A brush with divinity

crawfish-claws-upLast week my husband and I took a bike ride on a path that runs along the North Shore Sanitary Canal in Chicago’s near-north suburbs.

This appetizing name describes a channel about thirty feet wide and three feet deep, an unlikely milky-green color, at the bottom of a steep ditch lined with weed trees and such litter as blows into it from the bike path.

Nevertheless, over the past few decades, this canal has gone from being so polluted that only three species of fish can survive in it, to fifteen species of fish. Now it’s common to see gulls, ducks, cormorants, Canada geese, and great blue herons in the water. Today I had proof that the canal is also hospitable to the gods.

My husband saw it first and pulled to one side. Two more bikers and a pedestrian were already stopped, looking anxious and pointing. It was quite a large crayfish, and it was doing this “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” thing, rearing up and waving its claws rapidly and menacingly.

I found this enchanting. The creature weighed only a few ounces, but it was challenging monsters thousands of times bigger and heavier. There was something magical, even holy, in its valor and determination.

The idea that someone might come along and run over it with their bike, or torment it, was unbearable. Suddenly I was ready to fight all the bystanders to protect it.

In my childhood, my brother and I would catch little crayfish in creeks and throw them back, so I knew what to do. I got a twig and distracted it, not without difficulty—the little bugger wheeled rapidly as I circled it, trying for a quick grab at its back. Finally it decided to focus on the twig long enough for me to get a grip with finger and thumb on its carapace, just behind its head. Its clawed arms were long enough that it could reach clear back to my wrist, waving around, trying for a nip.

My heart pounded. Unlike those small green-and-gray crayfish, this one was crusty with mud, and dark red at the extremities. Had it actually started to cook, standing guard out here in the hot sun on the asphalt bike path? What moved it to come here and brave a hideous and possibly prolonged death under our feet or wheels, or at the hands of destructive children? Would it die now of overheating, even if I could get it to the water?

I had it now. I was able to carry it across the lawn, clamber down the steep fifteen-foot embankment, dodge the poison ivy, and toss it over the fence into that toxic-looking green canal. The crayfish sank quickly.

I climbed back up the slippery embankment. Had I done the right thing? Would it live? Was it already terminal when I encountered it, or was it hale and fiercely bent on delivering its inscrutable warning? I was full of uncertainty and also a fluttering, transcendent thrill.crayfish gift

Just as I was asking myself these questions and watching carefully where I put my feet, I saw this bit of glass perched on the mud.

I grabbed it. In my crowlike heart I love green, I love shiny things, and especially I love green shiny things that I can keep in my pocket and caress in my palm from time to time.

I had my answer. And a gift.



A brush with divinity — 3 Comments

  1. Is it a marble?
    The entire -novel- falls right into your hands, honey. The glass bit is the Lost Crown of the Kukuhanas. It is the secret key to the Land Under the Lake. The Queen lost it out of her crown five hundred years ago and ever since the kingdom has been blighted. The valiant crayfish, her knight, goes back and reports to Her Majesty that an invasion of your house must be mounted, to retrieve the artifact. But, before the crustacean hordes can be mustered, a valiant young (teenaged?) warrior decides to visit you and —
    [slaps self] OK, I’m stopping. You pick up the ball and run. This is your novel.