Paying Attention to the Little Guys

The Sea of Cortés is a place of grand forces. Our mountains rise up in colorful layers of ash deposited by long-ago cataclysmic volcanic eruptions . . .

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. . . the sky spins with myriad seabirds all thronging and soaring and rocketing in search of food and love . . .

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. . . the breath of colossal whales startles us with its sudden thunder as we cruise over deep waters on quiet evenings . . .

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. . . and we pause in the heat of the day under the quenching shadows of the world’s largest cacti. Everywhere we are drawn toward color and clamor, toward processes and organisms that exemplify immensity and age.

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However, sometimes we make the greatest discoveries when we shake ourselves and look away from the big and the brilliant.

For example, this week we headed out to a place called Roca Solitaria for a snorkeling trip. It is—as its name implies—a tall, tower of rock that rises alone out of deeper waters and is home to throngs of pelicans, boobies, and big fish. Our goal was to witness some of those big fish as we cruised the currents that upwell alongside the rock. I had my eyes attuned to large movement. But as I rode the swell over underwater boulders, I began to notice little flashes of motion and color amongst the low-growing algae and corals.

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As I slowed down and looked closely, I began to make out the shapes of tiny fish moving along the contours of the rock or skulking in little cavities. Some had bodies that were nearly transparent with radiantly colored heads; some had scales that matched the mottled texture of the sponges and seaweed around them; some were so well-hidden I could only see their heads poking out of cracks like jellybean-sized shadows. These were gobies and blennies, some of the very smallest fish in our sea. Some are so tiny that they fit inside of empty barnacles!

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All afternoon, we let the mighty groupers and jacks pass us by and instead lost ourselves in the microcosm of the rocky shoreline, searching for impossibly small fishy faces peering up at us from their impossibly small lairs.

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It is easy to find vistas and creatures here that make us feel humbled and small in this big, powerful place, but it is also worthwhile to hone in and to witness the tiny, overlooked worlds unfolding beneath us–validation not of our size in the scheme of things so much as our scope. We need to give time and credence to both the big wonders and the tiny workings of our planet. To me, it seems like the difference between pushing outward and opening inward; the difference between exhaling and breathing in.

As Steinbeck wrote, “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars then back to the tide pool again”–or in our case, to look from the blenny to the blue whale then back to the blenny again.

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This comes from a cache of blog posts I’ve written over the years as a guide for Un-Cruise adventures. I rediscovered them and I figured I’d share them on my own site but you can read the originals here.

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