Wednesday, June 26, 2013

School of calm

It was a calm morning when I went out in my little inflatable, a mild muggy day with bright overcast and occasional little pattering rain squalls. The best thing about any sign of rain is how there are fewer people on the beach! And with no wind, I could follow the few gentle ripples on the water across the bay all the way from the yacht club or from the little rock garden.
Once I was some thirty yards offshore from the beach, I could see a pair of rippled patches on the water that were drifting my way. I thought one was caused by a big duck, but it turned out that he was carefully paddling his webbed feet to keep up with the rippled patch. And he was ducking down from time to time, then swimming at the surface to keep up.
Bingo! The duck was fishing, in a little school of fish. This and the other patch of little ripples were caused by hundreds of little fish shoaling together. And now I could see a couple more of these patterns on the water, a couple of hundred yards away. So I headed in that direction, lined up my kayak, and let it drift to meet the ripples that were drifting slowly in my direction.
Yup. There were the fish, calm as I approached. Maybe they thought my kayak was a floating log, or bundle of seaweed. Down deeper, close to the sandy bottom some nine or ten feet down were slim fish about as long as my hand. Up near the surface were tiny fish no longer than my fingers. All were dark like the tangles of kelp, but as the tiny fish moved, they would flicker with a sudden bright flare. It looked almost like the fish were lighting up and glowing, but it must have been reflections off their shiny bellies.
The school of little fish moved on. I floated there for a while, and another came past. There were more of them -- six, nine, or more of these tumbling masses of fish. Who knew there were this many fish in the bay? There were thousands, tens of thousands. They must be herring and sticklebacks... shall look them up online.
I know that the ducks will eat many of these little fish. Herons will take their share, and the otters too. A pair of seagulls were trying for their own meal as I went back to the beach. These schools of fish will feed many animals in and around the bay, and the survivors will flit around under my kayak for the rest of the year.
Some of my kayaking friends have had challenging paddle trips and wonderful adventures on the water this year. Today I drifted quietly, about a kilometre all told, learning about calm waters from a good school.

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