Fish Trap

Shoal Hope is a novel of spirals and traps.

Traps that turn in on themselves.

Traps that overwhelm our ability to make decisions.

We see fish-traps ringing the shores of Cape Cod until a generation ago,

but also the traps we’ve constructed for ourselves.

A spiral draws us in. It can be hard to escape. That’s how traps work. How they take us in. Channel a momentum of our own making and use it against us. They keep fish circling until they can be harvested. They keep us turning and turning in on ourselves, perhaps until it’s too late.

This is why no single story dominates. This is why we go around and around again. A variety of stories. Together they make up a cautionary tale.

Shoal Hope implies hope, a shallow hope. A shoal is a shallow. It can also be a school. This double meaning was there for Archer and Gosnold. From a mariner’s perspective a shallow is a danger. To the marine life it shelters, it is a haven. A shallow, but also a school. A shallow both dangerous and harboring. This place to Gosnold implied a school of fish. To us?

We look at fish here; but that other, wider meaning of school is never far away. This place, this time, these stories are intended to school us. To be a school of hope. A school to show what hope might mean when we distinguish between hope and wishes, discovering the distance between fantasy and true possibility.

Sand slips between our fingers. So does time. And so we have seen the range of our possibilities, the quality of our hope, slip away across the intervening years. These stories took place at a pivotal moment we can only recognize in hindsight.

There’s deep tragedy in this. We’ve lost a century. Lost countless lives in war and suffering, unspeakable horrors. We’ve also seen the final days of a healthy ecosystem reel under shocks. As we have coalesced upon a course that has led directly to the present catastrophic collapse engulfing us. A collapse occurring in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking. Still, too slowly for us to fit into our everyday perceptions. Here lies another layer of tragedy: A trap we circle as we wonder and worry and attempt to maintain that nothing has changed. That everything will go on as we’ve known it.

In the world of Shoal Hope we glimpse a baseline.

Our world has not gone on from there as we expected.

Already the changes have been profound.

The scope of loss in this single century has been unprecedented.

Not only within time scales we are accustomed to calling forever;

but over the course of the entire natural history of the Earth.

These concepts are too vast to be understood, to be felt, embraced. Tracts on the subject have filled libraries without penetrating our resistance to their implications. What has had much more of an impact for me have been the little changes of great portent; the colors in a sunset drowned out by the brown smudge of an all-pervasive smog; the contents of wrack and flotsam at the high tide line, changing from wood and cork to plastic and more plastic; the loss of life in a tide-pool.

These pages are an attempt to make imaginative leaps from my own experiences. Take them back another generation to that time when there was still a choice to be made. When – in hindsight – we can see what was still to be lost and how easily it slipped through our fingers.

Like fish in a trap, we let this happen to us. For the most part, with horrific exceptions, this was not out of malice. What happened happened while we thought we were doing something else, to paraphrase John Lennon. Sometimes this results in comedy, sometimes drama. What is left is tragedy.

The distance between us and this Shoal Hope is our tragedy.

We think of tragedy as bad, inescapable. What makes it tragic, in our case inescapable, is not the result of the twists and turns of an imposed Fate. It grows from the collision of our desires with the most basic facts of nature. Everything comes to an end. It is inevitable that we arrive at our own end. This doesn’t mean there cannot be joy or happiness or goodness in the meantime. This comes down to a choice we can make in how we live our lives; decide what has meaning; embrace our response to our predicament.

Facing the reality of our situation, in all its precarious danger, and with all the personal and collective responsibility we share for having let it reach this point; is tragic. Maintaining a denial of its imminence as we experience increasing anxiety, approaching horror, in our paralysis as we are struck nevertheless by that which we wish we could avoid; compounds our tragedy.

There is dignity in making this confrontation. There is hope in doing so. None of this is easy; but it is available as a choice. Choice makes our lives unique. Gives life its piquant value. We have a choice fish in their traps don’t. Limited, imperfect…. We are coming to it just when it might be too late…. None of this diminishes it or renders it meaningless.

In hindsight, the germ of all that has transpired

in the past century was there to be seen in 1912.

Some saw the hints.

Could it have been avoided?

Perhaps in some other where and when it has. Or will be?

For us?

What matters is that from our vantage we can look at this moment and draw lessons and hope from how we perceive their time today, standing on this past century’s shoulders.  For good or ill: along with the damage, the atrocities against man and nature these years have piled upon us, there have been perspectives eked from all the suffering that might bring meaning to us in the face of our own catastrophes.

As we individually struggle with forces and currents beyond our abilities to control; one lesson may be the simple act of witness. Witness is a positive response to tragedy in two ways. It proclaims that it is more worthy to look than to turn away. No matter how horrific the prospect. It also proposes that such witness is our only chance for amelioration. Its necessary precursor.

Brought up as we’ve been with expectations of heroes and happy endings;

it’s not surprising that we see these possibilities as shoal hopes indeed!

Meager, thin reeds on which to lean in our trepidation.

This does nothing to counter their validity or helpfulness.

This simply reflects how far we’ve strayed from

an active engagement with reality.

How far we need to go to adjust

our expectations to what is possible.

As desperate as we are to maintain our old habits. Those that brought us success or, at least, survival in the past. Now that we swim in this trap we have no choice but to adapt or to be extinguished.

Can we learn from this school?

Can we forge a meaningful hope for ourselves from its turns and spirals of danger and haven?


Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

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