Two exciting things happened this past weekend:
1) We saved a pufferfish, and
2) We went to Petra!
I’ll start with the pufferfish story because it’s very uplifting. If you want to skip to the Petra stuff, just scroll down. Lots of pictures!
My mom is in town right now. She’s visiting from California.
She’s a devout grandmother who can’t be away from her granddaughters for very long so she visits us twice a year. Not bad considering she lives 7,000 miles away.
She adores Abby. Who wouldn’t? And Abby adores her right back. Abby calls her Namma and when Namma’s around Bret and I become chopped liver. That’s okay. It gives us more free time.
Mom arrived last Wednesday evening after almost 24 hours of travel. By Thursday morning, despite the brutal jetlag, she was up and ready to party (this is not a drug reference).
Thursday afternoon Abby, Mom, and I took a stroll to the beach. It was a beautiful warm day with a light breeze and just a touch of overcast. The ocean was clear and calm so I let Abby sit at the shoreline and throw rocks in the ocean. This is becoming something of a pastime for her.
Then I heard mom say, “What’s that?” She was pointing to something behind me.
I turned around and saw a beached pufferfish, belly-up, gasping for breath. His eyes were wide and his spiny body was rapidly expanding to the size of a basketball.
Puffers are these odd-looking spotted fish who live in warm waters like the Red Sea. They’re slow swimmers, but can quickly ingest huge amounts of water (or even air) to turn themselves into a ball several times their normal size.
If eaten, almost all puffers are toxic to other fish and humans because they contain tetrodotoxin. According to National Geographic: “Tetrodotoxin is up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans (if ingested), and there is no known antidote.”
Yet, some people consider pufferfish a delicacy because some people are dumb asses.
Back to the rescue story.
I shrieked, “Oh my god, it’s a pufferfish!” I ran over to its spiky, bloated body and tried not to panic. He was going to die if he didn’t get back into the water immediately. For a moment I couldn’t remember if they were poisonous to touch or only if eaten. I stood over him, watching his mouth open and close like an eyelid.
And then I thought of Brad Garrett. He was the voice of Bloat the pufferfish in Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Bloat was one of the nice fish in the tank at the dentist’s office where Nemo is held captive. I’ve seen this movie many, many times and I now have a soft spot for puffers.
I was not going to let Bloat die.
Mom immediately grabbed Abby’s sand shovel and tried to roll the spherical puffer toward the ocean. The tide was out and the rocky shore was filled with nooks and crannies and little tide pools. This made it difficult to roll the puffer smoothly into the water.
Mom managed to get him to the edge of this little rock shelf but couldn’t manage to hoist him up over it. The sea was just on the other side, so it was the last hurdle. He was almost home. But he was running out of time!
Abby was watching the drama, mouth agape, eyes as big as saucers. She occasionally muttered, “I saw a pufferfish.” This is what she’s been saying lately to people she meets: “I saw a pufferfish.”
Aside from Bloat in Finding Nemo, we often see pufferfish nibbling on algae in the marina on our daily walks to the beach. The puffers like to swim right up to the surface, and as the water is very clear we can see them perfectly, their wide-set eyes scanning for food, their spotted fins flipping around. Abby sometimes practices the line in her sleep. “I saw a puffer fish,” she mumbles with closed eyes. It seems Abby has grown quite fond of puffers too.
As I watched mom struggle to lift the panicking, bloated puffer with a plastic kid’s shovel, I decided we were going to save this fish goddamit! I told mom to keep an eye on Abby and I took hold of the shovel. I knelt down and tried to scoop him up. He barely moved. He was a heavy sonofabitch! I kept trying. Finally, I managed to get him over the rock shelf and into the water. Success. He floated into the surf.
He was enormous at this point — bigger than a basketball it seemed. He wasn’t a small puffer to begin with but all blown up he was huge. And stark white against the blue water. Mom, Abby, and I watched anxiously to see if he was moving. He was completely still, his large eyes staring out and he was still upside-down. My heart sank. “Is he dead?” Mom asked.
A pair of German tourists walked up at that moment. They were tall and blond and very curious about what we were doing. They watched the spiky ball bobbing in the water. “Vass is zat?” one of them asked in a thick German accent.
“It’s a pufferfish,” I told them, keeping an eye on Bloat for any sign of movement. I explained to the Germans how we found him washed up on shore, trapped in the small tide pools.
The Germans watched for a moment, fascinated by the strange, bloated fish floating in the sea. After a few moments they moved on, smiling politely as they walked away. Fucking Germans.
And then I saw it. A tail flip.
He was alive! Mom and I shrieked. Bloat was moving! His tail flipped and flapped, his fins flicked back and forth, and his mouth opened and closed as he started to breathe again.
It was such an exciting and happy moment. His swollen body started to deflate, slowly but surely. And as he floated back out to sea, his fins getting more and more animated, I felt very proud.
I saved Bloat.
So, without further ado….Petra!
Here’s a little blurb that I copied directly from Wikipedia. Just a little basic info about the ancient site:
Petra (Greek “πέτρα” (petra), meaning stone; Arabic: البتراء, Al-Batrāʾ) is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordaniangovernorate of Ma’an that is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduit system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a Newdigate Prize-winning poem by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage”. Petra was chosen by the BBC as one of “the 40 places you have to see before you die”.