June 04, 2007

The Squid Ponds

Squid.jpgIn the year since they were first sighted in the fresh waters of Warragamba Dam, barely a week has gone by without some story of the squids’ encroachment on the city’s water supply. Invariably, it takes place in the home of an ordinary rate-paying citizen who awakes one day to find crypto-cephalopods clogging drains, nesting in rainwater tanks, or fouling toilet cisterns with their ink. Or so they say. In truth, these anxious accounts rarely survive serious scrutiny.

There is however one very important exception to this cavalcade of fabrications – a colony of freshwater squid that lives in a pair of lakes in the city’s largest park. Unlike their dubious housebound cousins, they have been documented by reliable sources and have been seen in the flesh by countless visitors. In the process they have become one of the more disturbing tourist attractions in a city that already prides itself on the unseemly and macabre.

The lakes themselves which were formerly known as the Duck Ponds, sit in the very centre of the park and can be reached by making a beeline from any entrance. As a result they are a regular stop on just about any walk that Jasper and I take. The original inhabitants of the lakes died out or moved on years ago and, in the period since then, the lakes have shrunk to a murky third of their Duck Pond size. None of this though has deterred the squid who seem to thrive in this depleted environment.

Or so we assume. No one has ever seen a squid in either of the ponds. To the casual observer, their sluggish waters appear undisturbed by any aquatic life. Even the cameras on the undersides of the remote controlled wooden mallards (a gimmick created by the Museum to appeal to the under-12s) reveal nothing but silt and algae. What makes us certain that there are squids lurking in the ponds is the daily procession of the doomed.

Starting some time before dawn, fully grown adult squids emerge from the eastern pond and use their tentacles to drag themselves over the dried mud of the bank and onto the grassed bridge of land that separates them from their destination – the western pond. Although they have no more than the width of a standard driveway to traverse, their progress is agonisingly slow. By eight thirty, when the crowds start to arrive, the most determined of the squid have only progressed as far as the girth of two monster truck dual-radial tires. As the morning drags on and the bookies close bets on the final places, the frontrunners make it to the westernmost edge of the grass before expiring convulsively then rapidly blanching in the heat.

Despite the presence of out-of-work actors capering around in happy-go-lucky squid costumes, the sight of rotting corpses is naturally rather distressing for the under-12s, so by eleven, the crowd has dispersed to a nearby kiosk for an early lunch of salt-and-pepper calamari with a side of chicken-burger-flavoured algae-composite fries for the kids.

I generally spend the morning answering emails, so it’s midday before Jasper and I make our way through the bleachers to the site of the squids’ latest failed attempt at being amphibians. When we get there, I let Jasper off the lead so he can go and play with the rubberising remains. (I fed him before we came out so he has no thoughts of eating the squid. Instead, he treats them like any of his stuffed toys; grasping them in his jaws then violently shaking them from side to side in an attempt to snap their non existent vertebrae.) I meanwhile take the opportunity to rest on the bleachers and ponder the procession of carcasses before the park rangers come along to clean them up.

It’s been going for a couple of months now so I wonder how far they’ve progressed over that time. Has anyone charted it, and if so, do they have any prospective time frame for their eventual arrival in the western pond? And when they get there, what happens then? Do they head back the way they came? Or, having mastered that prerequisite for further evolution, do they bide their time then emerge a year from now encased in a water bearing shell that lets them traipse around the dry areas of the homes of ordinary rate-paying citizens reprogramming their PVRs and squirting toxic ink into the algae-composite baby food of their offspring? Or maybe they’ll wait another decade or so till the pond is finally bone dry then burst forth from clay cocoons as the only species that is sufficiently evolved to deal with a world without water. By then Jasper will probably be long gone, but hopefully I’m still around to enjoy the chance to end my days in one of the cool, comfortable terrariums that they’ll no doubt set up to house the last of our species… I just hope we pull as big a crowd as they do now…

By this time, Jasper has usually finished playing and heads over to lick my arm and revive me from my reveries; which is a good thing, as the squid corpses are really starting to stink. And so we head home just as the rangers arrive to mulch the bodies and prepare for the next day’s show.

Posted by Warren at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)