Debra A. Copeland




Think Pieces (18)

Posted 12/31/2019 07:12:33
Category: Think Pieces

                                         The Pond (Photograph by Lauren Williams)

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Since September, the fishes’ numbers have exploded. I throw out a quart of pellets and the water churns with writhing, shoving, pushing bodies vying for food. Scouts in the nether regions sense the activity. Lines move in from the east, north, and south. The pellets are usually gone by the time these latecomers arrive; they troll for crumbs. When even the crumbs are gone, the water calms. The fish swim in languid circles.

After feeding time, the youngest fish rest atop the pond grass, as if napping. Do fish sleep? Every day I realize what a mystery they are to me; how pitifully little I know about the wildlife in my backyard. What do those fish eat when I don’t feed them? Do so many of them come because food in the pond is scarce? Or merely because, well, who doesn’t like a free meal?

One day, as I lay face down on the dock, peering into the murky water, the largest catfish of them all, the one I call Methuselah who’s always so cautious and missing out—the one who, whenever it does venture to the surface, is often placed in the undignified position of having to spit out baby catfish which playfully swim into its mouth--Methuselah suddenly entered stage left, moving, struggling, actually, backwards, a bass almost as big as itself shoved halfway down its throat. Shocked, I drew back. Methuselah worked its mouth like a snake swallowing prey. OMG. Did Methuselah lie in wait and catch that big bass, springing up out of the mud before the bass had time to react? Or did it happen upon the bass lying already dead on the pond floor, ripe for scavenging?

As suddenly as it had arrived, Methuselah dropped to the bottom of the pond, disappearing in a cloud of mud. Was it doing what I’ve read alligators do, bury their prey for later consumption? But then why had it tried to swallow the bass? Was that its way of killing it? Annie Dillard would know these things. I’ll need to do some research. But Methuselah’s actions gave me pause. This, I realized, is what my “pups,” my cute “babies,” as I’d been referring to them, were destined to become. It’s Nature, I reminded myself. Nature by human standards is not always pretty, and is often cruel. (For evidence, read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I still think about that poor frog.)

Moving away from the pond to larger waters, I learned this month that we might want to start coming up with tasty recipes for jellyfish since, according to Lisa-ann Gershwin, author of recently published Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, jellyfish are taking over the oceans so rapidly there soon may be no real fish left to be eaten. And the reasons why this is happening? Human activity, of course, each and every one. 

Moving away from oceans to political waters, not that we needed any but, wow, this month provided yet more proof that the United States of America is whacked out, dysfunctional beyond belief, making it impossible to feel anything but anxious and frustrated.

Why did they have to kill Miriam Carey? Her 18-month-old baby was in the car with her and could easily have been killed too. What about this is “pro life”? Is shooting to kill a young mother with postpartum depression really what had to be done?  

A former police officer told me recently that police academies no longer teach and train their officers, as they once did, to fire to kill only as an absolute last measure, something to be done only when the officer believes their, or the life of another, is in mortal danger. This seems like a good, “pro life” philosophy to me. Rather, I was told, these days rookies receive training and instruction on how, once they have shot and killed, to justify it. When I heard this, I couldn’t believe my ears. That can’t be true, this guy’s gotta be exaggerating, I thought. This month, sadly, I wonder.


I had a history lesson this month, was made aware of something the teacher failed to mention in my fourth grade Virginia History class. And that is how antebellum Virginia landowners profited from the cotton boom in the Deep South. How men, women and children were marched, in shackles and chains, attached to one another by a band of iron around their necks, on bare feet, all the way from Virginia to Alabama, where they were placed on the auction block and sold by those whose tobacco plantations further north had failed to those in Louisiana and Mississippi whose cotton plantations were booming. I learned how, once the enslaved people arrived in this new, harsher territory, to ensure submission, they often were tortured in ways, and with instruments, as horrifying as any used by the Inquisitors.

History, as they say, repeats itself. The same evil which infected the Inquisitors, and those in the American South who enslaved and tortured others, infects humans today. Evil is a virus; it spreads. Evil, apparently, even when not spoken, seen, or heard, is never completely eradicated but merely rendered dormant.

I learned this month, also, of Free2Work, an organization which addresses modern-day slavery, educating consumers with a conscience how to avoid buying products made, as is often the case in China and India, with the equivalent of slave labor. Free2Work.


I am absolutely convinced that what the world needs now, more than the rhetoric of politicians, more than the counsel of patriarchal religious leaders, is what mothers and grandmothers have to give. The old songs say to keep talking to the man up above and everything will be all right, but I think it’s time—it’s past time!—to start a conversation, to develop a relationship with divinity that is feminine in nature. What the world will ultimately need, of course, is a healthy balance of power between all genders. But to offset and correct the deadly imbalance which has been created by too many centuries of living under dysfunctional patriarchal regimes, we must now follow the leadership of women. There's proof of this everywhere—as well as signs that the shift has begun. This month it was female lawmakers, after all, who ended the government shutdown and led Congress back to some semblance of sanity and unity. 

Happy Halloween. All Hallows Eve. Samhain. May we all be safe.