I’m down by the river, writing, when I suddenly hear “WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP!”
It’s a man with an eel in his hand. A long slithery, writhing eel. And he’s slamming the thing against a rock. WHOMP!
The river’s the Raritan River, which flows through central New Jersey on its way to Raritan Bay, which connects with both New York Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean, depending on which way one turns at the point where river meets bay.
It’s very New Jersey. Parts of the Raritan and its tributaries flow through lush countryside and deep dark woods. But the stretch where I’m sitting right now is within sight of a highway bridge which carries Route 1 over the river — Route 1, one of the nation’s busiest and ugliest roads, which runs from Maine all the way to Florida — and within earshot of the continual hum of highway traffic. I’m less than half-mile away from neighborhoods where street gangs rule and gunshots ring out at night. And downstream about a mile are a couple of landfills, including one which is now closed but was a Superfund cleanup site and which once leeched deadly PCBs into this river.
Downstream…but this is a tidal river, part-saltwater and part freshwater, and when the tide is high the water rushes up from there to here, and I think you’d have to be very ignorant or very crazy to eat anything that swims in these waters.
But the guy who just killed the eel says he eats them. He said he also catches catfish and striped bass in this river, and he eats those too.
Me, I prefer to come down here on occasion, not to fish, just to see what there is to see.
I just saw a fish jump out of the water, and there are lots of waterfowl here — Canada geese and ducks, of course, but also herons and egrets and other seashore birds.
And sometimes I get to see the rowing teams from Rutgers University and they glide past in their long and narrow vessels, rowing silently in unison, making hardly a splash, as they navigate between the banks of the old Raritan.
All in all, it’s a pleasant place, a surprising oasis in the midst of shopping malls and highways and landfills.
But does that guy have to keep slamming that eel against the rocks?