Turtle, Does the Fish Know It’s in a School?

Observing the San Antonio River from its bank, I watched the ripples and the waves coalesce into a calm and yearning current naively guiding it toward the Gulf of Mexico. I dipped my hand in the water to feel its gentleness pass across my palm and through my fingers.

I asked myself, “When I see the waves on the water, am I seeing the velocity of the river or the velocity of its disturbances?” Then, a turtle surfaced creating ripples. The waves rolled and flowed downstream with the water’s ever-turmoil. “Turtle, what do you think?” I asked.

The turtle submerged, freshly oxygenated, and with a mission to catch a quick meal. Through the green ribbons of water celery that were the length of Texas-sized homecoming mums, it swam strategically for a large school of small fish.

The fish — not one but all — turned and maneuvered to evade the turtle. Each fish forced every ounce of survival through its fins and individual acts of overt determination to survive the turtle’s hunt. The light, already refracted through the waves, shimmered iridescently. Yet the school itself moved in a peaceful unpanicked rhythm that mirrored the tranquility of the turtle’s hunt. In unity, the school swam left, up, right, and down and sometimes mitotically split into two schools before rediscovering its own confluence.

The fish, independently, seemed to be swimming straight into the turtle’s mouth before turning at a 90 degree angle while the school, collectively, passed through the turtle’s strategy as the turtle passed through the school’s entirety.

Eventually, the turtle picked out a single silver medallion of a fish, and it just as quickly disacknowledged the fish’s sum and the school’s parts as it did when it first set its senses upon it. The turtle returned to a patch of tapegrass to devour its midday meal.

The school swam on perhaps aware or none the wiser that a piece of it went messing, and the fish swam on perhaps aware or none the wiser that they survived another day.

When I look at the school, am I looking at the fish or am I looking at a greater organism that deceives my eyes with its seemingly disjointed components? I asked, “Turtle, were you just there going for a fish? Or were you just there now going for a school?”

The turtle finished its lunch, looked at me, emmited a few bubbles, and played in the grass. I looked at the water to wonder what I was looking at. Behind me, people jogged in pairs, families sat around picnic tables, and all of us enjoyed the San Antonio river and its seemingly endless existence.

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