Just off the Nydia Track from a quick overnight mini-tramp.
Petting an eel.
Walking along the trail, we came upon a beautiful pool, deep and clear, in a river bend. Nailed to mossy beech tree above the water was a homemade, hand-painted sign, sort of in the Winnie the Pooh vein, which simply read: “No Fishing, Pet Eel”
I stood there for a moment, trying to make sense of this sign. Until, as if on cue, appeared said eel. And oh, what an eel! Even looking back on it now, I am surprised by how much I liked this eel. How quickly, and how completely. It charmed me. It just looked, well, friendly. It looked like a Hayao Miyazaki character. About three feet long (that’s a meter to all you metric-lovers!), it sidled on up along the shore, side fins softly whippling, and said hello. Okay, it didn’t actually speak, but honestly, the whole scene was so magical, it would not have surprised me if I were offered three wishes by the lithe fish. It had pale blue eyes. It opened its mouth just above the water’s surface. It appeared smiley. And slimey.
Taking the sign language as a verb and not an adjective, I pet the creature. Well, I touched it on the snout with my fingertip (then promptly jumped back and started laughing like a delighted maniac). Actually, I did this three times, in between offering it bread… which seemed like the best of bad trail food options (being fairly certain that eels don’t enjoy raisins or cous cous). Eels are not big fans of bread, evidently. I contemplated taking a swim, but wasn’t quite brave enough for that. Instead I just crouched down low by the water, utterly mesmerized by this amazing, happy, animal. It was the strangest thing, how much I wanted to be near to it.
I’d been wanting to see a New Zealand eel since before I even arrived here. While at Orion I helped read and edit James Prosek’s essay on eels and Maori culture. During that time I also read the manuscript for the book (reviewed here) the essay was taken from, which is highly recommended. Incidentally, James is an incredible artist, who you should check out.
Read his Orion essay here.
Incidentally, I am pretty sure this one was a longfin eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii) to Linnaeus, kaiwharuwharu to the Maori. They are endemic to New Zealand, can grow up to two meters, and don’t reach breeding age until they are 90. They live most of their lives in freshwater, but travel to the open ocean to spawn. Then they die shortly there after. They get old. Their conservation is very important here.
Off tomorrow for a five day tramp on the Abel Tasman coastal track….
wishing you all well!