Curious, I stopped to watch.
The fish were running.
Every year at this time, the carp embark on a ludicrous journey. They swim uphill, against the current, seeking the streams of their youth. The pools where they were first tucked in beds of embryonic blankets call in song so insistent that fish will throw caution to the wind, and swim upstream.
Many of them will die trying.
Ugly brutes, these – dark skin and blunt heads which stubbornly bash into rocks and flotsam and each other in their single-minded determination to follow the mating urge. I felt no affinity to these thick-skulled lunk-heads thrashing desperately in the stream – and yet curiously drawn to the underwater drama, I paused on the trail.
The water boiled with the efforts. One pool in particular held perhaps twenty, all facing upstream, all equally engaged in the swim of a lifetime. As I watched, one faltered; unable to keep the pace after so extended an effort, it slowly lost ground, and slipped back into a quieter place, out of the clutch of the current. One after another followed suit. I found myself disappointed at their attitude, and something inside began cheering them on.
Aw, don’t give up now! You’re so close!
One by one, the brutal journey was taking its toll. Head after head lost its place in the line and relaxing, allowed the water to take them where it would.
At last, only one fish remained in the running. It was holding its ground, barely, under the lip of an impossible ledge. A leap of gigantic proportions would be required – and the reward would be access to a quiet pool beyond. A haven.
A place to rest and recuperate for the rest of the difficult journey.
I found myself urging the exhausted fish out loud.
“C’mon, fish! You can do it! Just one more jump! You won’t believe what’s over the ledge! If you just knew what was there, you’d go for it! Go, go, you can do it!”
A compatriot arrived on the scene, and exerting all its resources, flailed its body blindly at the ledge. It hit the rock broadside, only a few inches from reaching the top. Stunned, its body was flipped end over end to the grass, where it lay panting.
I watched it die in slow dry drowning gasps, mere inches from life-saving water.
‘My’ fish was losing ground. Perhaps sensing its fellow’s fate, the grief momentarily checked its forward momentum.
“No!” I cried. “You can do it! Just one more jump! One more!”
Somehow, it had become very very important that one fish made the leap to safety. Somehow, I needed to know that even one could perform a miracle and perpetuate the species. Even one.
Please, just one?
My family wondered what I was doing, yelling at no one on the trail under a spring sun. Impatiently tugging, they wanted to go on. Hiking trails and wiener roasts and pleasant things awaited. I couldn’t describe why I needed to see that fish win the battle. Why it mattered that this one fish could beat the odds and go on to better things.
And suddenly, it happened. A flash of dark tail, and the fish was gone – soaring above the impossible height of the dam above. Achieving its dreams under tremendous pressure. Overcoming incredible odds. Defeating the power of the whirling swirling water.
If a stupid fish can do it, why can’t I? I thought.
I walked away triumphant, head high, smile on face and hands in pockets.
“Who wants ice cream?”