Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Bizarre doings down at the dock today. The water was high, dark and murky, and in it I saw a big group of something—aquatic critters—swimming in a tight, frantic circle, around and around like you see sardines doing in those TV shows about the ocean. At first I thought—ridiculously—they were squid, then maybe fat enormous tadpoles, nine or so inches long—but every so often one would veer off sideways, its flank flashing gold in the gloomy sunlight, advertising itself as “fish.”


Yesterday, a friend and strategy consultant met me for a personal session to help me focus my business. What he taught me went far beyond that; what he gave me is an enormous gift. It was one of those spectacular occasions when I learned things that shifted my perspective and thinking entirely, opening new pathways and possibilities, nudging me into epiphanies and insights. He fed me full of sparkly, alluring, solid ideas, ones I don’t yet fully understand—but with which I’m already making my own tangential explorations and connections.

I’m left exhausted and fairly delirious.

Today I’ve simply been quivering. Finally I took myself and the dog for a walk in the gray, damp cool of the afternoon. Humidity slapped us around pretty thoroughly. The woods were quiet and wet, green and brown and yellow with early-turning leaves. And at the dock I saw this frantic school of insane fish, swimming in their frenetic circles.

Nature mirroring my own mind.


I think these fish are Atlantic menhaden—sort of like herrings—“the breadbasket of the Chesapeake Bay.” They are, apparently, devoured and relished by everything, sharks and osprey and humans.

I watched the circling for a while. It was like an object itself, not individual fish but one large seething mandala of scales and cold flesh. When the school swam too far down in the dark depths sometimes all I could see were flashes of individual fish and wrinkles on the water. Like messages from the darkness, really. Or the occasional coherent thought. Or the flash of insight when you suddenly know the thing that you feel is right, socketing into the place it belongs in your heart and mind.

We walk home through the dim woods, watching the darkness collect in the undergrowth. I am on the edge of a bigger way of living and feeling, the dog is chasing rabbits, and the summer is dying. Startling gold leaves flash in the gloom. Nature is steadfast and determined and inexorable. On a daily basis, unless you remember to look closely, she seems unchanged--it is only over the course of weeks or months that you notice asters beginning to bloom, red leaves skimming the creek, nuthatches flying south, ospreys leaving. This seasonal time is unerring, ceaseless, flowing like water gently wearing down the year. And, if I try very hard to let go, I can step into this current of long time and feel it press me down into its longer view, a more fluid connection with what I know and what I learn.

I had no knowledge of the menhaden until I saw them today. Yet now they and their frantic silver circling and flashy schooling are a permanent part of my woods and creek.


Menhaden return, seasonally, to the ocean to breed. At night I will lie in bed and wonder where they are, what they are doing, out in the depths of the bay. I will imagine their tight circle unraveling, untying, and their silvery watery slipperiness streaming back into the bay’s saltiness and from there back to the ocean. And I will be soothed by knowing they are simply there, doing what they do, making my own world deeper and richer.

The gifts my friend gave me yesterday are most valuable because of the giving—making them now mine to ponder and study and absorb into my own way of being and living. And so, as I fall into sleep, I will also imagine all my new, shiny nourishing epiphanies slowing and slipping and streaming away with the fish, falling into their own seasonal cycling of breeding and feeding in the ocean of heart and soul. And I will be soothed by knowing they are simply there, doing what they do, making my own world deeper and richer.


Melanie said...

"... one large seething mandela of flesh and scales." Probably one of the most beautiful metaphors I've read in ages. I can actually see them swarming and feel the impermanence. Stunning imagery.

Thanks Laurie.

Laurie Stahl said...

My friend Joe said I could share his comment and poem, inspired by the menhaden image. He also tells me that the Aramaic translation for "soul" is "a chorus of voices in the lower abdomen"--a lovely connection to the idea of menhaden as voices within us--

more of Joe's poetry at www.looseleafhollow.com

"Nature mirroring my own mind."
Lovely. Exactly.

Menhaden. What an image of all the swirling selves
or voices
that we assume
is a single, static

we call it "the self"—
silver swirling menhaden
begging to differ