V: Trout

Water, water everywhere, everywhere

V: Trout
Brook trout. Illustration by John Thorne.

Good morning. Today is Quintidi, the 15th of Fructidor CCXXX. The Quintidi days always celebrate animals. For some reason, this month is fish-heavy. Lately, I've begun with a cute fact, but today has a very different tone in store.

Today's card: Jack of ice

Jack of ice from Fledermaus Workshop's Drowning World deck.
From Fledermaus Workshop's Drowning World deck.

Given today's theme, I had to pull out one of the most incredible decks in my collection, a standard 52-card panoramic deck called "The Poker Deck of the Drowning World" from Fledermaus Workshop. Each suit – weeds, birds, chimneys, and ice – can be laid out in ace-to-king order to form a continuous artwork. The manufacturer's card contains a parable in the form of an octette poem:

Gentlefolk, as you play this game
Heed the tales these suits do frame:
Behold the flock of birds who choke
Upon the chimney's fiery smoke
Whose heat doth melt the icy floe
And cause unwanted weeds to grow.
For remember, nasty fates befall
A house of cards that's built too tall!

From this deck, we pull the Jack of ice, who holds a lone fish he's speared. The Jack is typically a harbinger of change and mischief, but in the context of this panorama, he's the first dramatis persona of the dwindling ice's barren landscape of placid water. This Jack portends a change that ends in death. His brimmed hat shields his expression, covering the emotions of his violence, so we are left with his thick outfit and presentational stance. Heed what he does. Witness the final bounty he pulls from the sea.

Today's meditation: Trout

Trout are basically salmon's cousins that have figured out how to live anywhere. As cold-water fresh fish, they're popular targets of ice fishermen, but you can catch them in rivers, streams, lakes, and they're a common species for farming as well. They'll eat anything – other fish, water insects, land insects like grasshoppers ... some large-mouthed varieties will even gobble up a dead mouse if it happens to roll into the water. Because of this, trout are by far the most common "wild" caught sport fish, even though farmed trout are routinely stocked in streams and lakes to mask the effects of overfishing, just like their rival sport fish, bass. Trout are strong and unpredictable, giving fishermen a sense of accomplishment and skill when they catch one, even though their voracious diet and clear habitat preferences make them easy prey.

Trout are resilient, adaptable, and bred by humans, and yet they're disappearing in native habitats because of, well, you know what I'm about to say. We are living in an era with too much warm water for trout to handle.

Unusual flooding in Mississippi has crippled the water system of its largest city, Jackson, to the point where the entire capital has no running water for the indefinite future. A study published this week found that a single ice sheet in Greenland, at current temperatures (no more rising needed) will melt enough by the end of this century to raise sea levels by a foot, releasing 110,000,000,000,000 tons of water into the ecosystem and wiping approximately 9 nations and 23 major cities off the map, including Miami. Pakistan, the most glacial nation on the planet outside of the polar circles, is currently, right now, experiencing floods so severe from rapid ice melt that one-third of the country is underwater, displacing 50 million people, which is more than the entire population of California.

The other day, a wet spot appeared in the middle of the floor of the home my fiancée and I bought this summer. There were no indications on the ceiling that it had dripped down, no trail of water from any wall – just a puddle. We blamed the dog, naturally, even though she hadn't had an indoor accident in years. Then more spots appeared. Soon, the living room was pocked with mysterious water spots that looked a little like the footprints of a ghost. We nervously made jokes about this.

The next day, the smell started, and a thick ooze crept out from under a floorboard. Plumbers and restoration experts were called in. They were as baffled as we were. With no apparent source, in a house built far from a flood plain and indeed on a raised platform, a floor with no plumbing in it was slowly welling up with water. The basement below was dry as a bone.

We dug into the wall where the ooze had seeped from, knocking an ugly hole in its plaster only to find, to our plumber's shock, no pipes whatsoever. Just virgin brick, exactly as it was stacked when the house was erected in 1908.

Long, uninteresting home repair story short, we're currently conducting a week-long experiment to see if a broken toilet seal in a completely different corner of the house and on a completely different floor is the source of water that's somehow rolling through the walls, downstairs, and pooling on the waterproof tar paper beneath the floorboards, where it bubbles up and makes ghost footprints. If it is, new toilet and new floorboards, dust our hands off, all is well. If not...

The only blessing to owning a home when something expensive goes wrong is that at least you're in charge of what happens and when. You can conduct experiments, figure out the source, and do something about it, even if it's the weirdest most unrelated, unintended consequence possible.

You can do the same thing with a planet, if you're inclined. But we struggled with the "do something about it" and now we're just trout, consuming whatever rolls our way while the water grows and heats and grows and heats until we become the fish that drowns.

Today's video: Helheim glacier collapsing (150secs)

What sounds to city ears like traffic is the rush of wind and falling ice.

Today's song: "Salty Waves" by Trout (4mins)