LETTER: In Appreciation of Our “Underwater Cousins”
By Cynthia Cruser, published in The Independent on August 31, 2017.
I was born in Providence in 1952, and my family has been in New England since the 1600s. My childhood memories hold cherished summer days spent each year on the salt ponds and beaches of South County, often Charlestown. I remember quahoggging with my father and grandfather in Ninigret Pond, or Salt Pond if we visited Uncle Harry, accessed by a big wooden rowboat. I swam my first doggy paddles at 2 years old in the cove behind the shack in Charlestown. The cattails, with a red-winged blackbird swinging on the reeds sounding his familiar caw, and the salty smell of the marsh are forever embedded in my soul.
I became a fan of catching blue crabs, but I was often conflicted about whether or not to throw them back. My heart told me their lives mattered, but family and society told me they did not. Later in my life I would work on the docks in Galilee and box live fish as they stared back at me.
There have been many books written lately, with great nostalgia, about the history of fishing in South County. The true star of the show with an eons longer history and a fascinating life – each one of which matters – is the fish. Just because we can’t identify their smile does not mean they don’t have one. Another book, written in 2016 by eminent ethologist Jonathan Balcombe, “What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of our Underwater Cousins,” illuminates some of their antics.
As an old salt who loves the salt ponds and the sea as much as anyone, I say, “Let us humbly thank them for the riches and entertainment, the identity and lifestyle they have provided, and set them free.” We can love the rich nature of the waters and evolve a new way to appreciate the many souls we call fish.