May 19, 2004

fish frenzied

let me tell you about the aquarium; i love the aquarium. my feelings for it are half nostalgia, half eager enthusiasm. the aquarium has to be my favorite place on earth.

the deep water tank is a place of such extreme serenity. even with screaming children and visitors abounding, it is a center of calm. the glass, reaching floor to ceiling in a giant wall, with only soft blue light playing through the water, and the plush seating. and the creatures are amazing. the majestic sea turtle that swims just at the waterline, surveying all, making large sweeping circles around the tank, passing by the glass regularly, like clockwork. the comical sunfish, with its unfortunately shaped fins, swimming with incredible grace considering its shape. the two prowling hammerheads, roving the bottom of the tank, far below. and the teams of manic gleaming tuna and barracuda and others, flashing and catching the light yellow and blue on their scales. every time i'm there i want to sit in someone's arms quietly and just watch them all glide and dart about, silent and detached.

even more zen is the jellyfish exhibit. there is a short hallway-like alcove, both sides of which are tanks, and with mirrors at both ends, so that standing in between, it looks like you are surrounded by an eternity of jellies, fore and aft, wafting through the water. it is perfect to sit quietly on the floor, watching them bob up and down, hundreds of moon jellies, glowing yellow and white and purple on a blue background. all i ever want to do on my visit is sit cross-legged, obscuring the paths of strollers and families, and draw the luminous scene.

the most amazing time i had there was on a visit with kim. it wasn't too crowded that day and we were standing in front of the bat ray petting tank. it is this large, low pool, half of which is accessible to the general public who shove in their arms, elbow-deep, in the salty water in the hope that their fingertips will brush by a ray. the rays, on the other hand, remain huddled at the far end of the pool, bumping up against the wall and flailing their wings, either scraping the walls with their rasp-like teeth, or else futilely attempting to flop out. every so often one of these creatures will make a wide circuit of the pool, just out of reach of the probing fingers, and back to the safety of the far wall. whenever a hand does touch ray skin, a cry of, "eew, cool!" can be heard. batray skin feels like wet suede or chammy material, not slimy and pleasantly firm. the time kim and i visited, however, one ray made its circuit and stopped just in front of me, bumping its head out of the water with slow, deliberate strokes of its wings. it stayed that way for close to a minute, allowing me to pet it at my leisure. i rubbed my knuckles along its head gently as if it were a cat, and stroked its back and wings. the ray made another sweep of the pool and returned to me for a while longer. i would like to believe that we forged some sort of species barrier-transcending connection. more likely, however, is that it found a spot of particularly tasty algae there, or hoped, perhaps, i would set it free.

i am just about sick to visit the aquarium. i would love to spend an afternoon with the fish, wandering around the shops on cannery row, lovely lunch on freshly-caught seafood. they've opened up a new shark, skate, and ray (oh my!) exhibit, that i have yet to visit. i love to marvel at those animals and i would like to think that it is adorable when i inevitably cry out "oh, i love him!" "and him!" "oooh, look at that one, i love him, too!" i'm talking about the fish, of course.

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