Mar 22, 2007

OLD MAN WOLF EEL
HOOD CANAL, Washington – At 35 feet, my ever-patient dive buddy Don Coleman pokes his flashlight between two rocks. Lurching, I follow suit.

A live Easter Island god peers back.

I recoil, eyebrows flaring. "Wolf eel," he explains, writing in pencil on a plastic wrist slate.

Drifting down again, I study the face – an icon hacked from granite, then weathered almost back to boulder. Old Man Wolf Eel's round eyes, two dark disks, regard me. His lips part slightly, revealing a mouth that slashes deep like Pac-Man's. I shiver.

Oh, I'm not scared of Anarrhichthys ocellatus. Males can reach eight feet, true, and occasionally clamp the fingers of rude, poky divers "like a pair of pliers." But they're largely a gentle, sweet species, nicknamed "underwater Muppets."

No, I am moved by what lies beneath – all that I did not know.

I grew up on the coast of Puget Sound, galloping along drift logs and squelching across mud flats. Yet the inland ocean remained a cipher: a reflecting pond for the snow-shadowed mountains.

Now I've plunged through the looking glass.

Read more at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer or, hell, be old-school and buy a hard copy on March 22. Go on. Scare the neighbors. Wrap the fish. Line the catbox. Everyone's happy!

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