare their own food in a dignified manner, that they will not demean and degrade themselves by demeaning and abusing the land and its wild residents of which their lives necessarily depend.

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