The creature stared at me, wide-eyed through the florescent glare, Saran Wrap stretched tight across its broad back. Alone in the seafood cooler, he was the only one of his kind, there among the farmed, color-added Atlantic salmon and mud-flavored tilapia, perched on a blue foam tray, legs tucked 'round him like a comfy kitten. He didn't blink. He was dead, red, cooked and chilled, ready to eat. Such a find is rare in the City Market fish department in Gunnison, Colorado.
What if nobody takes him home? I thought. This beautiful animal will have died needlessly, ripped from his home, family and friends (Dory, Nemo, Crush and Gill?) only to be tossed in the trash when his expiration date came and went. I lifted him for closer inspection, checked that date, felt the heft of him, scanned his surface for cracks and blemishes. The creature was perfect. I lowered him back into the cooler, nodded farewell, turned to walk away, took one step, and stopped. Shoppers strolled past, studied lists, analyzed packages and placed them into carts. A man approached the seafood area, glanced into the cooler and rolled on. What if a local buys him? This was no trout. What if he's snapped up by a transplant from Indiana or Michigan? Good luck finding that walleye, pilgrim. I looked at my cool friend. Let's call him Shelly. What if the person who buys him is a Texan? From Dallas. Or Plano. What kind of a name for a town is Plano, anyway? Welcome to Plano, a no-frills, plain-o town. There was a town, a Texas town, and Plano was it's name-o. What would these people know of bottom-dwelling, sidestepping, urchin-gobbling brachyura? Like Shelly, I am Pacific Northwest born and bred. He and I are cut from the same, salty cloth, never mind that the Willamette Valley has no ocean view. I panicked, imagining my dead-eyed compatriot on the platter of a Plano Texan, the man's napkin tucked into the snap collar of his western shirt, steak knife gripped tight in a beefy Texas fist. S.O.S! KELP! I've hauled relatives of Shelly's from the depths to the docs, claw-snapping clusters of crustaceans in netted frenzy around a mangled fish head wired tight into the floor of a mesh trap. I couldn't let this happen. Better that poor, dead Shelly land in the belly of a native daughter. His bar code scanned without a glitch.
Maine's got lobsters, Alaska, its deadliest catches. They're all delicious. There is, however, nothing finer from the murky depths, or from terra firma, than the sweet, cold flesh of a fresh, dungeness crab.
Dipping morsels into drawn, organic, grass-fed butter, I lifted the first bite as a toast to the two of us. "You are what you eat, Shelly, and you eat what you are."