Life of the mind of the eel

Some days I wake up excited to be alive and participate, and some days I wake up wondering, am I expected to have thoughts today? Thoughts and feelings? Such wearing baggage of the human condition, so predicated on our circumstances, our ability to perceive and affect the universe. I was just reading this wild New Yorker article about how no one has ever seen an eel reproduce, and how, during their life cycle, wee baby eels crawl into the mud of the land and stay there, but not for any set period of time. Some stay five months, some fifty years, and then whenever they feel ready they move back to the sea to be silver eels, all the five-monthers and the fifty-year guys spending this period of their life cycle together. The article queries: how, thus, does an eel perceive time? If five months is adequate to one, but fifty, sixty years or more are required for another?

Isn’t this in some ways a metaphor for artistic achievement (or perhaps any achievement at all)? That it takes one person a year to write a book, and takes another person twenty, and yet both books are good, and could not have been written any way? That we spend an extensive period wallowing in the mud before becoming lithe silver bullets? That no one knows quite where or how an idea comes from?

If I must have thoughts, might they not all be about eels?


Most of my previous thoughts seem to have been about birds. To whit, our neighborhood, lately, has been littered with white eggshells, and that littering has somewhat tamped down the number of blood feuds I witness between mourning doves. Reproduction being fraught in every species, apparently. The eels were wise to conceal their methods.

Anyway, I am working on edits, I am wallowing in the mud, I am obviously on some kind of precarious emotional ledge, because otherwise I would not spend so much time talking frantically about eels? I feel fine and mostly even-keeled, actually, though the weather is oppressive. It is in the 105-to-110s, and there is just enough humidity to make everything awful. Really, I just wish I could go on a vacation. I want to go to the Pacific Northwest and see one of those aquamarine, freezing rivers, and drive a winding road through trees. I want to see a banana slug, if that’s what it takes. When I was a kid, crows would wake me up by calling each other outside my window; they were immune to screamings of shut up; they did not care that I was awake, because they were awake too, and I did not love this, about the crows, but there was at least something comforting in knowing they were always there.

I have been thinking a lot about my childhood. The enormous treehouse platform in my friend’s front yard. The wave pool at the water park where I would float until I grew nauseous. The roller coaster I almost fell out of, or certainly felt like I almost fell out of, ninety-pound weakling that I was. Archie comics, read in the black scratchy chair at my grandmother’s house, which taught me the phrase “ninety-pound weakling,” and one of which featured a cursed teddy bear covered in seaweed. Rhododendrons. Plums on the sidewalk, drawing wasps. Always lots of plums, in the spring.

I’m not sure what my earliest memory is of, or how the plums that I saw formed me, and how that forming was different than each of my siblings, though we were in the same place at the same time, much of the time. To be honest, my thoughts are not all about eels. But the eels are so easy to talk about and delight in. A mystery, a meat pie, a bright thread moving through the dark water.  A soul lying in wait until the time is right, and somehow knowing when.