THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED ME, a slight mysterious riveting
being not half as tall as Herman, grabs me by the beard in the
kitchen one day and says, What is up with you and sturgeon, why
are you so fascinated with sturgeon? And I spend days afterward
trying to answer these questions for myself.
PhotograPh l bettmann / corb Is
Part of it is bigness. The fact that there are wild creatures bigger and heavier than cars right there in the river, in a city of 2 million, is astounding, and it is also astounding that everyone totally
takes this for granted, whereas I would very much like to stop
people in the street about this matter, and blast-text OMG!!!, and
set up a continual river-bottom video feed in all grade schools
so kids everywhere in my state will quietly mutter, Holy shit,
Dad, and establish the website MassiveSturgeonVisitation.com,
so when a creature the size of a kindergarten bus slides to the
surface suddenly in front of a Cub Scout dabbing for crab in
the Columbia, he, the Cub Scout, can post an alert as soon as
he changes his underwear. And the bigness of sturgeon here is
mysteriously stitched, for me, into the character and zest and
possibility of Cascadia; there are huge things here, trees and fish
and mountains and rivers and personalities and energies and
ideas, and somehow the pairing of power and peace in the piscatorial is a hint of the possible in people.
Part of it is harmlessness; they don’t eat us, no matter how
often we eat them. Adult sturgeon do not even have teeth, having dropped their weapons after gnashing through adolescence.
We have a fairly straightforward relationship with most animals:
we kill the ones who eat us, and we eat the rest. Most of the ones
who eat us are bigger than we are—crocodiles, tigers, sharks,
bears— but there are some animals that are bigger than we are
that don’t eat us, and at those we gape, and grope for some other
emotion beyond paranoia and palate and pet. Whales, for example. We yearn for something with enormous gentle animals,
something more than mammalian fellowship. We want some
new friendship, some sort of intimate feeling for which we don’t
have good words yet.
Part of it is sheer goofy wonder; I suppose to me sturgeon
are a lovely example of all the zillions of things we do not know,
for all our brilliance and inventiveness and cockiness, all our
seeming confidence that we run the world. Most of what we do
know is that we don’t know hardly anything, which cheers me
up wonderfully. The world is still stu=ed with astonishments beyond our wildest imagining, which is humbling, and lovely, and
maybe the only way we are going to survive ourselves and let
everything else alive survive us too.