NANFA-- A Parable

Christopher Scharpf (
Fri, 05 Nov 1999 22:56:33 -0400

I was showing a friend the aquariums in my basement when his attention was
caught by the bright red and blue colors of a male rainbow darter, perching, as
it is wont to do, on the edge of a rock.

"That's a pretty fellow!" my friend, who does not know much about fishes other
than eating them, said. "What country is he from?"

"Actually, he's from Maryland," I answered.


My friend was slightly taken aback. After all, fishes this colorful must come
from someplace exotic and tropical, like the Amazon or the Red Sea.

"Really. You know that section of I-70 that cuts through Sideling Hill Mountain?
Well, the creek that runs under the bridge, just after the mountain, by the
Amoco station--that's were that fish is from."

"You're telling me a fish that pretty is found here in Maryland? In a creek I
drive over all the time on my way to go skiing?"

Only when I explained that this fish was a rainbow darter, and that rainbow
darters are found in many states besides Maryland, did my friend shake the
incredulity with which he received this information.

"I've heard of darters," he said. "Wasn't there a darter in Tennessee that had
all the environmentalists up in arms when the power company wanted to build some

He was referring to the snail darter, a pretty drab fish as far as darters go.
It went up against--and lost to--the Tennessee Valley Authority and its desire
to dam the Tellico River, which at that time was the snail darteršs only known

My rainbow darter--a lot gaudier than its snail-eating cousin to the
south--darted from its perch directly into the stream of a submerged powerhead.
It played in the current for a few seconds, as if enjoying a shower massage.
When it realized people were admiring him, he darted to the front of the tank
and began his "Feed me!" display. His fins spread, his colors intensified, and
he turned his head so that his right eye faced us. My friend put his finger up
to the glass, the way you would put your finger into a bird cage to greet a
bird, and the darter swam over to it. It lasted just a moment, but a fish-human
bond had been formed.

"That's one nice fish,˛ my friend said. "I can see why people would want to save

Chris Scharpf

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