Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'Cause They're Ugly - Part VII

            Just before pulling out of the tiny parking lot I gave pause to what I had just seen.  I jotted notes (legal notes, of course, since Sheila [or Brunhilda] might be watching me) and recorded some thoughts on my previously prohibited tape recorder.  Upon my return home I would need to wrap up the book (“put it to bed,” as they say) and tie up any loose ends.
            I pondered.
            Unquestionably, the facilities I toured were clean and pristine, the workers were efficient and dedicated, and the hum of activity was constant and purposeful.  The facility was part of a larger enterprise that was working to produce a product that, perhaps one day, might help me – or help you - survive a medical procedure.  But it wasn’t the facility that impressed me, it was the tiny creatures aligned in long rows with people sticking sharp needles into their backsides that impressed me most. 
            The horseshoe crabs didn’t ask to be here.  Once upon a time they were peacefully crawling over the sand and silt scattered across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  Then, from out of nowhere, some big scoop or net came along and snatched them away.  Machines or human hands piled them into large blue tubs, put them on some form of motorized conveyance, and hauled than about 30 miles or so to a nondescript white building in some small town in southern Maryland.
            There they were sorted into categories and placed into other bins.  They were wheeled into a long chilly room where a pair of human hands would lift them up, bend their bodies in two, and wedge them between two wooden boards.  Their backsides would be swabbed with disinfectant and then, joy upon joy, a very sharp object would piece their body and puncture their heart.  They would sit there (sit there?) for five to ten minutes while some of their body’s vital fluids drained into a large glass bottle placed beneath them.
            Then they were pulled from the racks, re-deposited back into some portable tubs and unceremoniously trucked into a back room.  They waited there and then were loaded into trucks, transported back to the ocean, and gently placed back into the arms of the Atlantic Ocean.  All without complaint; all without resistance.

            I guess in some small way I had developed a kinship with these creatures – we were brothers of a sort.  They were a part of my life – as they had always been – but now I was armed with personal information about the critical role they played in my life, in the lives of my wife and children, in the lives of my friends and neighbors…and, most likely, in your life, too.  Biologists have a term for this in the animal world – it’s called a symbiotic relationship.  Symbiosis is defined as “a close and often long-term interaction between different biological species.”   Symbiotic relationships include those associations in which one organism lives on another (mistletoe is a good example) or where one partner lives inside the other (you know, like all those bacteria that live in your intestinal tract).
            Do horseshoe crabs and humans have a symbiotic relationship?  Do we have “a close and often long-term interaction?”  Is one of us dependent on the other for our existence or survival?  If so, which one?
            It was easy for me to determine all the benefits you and me and a couple of billion humans have obtained from horseshoe crabs.  But there was still a persistent question tickling the back of my brain – a question I couldn’t quite answer as I swung out of Salisbury, ramped the car up to 65 miles per hour, and traced my way home along Route 50.  What biological benefits would we be able to provide horseshoe crabs, particularly after what they’ve given us?

          It's been quite a ride!  I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my views, discoveries and adventures with horseshoe crabs over the course of the past year-and-a-half.  But, all good things must eventually come to an end.  And, so it is with this blog.  Other writing ventures beckon and other literary assignments call...and I must heed their demands.  Consequently, this will be my last blog posting.  I sincerely hope you have enjoyed the ride and that you will ealso njoy the fruits of this journey in my book - Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor (Ruka Press, 2012).  The book has garnered many rave reviews from several well-respected people and I'm delighted with its message.  I hope you'll consider getting a copy.
          Thanks for your support and your enthusiasm for, arguably, one of the most fascinating creatures on this planet!
Tony Fredericks

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