Allow me to preface this story with the following: I love animals. Also, this was at least ten or twelve years ago, and I was with my father. Blame him, if you will, him and the margaritas he'd probably imbibed over the course of the evening. Or blame the full moon.
It could definitely have been the full moon. I'd spent the entire day at the beach with my dad and a bunch of other friends, playing volleyball, swimming and soaking up the sun in one of those glorious, pre-SPF-anything days. It had been one of those perfectly scented beach days, no tinge of rot staining the salty air, hot enough to make everyone thankful for the cool of the ocean. The sun dropped into the horizon, mango and tangerine. Our group moved the party to our friend Dans' house for the sort of extended dinner and drinks session that only summer can create.
Dan was (still is) my dads' best friend and my "other dad". Dan is a handsome man with a shock of thick, wheat-blond hair and a twinkle in his eye. His laugh that can shake down the whole house, especially if he's laughing at himself. Everyone always swears that he and my dad were seperated at birth, with their fierce competitions in everything that always end in hysterical laughter. He's also one of my best girlfriends' father, and in fact our whole families are very close. At that time, the rest of Dan's family (wife, my friend Nat, her two little brothers) were in Oregon, preparing their new house for a move. Dan had stayed behind for about six months to finish up some business, so he was "batching it" in their big, empty house.
As the night wound down, there were left just four of us - my dad, C, Dan and I, lounging in Dans' hottub, the guys drinking beer and everyone talking and laughing about nothing in particular. Then C looked up at the full moon and said,
"Hey, wait! The grunion* are running! We should go down and get some!"
"No way! Those things don't even exist**, its just something you made up to get us to go to the beach in the middle of the night! Its just like cow-tipping in Nebraska!" guffawed Dan with a swipe of his big paw-like hand.
"They do exist, really Dan, they do! I've seen them, I promise!", we all cried together. There was no convincing him, though - as far as he was concerned, grunion were just as mythical as the chupacabra. Finally, the long day, hot tub and margaritas all conspired to make Dan sleepy, so we piled into my dads' truck. Just as he was going to head for home, my dad wheeled around and drove straight for the beach, all three of us in tears with laughter.
We didn't have long to wait - almost as soon as we got there, hundreds of little silvery bodies were throwing themselves on the beach. They were all in a frenzy, flopping and flapping and flinging their tiny, amorous little bodies onto each other. We scooped up five or six (out of THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS!) of them and ran back to the truck. Five minutes later we were back at the house, sneaking in with all the stealth of a pack of clowns with the DT's.
Fortunately, Dan is a very heavy sleeper. C and I crept down the hallway, doing the 'silent shake' laugh that racks your whole body and robs you of breath for a whole minutes at a time. It was like approaching a bears' den - the deep breathing, the darkness, the realization that at any moment a growl could ruin you completely. We crept up to the bed, sucking in our breath and stopping to gather our courage. I drug a grunion slowwwly up his bare back, silently convulsing with laughter.
With a sudden "Mrrgmpppph!" Dan whipped over in his sleep, swatted the grunion out of my hand and across the room, where it hit the wall with a distinct splat! and slid down the wall, thus ending its poor tiny life in a pile of dirty laundry. We bounded out of the room and down the dark hall, covering our mouths and wiping our eyes. Meanwhile, my dad had placed the remaining five or six grunion in the back of the fridge, in the freezer next to the coffee, and on the dash of Dans' truck.
The next morning, we all showed up bright and early for our Sunday services. The three of us (Three Musketeers? Three Stoodges? Three people who would normally have caught more than a half dozen fish and then eaten them, which would have been the humane thing to do. My apologies to the Keeper of the Fish and anyone who is deeply offended by my participation in this reckless waste of los pescados) sat bright-eyed all in a row, with occasional glances at each other and Dan. Somehow, we made it through two hours without dissolving completely into hysteria. Finally, I couldn't help it, I was bursting. "So Dan, do you believe in grunion now?"
He still hasn't go me back.
Along southern California's sandy beaches, from March through September, the California grunion comes ashore to spawn. The grunion has been known to many southern Californians for more than 70 years, but **there are still those who are skeptical of its existence. To be invited out in the middle of the night to go fishing with only a gunny sack and light for equipment does sound a little ridiculous, but in reality this is the most popular method.
California grunion are small silvery fish found only along the coast of southern California and northern Baja California. Most sportsmen would be unaware of their existence were it not for the unique spawning behavior of these fish. Unlike other fish, grunion come out of the water completely to lay their eggs in the wet sand of the beach. As if this behavior were not strange enough, grunion make these excursions only on particular nights, and with such regularity that the time of their arrival on the beach can be predicted a year in advance. This phenomenon can be seen on many beaches in southern California. Shortly after high tide, on certain nights, sections of these beaches sometimes are covered with thousands of grunion depositing their eggs in the sand.
Grunion hunting has become one of the famous sports of southern California. Since these fish leave the water to deposit their eggs, they may be picked up while they are briefly stranded. Racing for fish spotted far down the beach and trying to catch them by hand provides an exhilarating experience for young and old.
See? Mmmmm... grunion!
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