Thursday, July 18, 2013

Swimming with the Alewives

Those looking for adventure go to the Yucatan to swim with the dolphins. Me, I’m up near Frankfort, Michigan swimming in the lake with the alewives. Little sardine-like fish between two and six inches long. Okay, I know it’s not as romantic as the dolphins. And even less so because…well, because they’re all dead. A bunch of little silver corpses floating in the water.

Then on the beach, there’s a lined path of dead alewives stretching as far as you can see in either direction. Probably at least ten thousand between the summer cottage and the outlet a mile away. You have to watch where you step.

And it’s a little creepy when I’m swimming, because I keep imagining that I’m going to surface to take a breath and inhale one. Hasn’t happened yet, but certainly plausible. And since I hate eating fish, it makes me doubly paranoid.

But beyond my own personal discomfort, I wonder what the heck is going on. One theory is that it’s some natural cycle and no need to worry. One person mentioned that there’s botulism at the bottom of the lake and it has entered the food chain. We’ve all noticed that the seagulls who are usually here are not— and too bad, because it seems like it would be a festival of free lunches. Unless the botulism thing is true, in which case it would end up as mass seagull suicide.

I’m thinking of going into town to the local bookstore and get a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Flight Behavior, which I’ve heard centers around some of the symptoms of climate change. But truth be told, these things terrify me. Really, what can one do to counteract the absence of bees and butterflies, the epidemic presence of dead alewives on a pristine Michigan beach?

So I leave it aside for now and go to swim in the lake. The back lake, that is. Not an alewife in sight.

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