New England Mermaid
One evening in late summer, some beach therapy was in order. I walked into the shallow water wearing my polarized sunglasses so that I could possibly see into the water. As a middle-aged mermaid, these are my prescription progressives in large bright purple frames that I refer to as my diva glasses. I got these when I learned that I had the slightest beginning of cataracts, and sun protection would help keep them in check. Hey, I intend to age with glam 😃. Wow, I digressed after only one sentence – that must be a record. Anyways, after that digression, back to my point … so … within a minute of walking into waist deep water (which is quite shallow considering that I am completely submerged at a depth of 5 feet), I was in complete heaven …
A huge school of silversides approached and completely surrounded me. Silversides are very small, slender, and well, you guessed it … silvery … fish. While our silver friends are beautiful all on their own, what makes them particularly awe-inspiring is how they congregate in graceful glittery schools. They gather in the thousands and swim together completely in sync, moving together like a finely choreographed ballet, but without tutus and moving horizontally instead of being vertical and en pointe. En pointe is my newly-learned phrase, meaning on the tips of your toes. Silversides do not have toes, but you already knew that. They are so in sync that when anything disrupts their pattern, they all move together, like a transforming, flowing cloud. If, dear reader, you have not experienced underwater schools of fish, picture the huge flocks of small birds that seem to shape morph as if they are one being.
It is amazing how the silversides can sense an obstacle and move around it without touching it at all. If the obstacle is in the middle of their direction of movement, the school will seamlessly divide, moving around on both sides, and rejoin on the opposite side. On this wonderful evening, I was the obstacle in the water. I was engulfed on all sides by this school, as they went around me, but never touched me at all. It was indescribably amazing! I didn’t want it to end … I wanted my new friends to hang out with me.
I realized that I could tell where they were gathered by seeing the large area of small ripples on the surface of the water, and I found them again. The Atlantic silversides, the ones that live near us in the, well, you guessed it again – the Atlantic Ocean – prefer to swim in the shallows during the warm summer, at least up here in New England. They often swim in water that is only a few feet deep. Because they swim in such shallow waters, and in such large numbers, their movements create those ripples above them that are visible on the surface. I have since recognized them while simply standing or sitting beside or above the ocean. A few days ago, I witnessed three fishermen working a hand-held trawl net, about 20 feet long. They were standing in knee deep water at the edge of a Connecticut beach. After watching them for a while, I realized that they were trying to catch bait fish, most likely looking to gather silversides to use on their fishing lines. Well, this mermaid was not pleased with this sight. There would be casualties for bait and also for the fish they hoped to catch. Fortunately, these men were a rather bumbling bunch. They struggled to manage the net, and they didn’t seem to catch much of anything. I was not particularly worried for my silvery friends, because I saw no surface ripples where they were using their net. You can probably imagine that, if they had actually located a school, they could have easily gathered up thousands at once, but … they did not know what to look for, and … I did not tell them!
If you have ever waded into the water at the beach, it is very possible that you have been amidst a school of silversides and simply were unaware, because they did not make physical contact. Unless you were wearing polarized glasses, you may not have been able to see them. You don’t need to be a scuba diver, snorkeler, mermaid, or even a swimmer to experience these beautiful little finned friends. In the warm seasons, just grab some polarized sunglasses – they do not need to be large, purple, prescription, progressive, or even the least bit fashionable. Just grab any pair, and wade into the water. Look for some ripples, find these beauties, and enjoy. The experience is fleeting, but the memories remain.
Below is a picture of silversides that I took a long time ago, at a different location. The focus isn’t great, but I hope you get the general idea. The school is much thicker than it appears, but the ones further away are out of view.
My evening did not end after my silversides visit. I had more fishy friends to meet. A few minutes later, while standing in a shallow sandy area, a large sea robin swam/crawled circles around me, searching the bottom for food, its bright orange pectoral fins outstretched. Sea robins are quite common around New England waters. We’ll learn more about them in detail another day. They are bottom-feeding fish that have large bright orange pectoral fins that, when outstretched, look like wings. Some people think that sea robins are ugly, but I would strongly disagree. None of nature’s creatures are ugly – I think they are beautiful. This evening, a large one, about a foot long, just hung out for a while. Perhaps my feet (I was not in mermaid form so I had feet and no fins or tail) were stirring up the bottom and exposing food. I named my new friend Robin – doesn’t the originality impress you?
I also saw whelks and hermit crabs. As I was experiencing and enjoying these fellow creatures, I wondered how many of the other people in the water had any idea that they were not alone, and if they knew, would they be happy or totally freaked out! There were children playing, adults swimming, games with balls and frisbees. Everybody was enjoying being in the water, all in their own way. Nobody else seemed to look in or under the water.
As the sun went down, I spent another half hour in the calm water, looking out to the sea as pink sun-lit ripples came and went. A beautiful evening.