So, I had an idea the other day based on another blog I try and regularly read. I am going to randomly open the dictionary to each letter of the alphabet and tell a story based on what I find when I drop my finger on a random word on the page. How much fun will it be to see of of the insanity I come up with from some of the oddities I will inevitably land on along the way. Of course, being the kind of person I am, it wasn’t going to begin on “a” and I wasn’t quite prepared to schedule this out based on a random letter in general, so we’re going to start from the end at “z” and work our way through from there. Once every couple of weeks I’ll continue this series, describing what comes to mind based on the world I should find. It might make for some good reading, some good soul searching and some good fun along the way and that’s all that really counts on this blog in the first place.
So the first word I received was zoology. The dictionary definition is “the science or branch of biology dealing with animals.” This immediately made me remember my youth and my boyhood love of marine biology. There was something about fish that was just truly intriguing to me about them.
I would venture a guess my interest in animals stems from the menagerie of animals in the house when I was a kid. The dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, snakes, frogs, ant farms and especially fish. My first fish were pretty typical gold fish, won at the elementary school fairs. Most of them didn’t last long in the bowl after they came out of their plastic bags from being bounced around throughout the day but my memories of flipping them between bowls to clean their living quarters and watching them float aimlessly on the sill above the kitchen sink forms some of my earliest recollections of being intrigued. Their orange forms against the dark wood backdrop starring back at me as I cleaned the dishes from a pancake breakfast or sat across the table while doing homework.
My mom tells stories of my grandfather and his aquarium collection. I have these images of it based on my memories of the house she grew up in and the vast wall of bubbling tanks casting an eerie blue light on the dining room as his fish flitted around in their tanks. It must have felt so tranquil to sit there and just see the movements all around.
Living in Maryland, my first trips to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md hold special places in my heart. The Atlantic Reef tank held a special place in my heart. Starting from the top of the tank looking down into it from above offers the typical perspective of fish in their natural environment for most people. The distorted prism of angled light skewing the images under you as the croakers and groupers, pilots and lookdowns, stripers and blues make their way in the waters below. As you descend below level by level it exposes new colors and textures both in the waters and in the ambient light around you, descending slowly into the sub-human depths of the ocean below. Every step introduces a new fish: a drum or an angel to a flounder or sea robin as you approach the crushed shell and quartz-laden sea floor of the initial tank. It becomes surreal at points taking in each of the descending levels becoming more encompassed by the aquatic world beginning to surround you. One cannot help to feel taken aback, perhaps in awe or intrigue, perhaps in claustrophic fear or feeling of vertigo, perhaps even in a dream-state infatuation to be there one’s self set free in a three-dimensional idealism that doesn’t exist normally.
One level below the floor of the initial reef is the shark tank consisting of docile looking red skinned nurses and ragged-toothed sand tigers among other local species. Most trips the species are separated by artificial barriers but on select trips you might get lucky enough to see a 360 view of them intermingling. One particular trip I was lucky enough to enjoy these awesome apex predators during an after hours treatment of them that included a post feeding viewing of them that was insightful and intriguing and truly inspirational.
It might seem odd but I became interested in fishing not long after. Not for the sport of it necessarily, but for the intrigue of their actions and reactions. Why did bass hold among structures? Why do cats decide to surface aggressively? Why do shad school the way they do? Why are sunnies finicky sometimes and other times apt to hit anything that hits the water? As I learned the answers I took up reading on them heavier and started studying and keeping track of my catch patterns like temperatures, lure combination, water quality, etc. The freshwater knowledge led into more and more oceanic endeavors locally and an ever increasing interest in understanding how all the species act and interact. The many stories I have from those trips could fill volumes at this point.
As time went on I developed a love for aquarium fish beyond just those professionally kept. It began in college and a need to stop in every pet shop, restaurant and otherwise that kept tanks for themselves to beginning my own tank of the fresh water aristocrats, Pterophyllum, the veil fin angel fish. These unusual Cichlidae are schoolers with tight bonds to one another in my experience. My group reduced themselves to a quite unique pair that would reshape my perception of keeping fish as pets. I began experimenting with other species as well and some of my favorites have been my collection of various African Cichlids, lyre tail Mollies and Betas as well as a love of the prehistoric looking Plecos and aquarium cats, especially the upsidedown varieties I’ve kept over the years.
Every time I’ve been stressed I can sit for hours next to the tank, textbook in hand, to chill out to the sound of the water from the filter draining back down into the tank, the aeration bubbling back up to the surface, the deliberate nature of the fish I enjoy and their actions in the tank, especially when they know it is feeding time and the glow of the water with the different lighting I would use over it when the rest of the room around was dark. It brings forth this peaceful feeling that cannot be duplicated in many other circumstances and provides this look back into my past, the past in general that is soothing and as I remember from my earliest experiences surreal.
No matter how small the tank, or insignificant the experience, there is something bonding to myself that having fish around just seems to feel right. So that’s my connection to the world zoology in about 1000 words.