If we were more like eels

A while back I wrote an adoring blog about a meal I had in Paris which began with smoked eel, a rarer delicacy in England than France. Now I discover that the creature is, like too many species of animal, plant, fish and bird suffering huge losses in its numbers. What to do? My life seems to have spanned a post-war delirium of open fields, wildflowers, clean water and every bird and animal on the doorstep through to today’s dereliction of human duty to the environment.

First, let me persuade you that the eel, a creature that ties your fishing line into knots and covers your hands with slime, should be a symbol of the extraordinary, a true miracle in mucous. Eels were not born, according to the great Izaak Walton, they sprang from the “action of sunlight on dewdrops”. Actually they are born in the Sargasso Sea and stay there as ‘yellow eels‘, feeding and growing and swelling and darkening, for perhaps 7 years if they decide to become a male, and 12 if they’re female. (It is always harder, being a lass.) But there you are. It’s the future for us, too. Soon, all humans will be making similar choices, in order to save ourselves and the planet. The Chinese are doing it under State edict. More and more people are choosing the gender of their children as a design statement. Not for long. Necessity will triumph.

The eel forgets about the need for genitals until procreation becomes a possibility. That is why Walton became so poetical about its apparent spontaneous combustion into life. Perhaps we would all be better if we grew genitalia later. No more prudery about the naked form. We are as blank down there as Angels in a fresco (in the pictures I have seen!). Maybe we only cover up later when we are about to procreate with our newly grown appendages. That would be the difference between ‘parents’ and those who have no children.

Eels can live undisturbed in forgotten pools for 25, 30, even 40 years. They are Zen creatures meditating on the meaning of existence, uninterested in sex, drugs and rock and roll. Then (read the BBC science blog) one dark night, usually in September or October, usually after rain and when the moon’s overcast, they get the call. No one knows why. They turn a kind of mottled green-black on top, silver underneath. They head downstream on the flood, and swim 3,000 miles back to the Sargasso Sea. Then they spawn, and die.

There must be a sense of completion in this mass sexual encounter at the end of days. Who would not feel closure as the current cliche has it? Wouldn’t our lives be richer and more meaningful, if we ended them on an equivalent social high note?

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