Something about fishes makes them fascinating to me. No matter what I do, they always find another way to swim through my life and they have done so since childhood.
But during those early years I struggled with a growing awareness of fishes without ever really learning about them. Names fed that awareness.
Catfish, salmon and tuna figured regularly in family meals; but the only thing I knew about them was that they didn’t taste the same. This name, that flavor.
Through friends and neighbors and family members who fished, names like “chub” and “shiner” entered my awareness. They were the bait people used to catch bigger fishes named “bass” and “pike” and “walleye.”
By sixth grade aquariums had entered my life. Mr. Reese kept two 10-gallon aquariums in the classroom; and rather than waste recess time playing tetherball or something, I prowled the school grounds to catch insects and earthworms that I fed to his fishes.
My senior year of high school, I received the National Geographic Society book, “Wondrous World of Fishes,” as a Christmas present. And everything changed.
I began learning about fishes.
The book introduced me to the concept of relatedness among fishes, the concept of geographical uniqueness among fishes and the concept of fishes as members of food chains.
Basically, what never got taught in high school biology class I learned on my own.
I learned that not only some birds — cormorants and pelicans, gulls and terns, egrets and herons, and kingfishers! — eat fishes but some fishes eat birds!
I learned that “minnow” is not a size of fish but rather a kind of fish.
Having settled into Colorado in 1974, I immediately began investigating the fishlife of our state’s streams and lakes. That pursuit became vital to my maturity as a naturalist.
I learned that of the world’s 27,790 scientifically classified fish species only 52 of them naturally occurred in Colorado waters. But at least 148 kinds of fishes have been found here.
Those other 96 species got here by people bringing them as catchable sport fishes, as bait for catching other fishes, as biological agents for controlling other aquatic species, as food for grocery commerce and as novelty species for the aquarium pet trade.
But the most important thing I learned was about myself, about how to accomplish something meaningful. Learning about fishes as living creatures beyond mere targets of hook-and-line enriched my comprehension of how wonderful Life on Earth truly is.
And so I tell my fish stories as a way to set an example, a model, for other wildlife enthusiasts to gauge their own interests in whatever wildlife fascinates them and to assess their accomplishments towards fulfilling that interest.
Fishes enriched my life by making me a better naturalist. What part of Life has enriched your life?
Monthly nature programs at Loveland Public Library continue via Zoom. The next program — “The Intent” — will be Wednesday, May 4, at 10 a.m. The free program sponsored by Friends of the Loveland Library will explain how knowing about yourself helps energize the pursuit of knowledge about Life. Go to the library’s website to get the Zoom link.
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