Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

On being a gar

"Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar,
and be better off than you are,
or would you rather be a gar?

A gar is an animal that lives in a lake
He looks like a dragon or maybe a snake
You could eat fish as if they were cake
Or would you rather be a star?"
--alteration of old show tune

The gar lives in the rivers and creeks where I grew up. I went on a campout once where we camped by a rolling creek. We scouts unsuccessfully tried to fish the creek. We caught nothing. But we saw lots of small gar. They'd break the surface of the water, a foot or two long, with ornate designs on their backs, like dragons in fantasy novels.

During my boyhood, people caught alligator gar in the local river. Alligator gar grow many feet long, and although they largely prove inaggressive to people, they look like huge malicious aggressors. In fact, they're a good part of the eco-system, predating appropriately in fish, and in general being good citizens.

A curious form of over-fishing seriously depleted their numbers. Although gar meat cooks up well, they are too bony for anyone to fish for gar feasts. But people caught alligator gar and then ended the lives of the gar. People don't handle things well so often.

For a time, they said that alligator gar disappeared. I lack the research to know if this happened. But I heard that alligator gar now appear once again.

I use the gar as a kind of metaphor in this story. I prefer not to build one of those elaborate metaphors, as the author builds in a novel I love, "The Secret Garden".
By the way, if you know nothing about theosophy, your average dinner party theosophy chat proves survivable if you know the phrase "You mean, like in 'The Secret Garden'?". Instead, I choose to use the gar for a direct metaphor, which I explain here without undue fanfare.

I see so many of us as gar in this life. By this I mean that so many of us wish we played the role of the goldfish or the angel fish, universally loved and universally recognized, but instead play a different role. Many of us serve as the "rough fish". In fishing circles, particularly in the UK, they divide the fish into two classes--the game fish, and all other fish. The "all other" fish get the appellation "the rough fish".

Now I prefer not to extend the metaphor to discuss how
as gar we eat really cool diets, or how sleek we sometimes look in our oddity. I digress slightly to say that nothing inspires more awe on a 12 year old's moonlit night than an ornate design on a surfacing gar's back. But my metaphor shoots well wide of the culinary and aquatic.

I mean instead that many of us reach adulthood and find that society at large accords us an "other than game fish" status. I mean by this something other than that we live completely deprived lives. In fact, I find that gar frequently find love, financial success, satisfying careers and meaningful things to do. It's instead that sensation that when they pull up the fishing nets, and choose out the fish for market, the net returns to the river with us in it.

I confess that I sometimes exploit my gar-like status. Liberated from a life of being particularly attractive or particularly charming, I secretly seek out simple contentment, and all too often find it. Freed from the need to appear a certain way, I find that I instead act kindly.

Each year, the Game and Fish Commission puts out fishing regulations. Some fish get special protections. Some fish get none. Some fish get written up in sporting magazines. Some fish get overlooked. The threadfin shad, for example, gets written up merely because that fish gets eaten by fish such as bass which fisherpeople love to catch. The three spine stickleback, a drab, non-fish-able native fish, gets ignored because nobody needs to catch them, and their habitat diminishes with time.
I find that sometimes a bass or even a neglected stickleback goes out of his or her way to tell me that I am a gar. But I embraced my garhood at roughly age eight, and I like the cool patterns on my torso.

Parenthetically, I never felt the need for a tattoo, because I feel my battle scars without the need to actually acquire any. On the other hand, I love the scar from the stitches on my left hand between my index and middle finger, so I can see the allure of a tattoo.

So the dilemma proves to be how to live as a gar. I think that gar-acceptance helps. Beyond the cliche of "recognize you swim as a gar", I think it's important to live without sporting standards that don't apply to you. I deny all standards are bad--I firmly believe in living as a responsible fish, cognizant of the appropriate traditions.

So many times, though, one lives in a manufactured home and yet lives as if life only matters in the colonial mansions in the pages of Southern Living. I get amused, by the way, because a lake or pond cabin on a truly quaint and charming local pond or creek runs about sixty thousand dollars, but a lake or pond cabin on a popular, over-crowded, over-fished "chic" lake can run double or quadruple that. So many times the pictures in the books say things are idyllic when they really just cost more.

I think a reason exists, to digress, why monolithic dome homes survived the recent hurricanes, while Cape Cod homes completely unsuited to the Alabama coastline disappeared. I never cease to wonder at how we live in a world in which feeding humanity and building inexpensive homes which assemble in moments and last forever finally became possible, but that our agri-business and construction economies still live in dinosaur times.

The gar, by the way, turns out to be an ancient fish, who lived on first name basis with the later thunder reptiles, so perhaps as a gar I should understand this better. I also dislike people who look down on people who live in tract or manufactured homes, but I skip for today the obvious point about how class distinction and the notions of chic work hand in hand. When home gets defined in age of brick rather than in compassion, the problem begins.

I think that "human gar" seek out and find their meaning in their own effort to be compassionate--not that other fish always recognize the virtues. I remember the woman who died at a church to which I belonged. Only upon her passing did we all realize how much she contributed through quiet acts of baking and presence. The bass give the sermon--the gar make things work.

By the same token, self-loathing sets in when one judges oneself for not being a bass, when one lives a "rough fish" life. But I argue for leaving such self-loathing behind. We none of us are good at living this life--none of us. We ramble on for a few or several decades, and then we float atop the water. The virtue of being a gar arises from what we can do to make things a little better along the way. It matters less who wants to dine off us than how well we swim.

I used to imagine I lived as a betta in a bowl, iridescent purple, self-sufficient, and capable of using my incredible breathing apparatus to live out my life in a solitary globe. But now I see my life as a gar, and I determine to live as if the swimming, and not being a game fish, defines what matters.

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