It is officially a tradition: for the fourth year running I find myself closing out the year on the beach.
In 2013 it was a beach in Hawaii, 2014 ended on a beach in Sydney, and 2015 concluded on Venice Beach in Los Angeles. And now, as 2016 winds down, I have just had the great privilege of getting up close and personal with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (for the first time – hard to believe I waited this long) and the magnificent beaches of the Whitsunday Islands.
And whilst in prior years I have used this “blog from the beach” to review the 12 months that have just passed, I don’t think I am going to do it now. Because, quite frankly, on many levels 2016 totally sucked.
Please don’t get me wrong – I am not whining. I live a fortunate life, and I know I have been blessed with another year of wonderful moments, exciting travels, glorious beaches, beautiful sunsets, time with family and friends, and lots of laughter and love.
It’s just that in this past year I have also had to deal with quite a few big challenges in my personal life. Unprecedented and unexpected things that have pushed my limits, and made me question a lot of my basic assumptions. Call it the “joy” of getting older, living life, and being a responsible adult.
Not to mention that out there in the big wide world quite a lot of bizarre, inexplicable, not-so-great and downright fucked up stuff has also happened in 2016. Such that I doubt too many people are going to look back from the future and say “wow – that was one sweet year!”
So instead of my usual “year in review”, I thought I might end 2016 in a fittingly bizarre, inexplicable way. And to do that, I am going to focus on fish.
You see, like I mentioned, I have just visited the Great Barrier Reef. One of the true natural marvels of the world, where I got to swim among some of the most beautiful fish I could ever have hoped to see. Floating my cares away in an underwater coral garden so magnificent it knocked the breath out of me (although to be fair that might also have been my general incompetence with a snorkel).
More than the overwhelming beauty, however, what really caught my attention were the oddities; fishy quirks that made me grit my teeth, wince, smile, or laugh out loud. Factoids so wonderfully weird I just had to share them with you:
That’s Some Good Seagrass, Dude – Sea turtles, God love them, apparently spend most of their life high as kites. It seems they enjoy eating jellyfish, and the toxins in the jellies affect them in much the same way marijuana affects humans.
An interesting fact to know in its own right, I am sure you will agree. But downright enlightening if, like me, you have kids, and have therefore watched Disney’s Finding Nemo a thousand times. Remember Crush, the stoned sea turtle? Now you know….
Who Wants to Live Forever? – While on the subject of jellyfish, did you know there is a particular kind of jellyfish that is immortal? Seriously, they live forever.
These thumb-sized critters have a unique biological mechanism that kicks in when faced with a crisis, like damage or starvation. During which the jellyfish simply says “fuck it”, and reverses all of its existing cells into a younger state, thereby starting its life cycle all over again. Benjamin Button, eat your heart out.
I See You – I am color blind, so at the best of times I don’t appreciate the full color spectrum (although at least I see more than an octopus – it can only see things in black and white).
But no matter how great your eyesight, it may gall you to know that you are nothing compared to a mantis shrimp. These have the distinction of “best eyes in the animal kingdom”, thanks to 16 photoreceptors (by comparison, dogs have 2; humans 3; birds 4), plus the ability to move each eye independently. All of which means the humble mantis shrimp sees the world in a way that, quite literally, is beyond you.
Is that a bullet in your pocket? – And not content with having the best eyesight, the mantis shrimp also has the best punch, shooting out an arm to stun their prey staggeringly fast. And by staggeringly fast, I mean at an acceleration speed that mildly exceeds the velocity of a .22 caliber bullet.
All of this amazingness packed into a 10 centimeter long creature that makes its living crawling along the ocean floor. Kind of mind-blowing to think about, isn’t it?
The breakfast of champions – Whoever said that fish don’t sleep was lying, because they do. But in the case of parrotfish, they don’t just sleep any old how. Instead, they secrete a little bubble of mucous around them – a cocoon of sorts – that protects them as they slumber from predators like moray eels. And as an added bonus, when they wake up, breakfast is ready, as they chomp their way through their own bubble of slime.
Yes, Yes, Yes (times a gazillion) – apparently, in the signature scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally, Meg Ryan yells out “yes” a grand total of eight times. Which may well have made cinema history, but is amateur hour if you are a coral. Because every spring, in one of nature’s most extraordinary sex shows, thousands of kilometers of coral release their eggs all at once. Creating brightly streaked patterns in the water while the Barrier Reef enjoys what is the world’s largest orgasm.
Who’s Your Daddy? – Back to Disney’s Finding Nemo, remember the central plot line? Nemo’s mother is eaten by a barracuda, Nemo becomes an only child, gets lost, and Nemo’s dad sets out on a heroic quest to find his beloved son.
Now, apart from the obvious question (that is, how can a movie in which the central character’s mother gets violently murdered thirty seconds in be considered a kids flick?), it also turns out to be an entirely false premise.
Because in the real world of clown fish, only the two largest fish in any colony are sexually mature: the largest being female and the next largest male. And if something happens to a female, the largest male simply changes sex, and becomes the female, while the next largest fish in the group matures into the male.
So by rights, on the death of Nemo’s mum, Nemo’s dad should have become his mum. And Nemo himself, as the only other surviving fish in the group, should have become the new male partner for his new mum ex-dad. Which is not just odd, but also clearly raises all sorts of other, quite disturbing questions about this film’s subject matter….
So what do mantis shrimp, stoned turtles and incestuous clown fish have to do with saying farewell to 2016?
Well, nothing really. I just thought it was funny.
And also, um yeah, maybe something, now that you mention it. Because perhaps there is a bit more to these fishy oddities than a quick giggle.
Think about it. In the world of fish, if you want to snooze in a ball of your own snot, you’re free to do so. If you want to see the world in a completely different way to every other creature on the planet, you can. If you want to eat seagrass and get totally off your face, no-one’s stopping you. And even if you want to be a man fish one day and a woman fish the next, it’s your life, go for it.
The rules in the ocean are simple. Respect the water which is your home and gives life, don’t get eaten by a shark, and don’t fuck with another fish’s anemone bush.
But apart from that, I’ll let you be you, and you’ll let me be me. We don’t have to agree with each other, and we don’t even have to like each other. Who cares – we live in an ocean where there is more than enough space for each of us to swim our own race and still be a happy little fish. Under the seas, everyone and everything is free to just be.
Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is perhaps more than can be said for what’s been going on landside lately, in a year where the dominant sound was not the quiet peacefulness of the deep, but rather that of insular conservatism, goose-stepping its way forward, all around the globe.
With 2016 fading away into history, and with the feeling of sand crunching between my toes, I want to thank you for a fifth year of reading my blog. And I want to wish every one of you (average readership of each blog post cracked 6,000 this past year) a very happy new year.
Here’s hoping that 2017 will be a different kind of year – one of personal growth, planetary healing, and greater love and understanding. I am thinking the fish might be telling us something: that there is indeed always cause to hope for a better tomorrow.
PS: Just in case you are interested, my 2016 travel list was: USA (Los Angeles, New York, Newark Delaware, Philadelphia, Washington, Houston, Miami, Reno, Lake Tahoe, Ojai, Palm Springs, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and a California coastal road trip); Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Noosa, Myall Lakes); New Zealand (Queenstown and a South Island road trip); UK (London); Spain (Ibiza); France (Paris); Israel (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem); Turkey (Istanbul); Indonesia (Bali), and The Bahamas. Although for the first time in forever I did not go to any new countries this past year, which is an achievement of sorts? (Not that I am running out of countries, mind you, and I have few uncharted spots on the bucket list that I am determined to get to in 2017).
PPS: In 2015 I did set myself the 2016 goal of writing a book. And much to my surprise, I actually completed the manuscript. Which I submitted to an editor, and got some feedback, and was sent away to do some more writing. So like any writer worth his salt I am already way behind schedule, but I am hoping to have it done by the middle of 2017. Stay tuned….