Sunfish Type Of Gal
by Kristy Gherlone
Living in the woods, like I did for many years, I found myself a frequent observer of nature. There was really no way to avoid it because once I stepped outside our brown, boxy camp, I was as much a part of my surroundings as they were of me. The sights and smells left imprints on my psyche and I learned lessons that will stay with me forever.
Our lake and the surrounding forest held many fascinations. There were giant snapping turtles lurking around in the cove. Fish and baby duck stealing monsters that would poke their muddy green heads out of the water and skulk around brooding. I swore they were stalking me. Just waiting for me to dip a toe in so they could bite it off.
There were several mating pairs of loons. The calls they made through the night could be both a comfort and a fright. Their cries lulled me to sleep as I lay on the swinging bed my dad made for me in the cozy loft. However, if I was awoken in the middle of the night, they sounded like ghosts! Eerie wails of long dead woodsmen that would haunt my dreams if I was able to get back to sleep.
When I looked through the binoculars from the screened front porch, which I often did, I could spy bull moose on the far shore. Their giant antlered heads would be all the way underwater chomping on aquatic plants. Just when I thought they’d surely die of suffocation, they’d emerge. Lily pads dangled like Christmas ornaments from their velvety racks.
Often, I’d take to the forest. I’d wander off, far enough away from the camp that I couldn’t see it, but not far enough so that I couldn’t still smell the wood smoke puffing from the chimney. Just past the pines, through the birches and over the rows of enormous rocks left behind by glaciers, there was a clearing that held a bog. In mid-summer, it was lush and full of green plant life. Yellow lily flowers opened on the surface during the day and clammed shut at night. There were frogs in there, but they were hard to catch. The water was deep and the bottom was too squishy. I once got my shoe stuck in the muck and I never did find it. It’s probably still there to this day.
If ever I got too bored, I’d head back down to the lake. I’d lay on my belly, draped over the faded and warped pine dock, peek into the shallow water, and look for sunfish nests. They were easy to spot. They’d be the only clean areas dotting the pulpy, dark bottom.
The female fish crafted large, round circles of sand that looked like the sunshine had come out on a rainy day down there. They were interesting, and I learned a thing or two in all those years of watching.
Sunfish girls were jealous and possessive. They didn’t like outsiders, and everything and everybody that wasn’t like them was a threat that should be run off quickly. They had an inherent need to protect what they felt was theirs. They’d socialize with their own kind only. The yellow perch, all tiger striped and sleek, would sneak in and try to play with them, but the sunfish wouldn’t have it. They’d chase them off, pecking at them viciously and swishing their tails to shoo them away. I felt bad for the perch as they swam away looking very dejected.
The sunfish were industrious, spending hours cleaning their own houses. Picking up and spitting out what didn’t belong. I’d test them by dropping tiny stones in the middle of their order. They’d pick them up and move them out immediately. In my often, curious youth, tragedy would occur on occasion. Larger stones would slip from my fingers and go splashing down into their lairs. In no time at all, other sun fish would be called in to help. Everyone would work together to restore what was lost, if it could be (sorry!) As soon as it was done though, everyone would be booted out again. It seemed they mostly only wanted company when it was to their benefit.
Sunfish were pretty. Purple finned and red bellied beauties. They had nothing to be jealous about, but it seemed they couldn’t help it. Sometimes they would school up and swim together. They appeared cordial enough to each other, but God forbid if one tried to take something another wanted!
I’ve known some girls like sunfish in my lifetime. I’m sure you have too. I’ve been on the receiving end of the shoo away from time to time, and it hurt, but I always tried to apply my nature observations for comfort. People really aren’t so different, after all.
I learned, by watching the fish as much as I did, that they were too self- centered to give you a second thought just as soon as you were out of sight (or threat zone). Their thoughts always turned back to themselves and their needs. I like that. It means less gossip!
I learned that they often end up alone, living a sad and lonely life, while the others are out having a blast.
While few other fish are as pretty, looks don’t mean anything if you aren’t fun to be around. There are definitely cooler fish in the lake to hang with!