HOW FISH GOT THERE
After something like a three hour climb up through the woods out into the boulder strewn rough terrain, then scrambling on up between the serious rocks themselves, the Lac Bleu is reached with a final assault that leaves the veins gasping for more blood and the lungs bellowing their hardest. The lake is deep and the water in it is unnaturally blue. Formed from the erosion work of long gone glacial cut and thrust in the Hautes Pyrenees, the expanse of ice cold blue water is imprisoned at over two thousand meters up the mountain. If you walked right around the edge of the lake you'd travel for maybe a mile or more. The water is freezing and even on the hottest mid-summer day the temptation to dive in must be resisted as a heart attack could result from the shock. Death would be fairly instant.
Graham did dive in. He ignored the warnings we gave him and stripped off and went in head first. If he died up there it would have to be a helicopter job to get the body down again. We weren't going to carry a stiff down. It was a hard enough job managing oneself.
Anyhow Graham didn't die. He came out less than a minute later looking as blue as the water he had foolishly dived into. His teeth didn't stop chattering for an hour and we just looked at him and said we told you so you chump. His girl friend was a bit more sympathetic and tried to rub some warmth into him. It was a good job that they didn't want to go off behind a rock somewhere for a celebratory summit shag like some mountain climbing consenting couples do. Graham's girl friend wouldn't have found anything worth getting hold of between the guys frozen legs.
“There's fish in there,” said Graham when he'd got some of his senses back. “I saw one.”
“You were hallucinating,” said Robbie. “There's never any fish in there.”
“There is.” Graham was sure he'd seen one.
“What sort was is?” someone asked.
“A fish,” said Graham. “About that long,” he held his cold shivering hands about eighteen inches apart. “It was a …...fish.”
“Bollocks,” said Robbie.
“Pollock's,” said somebody else rather wittily.
“How do they get there?” Someone asked the question.
“I'll tell you,” said Geoff and the group settled down on the rocks in the warm afternoon sunshine to listen to the explanation.
“Once upon a time there was this shepherd see. This shepherd looked after his sheep up here in the summer to stop the wolves from getting at them. There were wolves up here back then see. Anyhow the wolves would come up here at night and take three or four sheep and the shepherd couldn't do much about it see. The wolves could smell the flock see and they knew there was a square meal waiting for them. The shepherd had other ideas and he heard that wolves don't like fish see. So one day he bought up from the valley below a whole load of dead trout, rotten fish see and he covered his flock with them to hide the smell of sheep see. The wolves didn't like the smell and didn't bother to come up after a fish super see. Now some of the dead fish had eggs inside them and they washed off the sheep when they drank from the lake and that's how the fish got there see.”
“Bollocks,” said Robbie again. “I'll tell how the fish got here, if they did.”
“The shepherd you've heard about spent day after long day tending his flock and all he had to eat was mutton, mutton and mutton. He thought to himself wouldn't it be wonderful to have something else. He began to hate the taste of sheep so much that it really was beginning to effect his job. Sod it he thought to himself. If the wolves really want a go at the sheep, let them. This was a dangerous attitude for a shepherd. There was nobody else on earth at that altitude who could kill and prepare a sheep in so many different ways. Roasted, stewed, curried, charred, slowly done on hot rocks, flash fried, deep fried, boiled and cold. There wasn't a way that the shepherd hadn't cooked or eaten bits of his flock and there wasn't a bit of the sheep he hadn't tried either. There was he found a rather distasteful film of sheep fat developing as a permanent feature on the roof of his mouth. He smelt of sheep, kept warm in their fleece, had sexual intercourse with them, ate them , counted them when he was awake, dreamt of them when he was asleep. He could hear sheep, he could smell sheep but above all he could taste sheep. And that's when it dawned on him that if he bought some live fish up from the river that ran through the valley bottom, he could enjoy the occasional fish supper. So that's what he did. The very next time he went down the mountain, when he returned he brought with him on his back in a milk churn filled with river water, fourteen trout he'd tickled from the river. He built a sort of keep net out of sticks and stones right on the edge of the lake to stop the fish from escaping out into the lake. He fed them scraps of bread and mutton and watched as they put on weight. One morning he found four floating on the top of his makeshift damn and he didn't know if they died because of the altitude, diet, disease or some unseen predator, although he couldn't find any out of the ordinary marks on them. The remaining eleven thrived and the shepherd enjoyed several gastronomic experiences with the fish. The last three mysteriously disappeared from their holding pool one night. Whether they leapt to freedom or more likely forced their way through the protective but weakened containment structure wasn't certain. What was however, was that three big trout had escaped into the lake and that was how the fish got there.”
There was a minor ripple of applause from some of the group.
“My turn,” said someone keen to have a go.
“The fish have always been there. You see when the lake was formed all those hundreds of thousands, millions even, of years ago it wasn't up here. No my friends it was down there. What happened was that the fish were already in the water when the lake, it was probably only a pond then, a puddle even, found itself pushed up with the emerging mountains. Bang went the earth's plates and up popped the Pyrenees with the fish trapped in the rock pools that were thrust upwards. It's as simple as that and that's how the fish got there.”
“Yeah, right.” said somebody obviously not impressed.
“It was the birds.” Somebody else spoke up.
“When the birds, the osprey and the like, used to catch fish for their young from the river below they'd fly over the lake and some of the fish would wriggle free from the bird's talons and drop into the water. Some would die but the strong ones, the survivors, spawned the shoal. That's how the fish got there.”
“Actually they came in from the rain.” it was one of the girls, the one from Tunbridge Wells who did lots of climbing.
“You know when it rains sometimes and you can almost smell the camels, see the red dust that the winds have blown over from North Africa, well it's the same here. The strong winds howl around these mountain peaks. They carry with them the detritus they pick up on the way. Tiny fish are scooped up and dumped here in the lake at that's how the fish got there.”
“Right. I think it was in the stomachs of animals that ate the fish, right,” said a lad who was convinced that it was in the stomachs of animals that ate the fish and was trying to impress the girl from Tunbridge Wells.
“Imagine the animals and birds that eat fish, right. Well they eat fish and some of the fish doesn't die, right. So the fish that doesn't die is alive in the gut of the animal or bird that's eaten it, right. Some hunter shoots the animal or bird that's eaten the fish and out pops the dazed but distinctly alive fish, right. If the animal or bird that's eaten the fish has been killed near the lake, right, then the released but confused fish could end up in the water. It could get revived, right, find a mate, right, and that's how the fish got there.”
The girl from Tunbridge Wells wasn't that impressed.
“They got there like they got into the sea.” It was the girl from Tunbridge Wells's mate, the one she'd arrived at Lourdes on the train with.
“How did the fish get into the sea? Well they got up here into the lake in the same way. Except of course that they are not salt water fish. Fresh water more like. But they got here just the same. And how did they get here? It was God that put them here on the fifth day if I'm not mistaken. He put all the creatures on the earth and all the fish into the sea. I remember how. 'Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven' He created great whales and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly.
Abundantly seemed to be the word of the fifth day. And that's how the fish got there.”
“You've got a bloody good memory.” Somebody skimmed a flat stone over the surface of the still lake's water and it skipped off into oblivion while most watched.
Graham coughed. He was feeling warmer and the sun had helped.
“Actually they didn't fly down from the sun or walk there or were somehow dropped off and although I like the idea, I don't think the shepherd stories carry much weight. The fish I saw was probably a reflection of my own indulgence. Each time we think that something cannot possibly be there, it is. What we thought couldn't happen, has. Man becomes fish, fish becomes man. We're interchangeable.”
Graham slipped out of his girl friend's hand and dived back into the lake and this time none of the party ever saw him again.
It remains a mystery how fish got there.
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