When I was a kid, we’d spend a week or two each summer at my grandmother’s cottage. There were always minnows hanging about in the shallow waters near the shore. Sometimes we would make them scatter with the wave of a shadow hand. Other times we would feed them end pieces of bread. They were fun to play with.
One day, I got this brilliant idea which involved changing into my swimsuit and grabbing a third a loaf of bread to feed them from the water. When I first walked in, the little minnows, of course, fled. But then I knelt chest-deep into the water and waited patiently until some of the little fishies ventured near. I sprinkled crumbs in front of me. More minnows arrived. I proceeded to spread bread crumbs in a circle around me. Lo and behold, more came. Lots more — brothers and sisters and cousins and friends and a hundred distant fish relatives. I couldn’t get the bread crumbled fast enough for them all. Soon they started nibbling on not just the bread crumbs, but on me! As in, with nearly my entire body underwater with skin exposed, I became the fish food. I jumped up, threw down my remaining bread slices and splashed back to dry land.
Flash forward a few decades.
My husband and I took a motorcycle ride and stopped at a lake to walk out on the public boat dock near the entrance ramp. It was a gorgeous Michigan summer day with a few billowing white clouds against the blue sky and a light breeze waving the plants growing along the shore, and the sounds of kids laughing and splashing a few houses down. When I looked down from the dock, I saw minnows in the water, fairly large ones, two or more inches long. As they waited silently, facing us, my husband pointed out that someone must be feeding them. My first reaction was warm and good, remembering all those times my brother and sister and I fed minnows at my grandmother’s cottage. Then I noticed they weren’t moving, like most fish do. It was like they were speaking to me in minnow-talk, “We’ve heard stories about you, Sandy Carlson, passed down through the generations. Come. Come back into the water.” Pretty sky, pretty clouds, pretty waving plants. We climbed on our motorcycle and put our backs to those zombie minnows. I don’t know for sure, but maybe if you go to that lake, you might see them, too, and you just might be able to hear them calling. But don’t you listen to them. Feed them from the land, if you wish, but not while in the water.