Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another Unusual Souvenir

These are the dyed scales of a fish called the gar. A gar is a scary-looking primordial armored fish that can grow up to nine feet long. A website I found describes them as “America’s toughest sport fish for one hundred million years.” Not only do they put up a ferocious fight in the water, but once you get a gar in your boat, it’s said that the only sure way to keep it from thrashing and attacking with its sharp teeth is to shoot it.

I realize that sounds apocryphal—people really discharge firearms inside their own boats?—but Pipi and I did get the guy who sold us these scales to confirm it. Possibly this story of indestructibility is a rural myth winkingly passed along to impressionable Yankee girls. I don’t know. In the spirit of good fun I’m going to choose to believe it, but you don’t have to.

In any case, as if Louisiana didn’t have enough trouble with alligators and poisonous snakes, the swamps are full of these gilled dinosaurs. There are, however, those who appreciate them. There is a lot to admire about the gar’s longevity, its brute strength, and the fish’s importance to the Native American tribes of Louisiana. The gar are sort of the bison of the bayou—not only is the meat edible, but other parts are salvaged as well. Scales like these, for instance, were used as small arrowheads.

I am pretty sure the guy was joking, though, when he said the pastel colors are an old Indian tradition.

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