A Renewed and Revitalized Respect

by jai cross 4/28/13

For my birthday last weekend, my wife Jan and I drove to Santa Rosa Lake in central New Mexico for a few days of camping out on the land. This impoundment was formed by damming up the Pecos River, and like most southwestern lakes, it is only about half full now. Here “water is life,” and we upland desert dwellers appreciate the water we have, holding it as sacred. In my area of rural Hispanic New Mexico, people tend to live close to the land – drawing water from their own wells, eating vegetables from their gardens, picking fruit from their orchards, hunting deer and elk in the fall, and catching their own fish. I already had the garden and the orchard, and it was time to take a further step in my continuing acculturation.

After setting up camp, I went down by the dam in the early evening to try my luck with a variety of spinners and lures. I grew up fishing with live bait, but I now recoil from impaling living worms or insects on barbed hooks, so I’m slowly learning how to fish with artificial bait. The truth is, I hadn’t caught a keeper fish in a few years, and I approached the lake with some uncertainty.

Nonetheless, I set about casting out and reeling in with a series of jerks to simulate an erratic swimming pattern. That part of me was trying to fool a fish into going for my bait. Yet at the same time, another part of me was praying to my prospective prey: “I ask you to sacrifice yourself for me. I ask that you give your life, so that I may live. May we combine energies and thus shine ever brighter into this world.” The words didn’t feel completely authentic, yet I persisted, trying to connect with the spirit of my ancestors who depended on catching and killing animals to sustain themselves.

About 100 yards away, a teenager was chucking big rocks into the lake– close enough to probably scare “my” fish away. I kept thinking that he would get bored, but he continued his bombardment for about 45 minutes. By the time he left, it was already twilight. I was jigging a little green lure that looked like an extraterrestrial insect. And kapow! I had a good bite. I set the hook firmly and reeled in a beautiful large yellow bass. I was so excited and so thankful, still being the fisherman and the prayer-giver simultaneously. I admired my catch and carefully, gently put her on a stringer, thinking that perhaps another of her kin was willing to sacrifice its body too.

I soon hooked another yellow bass that seemed to be her identical twin and almost had it landed when it threw off the hook. Darkness was settling in, and I knew it was time to return to camp where Jan probably had already cooked dinner.

So now it was crunch time. As I pulled the stringer out of the water, I again admired the perfection of “my” yellow bass – her rounded form, her angled fins, her large eyes, the vividness of her yellow scales. And it was time to take that that which had been offered to me. This was not a simple predator-prey relationship because I felt love for my friend and for her sacrifice. I promised to use her body’s energy to shine my Light, our Light, into the world. Then I plunged my filet knife through her skull, quickly and reverentially dispatching her. My initial exhilaration at the catch was replaced by a quiet contemplation on my drive back to camp.

The following night, I ate that fish slowly and deliberately. My food blessing had been long and deliberate, as I prepared myself to receive her gift of life. I followed the instructions that Don Juan had given to Carlos Castaneda on how to properly and respectfully ingest “power food” -- fully present, savoring every bite, filled with gratitude. I was honored and ennobled by her sacrifice. The act of consumption had aspects of a religious ritual, and I felt sanctified as the energy of that beautiful fish physically merged with mine. She had initiated me into a richer understanding of how to be in this world.

I no longer eat fish or fowl or red meat as carelessly as I did a week ago. The yellow bass was a great teacher for me -- a potent reminder to respect all life, especially if we take that life. And I have an enduring responsibility to her, to shine that inner Light brightly for myself, for her, and for all my relations.

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