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Friday, April 23, 2004

I'm A Kinder, Gentler Predator

It was the summer of 1999. My girlfriend and I were snorkelling around the medieval castle of Kiz Kalesi in the warm water off the southern coast of Turkey.

Usually, the sea would churn up sand and debris from the seafloor, but as we circled the island fortress that day, the visibility was remarkable, and we saw several schools of small fish shimmering like diamonds in the refracted sunlight; silvery fish, no bigger than a half dollar, swimming as one--as if they were rhinstones on a ballgown.

They parted like a curtain, seeing our shadows from above, and as I watched, a barracuda plunged through the lefthand sheet--plunged through them like a dagger tearing the silvery curtain apart with vicious thrusts.

A slow blossom of blood unfolded in the water, and I noticed one fish that had been beheaded by the barracuda. All that remained was a speartip floating downward, disembodied gills flapping, mouthing words to its epilogue.

When the head reached the sea floor, tiny crabs scuttled out from beneath the rocks. They went for the softest spots first, as all scavengers do.

I surfaced for air.

When I looked in the mirror later that evening, I realized that I was a killing machine. Beneath my sunburned nose, my canine teeth testified to my omnivorous genetic legacy. I'm a predator, and fish, foul, and various other critters are my prey. I feel no hesitation about baiting the hook or bringing in the catch. When I pull in a walleye from the icy depths, a whack with a canoe paddle is likely a more humane end than the lacerating jaws of a Muskie or Pike.

Some day, the worms will have their way with my tired old carcass--I bait each hook with relish--I consider it a preemptive strike against my own mortality.

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