Adventures Animals Childhood

Eel before me

Few things in life bring you joy like a headless eel.

Well, I guess I should clarify. If you are my son, few things in life bring you joy like a headless eel.

Readers of my column have gotten to know Parker and his many nature exploits. He loves nothing more than spending time outdoors, catching critters and observing nature. When I was his age, I was much like him. With one small difference.

At his age, I also loved to get out into nature and catch critters. (Actually, I still do love it, because there are some things you never outgrow.) But for me, as a lad, once the catch was made, it was time to pitch it aside and find the next thing. Quantity, baby!

My son is different, though. He likes to find a critter and then study it. And then read about it. And then read some more. And then perhaps surf the web for a bit about it. And then share with us at the dinner table the interesting fact he learned about, say, the life cycle of a leech, which I assure you his teenage sister greatly appreciates.

He is often coming home with exciting new finds, and, much to my wife’s credit, she is encouraging of these things. I am fairly certain that, 22 years ago when we met, she did not envision a time in her life when her freezer would have a frozen mole in it. You know, so it can be studied later. (For what it’s worth, it was a very cool mole specimen.)

So my son went to the ponds by our house the other day as he does most every day. The ponds are some of his favorite places to tromp, where he can catch turtles and go fishing and find new and exciting ways to get his clothes filthy. I never want to discourage that thirst for nature, although we do use it as a carrot for the necessities in life. Pretty much every time there is a need to do homework, take a shower, not hide his sister’s phone, etc., we just roll out the threat of “GET IN LINE OR NO PONDS!”  and he gets in line.

Well, we can all relate to his excitement about bringing home a great big eel, head removed, that he found in the pond. “Turtles were eating it!!!” he told us excitedly. I thought it was way cool. My wife did a good job of being excited while also hiding the fact that she really didn’t realize we’d go this deep into the love of nature.

Naturally, my son wanted a picture of the eel, so he could add it to his Life List. He keeps a file of the creatures he catches and his observations of them, and who would want to omit headless eel?

I took the picture and dutifully sent it to my dad, who was did appreciate it, as biologists do.

My son told me that he was going to go back to the ponds, and asked what he should do with the eel. “Should we freeze it?” he asked, still holding the slimy, headless, two-foot body, as some people might hold a garden hose when pondering whether the roses had enough water.

I thought about it for a moment. “Nah,” I said. “Take it back to the pond and let the turtles finish their dinner.” Parker shrugged, slung the eel over his shoulder and headed off to return the eel to its final resting place.

In case you are wondering, (a) eels do in fact leave nasty slime on people and clothes and (b) we wash an awful lot of clothes and people in our house.

I’m glad he finds this joy in nature, and even more excited that he wants to learn more about the cool things that exist right here in our world. And while some may find some of the things a smidge grody at times, I assure you this — we are never at a loss of topics for dinner conversation.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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