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Jacques Yves Cousteau

Walking along 3rd Street towards another Rockwood show late last week, I spotted a treasure on someone's stoop. Stoop gifts are a magical part of New York culture that have given me plenty over the years. Typically things that will fit on a single step, stoop gifts are essentially rummage sale items you don't have the energy to coax 25 cents out of the public for: CDs, DVDs and books are most popular followed by glassware that doesn't match, baby gear, coasters, shoes (don't bother) and potentially broken small home appliances. Stoop gifts are not to be confused with curb finds, which are usually larger items, potentially furniture, and may or may not indicate a recent rash of bedbugs in the neighborhood. The majority of my stoop finds include books, as in the case of the gem I found Thursday.

Encyclopedia of the Sea saw me walking by, waved, shook its tail a little, and I bit. "What's thissssssss?" I said, as I plucked it from its perch and ran my fingers through the pages. It is, yes, an encyclopedia of sea life, but one written and illustrated by Richard Ellis, the foremost marine life artist of the last century. Mr. Ellis is most notably the artist responsible for the Giant Blue Whale in the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Ocean Life. He has been studying and illustrating life underwater for over 60 years and has written more than a dozen books devillainizing sea creatures such as sharks and giant squid. Also of note, he holds no advanced degrees in these studies but has acquired all his knowledge through hands on observation and self-directed study.

The encyclopedia is an ideal cross-reference to the Jacques Cousteau book The Living Sea which I recently resumed. Ping-ponging between the two, I learn about animals such as the regalecus glesne, the world's largest bony fish, reaching up to 36ft recorded and rumored to reach lengths of 56ft! This overgrown oarfish is "king of the ribbonfish. It [is] about six feet long and an inch thick, seemingly constructed of silver foil overlaid with a few orange and vibrant blue patterns. It's flat forehead [sprouts] orange antennae." (Cousteau) Regalecus is also almost certainly the source of ancient sea serpent legends, Cousteau points out.

United States servicemen holding a 23-foot (7.0 m) giant oarfish, found washed up on the shore near San Diego, California, in September 1996 (Wikipedia)

With these sea legends bookending my life, I am enthralled as a 7-year-old discovering the world for the first time. As an adult, the list of things you have to or "should" know about seems to grow perpetually longer and less exciting. Feeling the spark of childhood wonder and hunger for knowledge seems like a great break. If you have not yet read Jacques Yves Cousteau's books, I highly recommend. He is a brilliant man and a poet of an author. They are ideal as bedtime stories, too, for those with children!! He was quite genuinely the man who brought the first and most exciting knowledge of the underwater world to the view of us landlubbers. Steve Zissou would want it.

"In the morning we found the beaches imprinted with last night's news. The headlines were tractorlike treads from the water to the dunes, where sea turtle mothers had buried their eggs in the sand. There were stories in the crab burrows, and the punctuation marks were sand fleas waiting for sunset to emerge and take our legs off at the ankle. The crossword puzzle consisted of the claw prints of birds that had stalked crabs at night. The typographical case itself was strewn along the high tide mark in fragments of coral knocked off the outer reef and subdivided as they tumbled across the flats. These bits were shaped like every letter of the Latin alphabet, both capital and lower case. Dugan gave the skipper coral fragments that spelled: Francois Saout, Master, Calypso, Toulon." -- Jacques Yves Cousteau, The Living Sea

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