Sunday, May 14, was Mother’s day (duh). I probably don’t need to restate the age old theory that Mother’s Day is just another Hallmark holiday, or a “setup”, or that “mothers are underappreciated” or even that “every day should be Mother’s Day” because all of those things are 5000% true, and you’ve heard them, or said them, all before.
The day before Mother’s Day this year, I had a close encounter with motherhood which left a powerful mark that I have yet to be able to define, but that warrants sharing, if for no other reason than to add a voice of appreciation to the void, singing praise for the human method of mothering.
On Saturday, May 13, I volunteered with Sustain DuPage to pick up trash along the East branch of the DuPage River. It was a gorgeous spring day, perfect for hiking. We stopped at a riffle, a small collection of rocks in the river, and watched Asian carp spawning in the river. These creatures were much bigger than any fish I’d ever seen, and the reckless abandon which with they were mating to ensure the longevity of their species was strangely awe-inspiring. They splashed in the shallows, creating a whirlpool of frenetic activity, as the sun glistened, reflecting the water on their brown, mottled scales.
My friend, fellow environmental warrior, and the ever-fearless founder of Sustain DuPage, decided he was going to catch one of these creatures, in order to teach the volunteers about invasive species and river ecosystems. And so he did. I rolled up my pants and tentatively followed after my new friend as he plunged his hands into the river, and after a somewhat epic battle, emerged victorious with a fat, impressively large female, whose belly was engorged with her future offspring—which she promptly dropped all over Andrew’s pants. She dropped her eggs, fearing that she was soon to die. Her las action was to hopefully ensure their survival. I won’t describe this orange mess, as I feel the pictures do it better justice.
I asked to hold the fish, and immediately regretted it as I reached out my shaking hands. I’m not sure what I was really afraid of, except that this was such a completely foreign experience that I felt my brain was short circuiting. “I can do this”, I said out loud, and Andrew looked and me and said, “of course you can”, and that vote of confidence was all I needed.
Holding that fish was an absolutely transformative experience. There was something about the weight of that life, the heaviness of its belly, that felt absolutely sacred. I won’t go into goofy depth about spirituality here, but the power of that fish in my hands struck me to the core. Maybe it was the idea of connection with something so wild, so free, and so recklessly concerned with the survival of her species.
There is something to be envied in species like that who recklessly pursue survival and are not concerned with all the trivial human problems of life. For the same reason, I also envy human mothers their purpose in life—the grand pursuit of the survival of their family. I also respect them that. To think of people dedicating their lives to raising families is a humble pursuit that often does NOT go noticed.
The Asian carp is a K species, which means that it produces many offspring at once and does not nurture them to adulthood. Humans are an N species, which means that they invest their energy and time into one offspring, caring for them and raising them until they are grown. As much respect and awe as I had for that Asian carp, I was also induced with a healthy dose of gratitude that I was born into an N species, and that mothers, for the most part, raise their kids to be functioning, well-adjusted adults.
So today, in a weird, turnabout kind of way, I have turned an experience with a big-ass fish, into a reflection on motherhood. Who would have thought it possible? I can thank my mom for that—and for always nurturing my love of writing. Without her, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.