Flying Fish

I am more and more convinced of the necessity of ignorance in appreciating

the world.

One and a half days into a two or three day bus journey to Ayers Rock, I

was dismayed when photos and postcards of our destination began to appear.

I closed my eyes tight and tried desperately to not look at the image. I

was probably the only person on that bus who had absolutely no idea what

Ayers Rock looked like, or even what it was, and I didn’t want my blank

expectations to be ruined. Things are so much more startling when you

discover them for yourself.

I don’t want you to think that I had deliberately hidden myself from images of

this Great Wonder, saving myself in purity until I could behold it with my own

eyes. No, I am just ignorant. There are lots and lots of things I don’t know.

It astonishes me sometimes how I can know nothing about so many things and quite

often it astonishes my friends too. For someone with a number of years of formal

education under her belt, you’d think I’d know something. At least in

my own field? Nup. Most regular readers of newspapers or New Scientist are far

better informed about environmental issues than I am. I suppose I know a thing

or two about hydroxyl radicals and why you would never want to detect them using

soluble aspirin, but that’s not going to get me very far in the Real World. No,

I want to know about knots and stars and sextants and ocean circulation and clouds

and practical things like how to build things and make stuff. I am on a ship after

all and I’ve just finished a truly great book, Tamata

and the Alliance by Bernard Moitessier, that has had an obvious impact.

Anyway. Flying fish. This was one thing that I was really looking forward

to for this part of the voyage. Everyone told me about them and they were

everyone’s favourite thing, like penguins. They are fish that fly. Fish

That Fly! Imagine that. What? Do they actually fly or do the just jump far

and fast? No, they fly. They have wings that flap and glide and soar.

They’re big, these fish, like big, flat flying fish. I couldn’t wait.

Imagine! Fish That Fly! With Wings! Like a plaice, I imagined, or some

other flat fish. Like a bat fish. Bat-fish, flat fish, flying fat bat fish.

How excited was I?!

And then they arrived. The flying fish. Have you seen the fish?, they kept

asking me. No, I haven’t, I’m so frustrated. Where are they? Usually I see

everything. There, there’s one. Where? There. What? There, over there, and

another, o my, wow, a whole load of them. What?! I don’t see anything. Do

you need glasses? NO! WHERE? O. There’s no more now. Maybe later.


Later. They’re out again, quick, look. What, those little specks I see fluttering

in the distance? Yes, aren’t the great? What? No, that’s just ocean spray, surely.

O my, a whole field of ocean spray. I guess you’re right. You mean that’s them,

that’s it? THAT’S flying fish? Yes, what did you expect? Great big batlike fish

with wings that soar?! Well, um, um.

Now, a few days after my initial dissapointment, I can see their attraction. They

are lovely actually. On first sighting it looks like a blue bird flying above

the sea. Or a hummingbird maybe. Definitely a bird, and a little one. Really sweet.

Then you see it’s jumped out of the waves. Amazing! Little fish they jump out

of the sea, flutter wings, sometimes for really quite impressive distances, and

then dive back in again. Someone out there can surely tell me what’s really going

on (Jim?!) but that is what I see. And then, there’s a whole flock of them. A

flock of fish. All, jumping out of the sea together and flying en masse away from

some predator. Come on sharks, come on, where are you, I want to see the fish

that fly!

So that’s flying fish for you. They’re great. I really like them. Had I heard

nothing about them, I’d be enchanted and raving: guess what, it’s a miracle! As

it is, I am enchanted, I understand the delight they bring, but I’m still on the

lookout for big bat flat fish that can fly and fly and fly.