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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Eaters

Air Date: Week of September 14, 2001

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Commentator April Newlin reflects on being both the predator, and the prey, in the waters off the coast of Louisiana.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Commentator April Newlin has been pulling on the food chain in the waters off the coast of her home state, Louisiana, and she has these thoughts.

NEWLIN: Yesterday, I found a large plump red snapper washed up on the beach, with a clean scallop bite out of its underside, the predator's teeth left like a fingerprint. The gulf sparkled in contraction, as sedate as a mountain lake. The mouth to fit that bite was swimming out there in the calm of a fall morning, circling in for its next meal. Breakfast took precedence over beauty.

The post-hurricane coast teamed with food. The storm had made the sea hungry, chummed the water with silver sides and reamed out the seaweed. Everywhere I looked fish zipped through silent tunnels of light in the shallows of a low tide. A school of foot-long fillets, Cobia, perhaps, cruised up and down the shore, circling and cutting back a troop of mouths acting as one. A shark followed them for a while, it's black fins splicing the water not more than five feet from me. The ugly truth of the matter was consume or be consumed.

I backed up near the shore counting crabs. Five, six, ten, fifteen, twenty. I hadn't seen blue crabs in these numbers for years, and they were fat, good eating crabs like we used to catch off the pier in Waveland when I was eight years old. They watched me with twitching eyes. And I figured they were scared.

A predator my size was nothing to scoff at. But no sooner was I dreaming of crab bisque that I realized they were inching closer with claws at the ready. I was part of the grand buffet. Once in a pet store I heard a six-year old boy counter his mother's horror at watching a python strangling consume a rabbit. "But, Mom, it's such a beautiful eater." She had forgotten what he had not yet unlearned: horror and beauty could co-exist. To live, we must take.

I'd forgotten devouring is part of the game. The better the mouth, the more successful the life. I could see the shark, not as a cannibalistic predator, but as an art form, a practiced adaptation honed over eons to consumer better than its prey and quicker than its competitors. And we're no different. If I had my net, I would have been chasing crabs and scooping minnows. We're all eaters, chewing, tasting, gobbling and gorging. Nothing to be ashamed of, as hungry, horrible and beautiful as the rest of them.

CURWOOD: April Newlin is a writer who lives in New Orleans.

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CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

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