Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Unicorn in the Garden

Last night we went out hunting grunion. For those who don't know what grunion are: That's what Google was invented for. The grunion is a little fish that runs up onto the beach during spring and summer high tides in Southern California, right around the full and new moons. They wriggle in the sand and spawn, just like Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Legend has it you can go down and collect them in a bucket.

You shouldn't believe everything you hear. Despite getting soaking wet, we didn't spot a single grunion. There were plenty of other folks out there with us, and all of them said they hadn't seen any grunion either. Turns out the grunion, like the chimaera, is a mythical beast. (Krakens, however, are real: You can see them in the movies.)

We did have a good time frolicking in the waves under the full moon. You'd think that grunion, since they live in the sea, would be bright enough to realize that the beach is a lousy place to take a date, particularly in the wet sand: Grit gets everywhere, especially where it's least convenient.

The fellow out here in the surf was also disappointed not to find more grunion. We did see shore birds (I think this is a heron) in the shallows, poking around well after dark. They could have been after the grunion, or maybe they were hunting for grunion eggs. Or maybe they were hunting for bugs who, like us, were told the grunion would be running. The bugs are supposed to like the eggs too.


Andrew Shields said...

If the grunion are a joke, then it is a very elaborate one:


mrjumbo said...

True, the grunion myth has amassed an extensive lore, similar to the collection of stories and Websites surrounding Santa Claus, leprechauns, the Loch Ness monster and other figments.

I'm more intrigued by the question of how the myth came to be. Was it invented by teenage swains seeking to lure their dates out on moonlit seaside walks? Was it parents of small children, looking for a way to get the kids out of the house after dinner so Mom and Dad could clean up the kitchen and pop in a DVD? A darker reading: Did parents in an earlier day send their young ones out to the beach as an offering to an angry sea god? I doubt this. Nobody remembers Laocoon.)

Interesting, too, that the grunion myth is not attached to an implied morality, as with the myth of Santa Claus. This may help us understand the original intent of the story: Since the grunion do not appear to be a reward for previous behavior, the legend may have been generated as a way to stimulate a desired behavior in reaction.