I took a trip out into the desert right before Christmas and stayed in Thermal, California. There, in the middle of land that sees three inches of rain a year and where the temp is 120 degrees for weeks on end during the summer, is the Salton Sea.
If you were thirsty or tired, you might think it was a mirage, but it ain’t. It is a sea that developed over time and then was given a growth spurt by a flood from the Colorado River, filling up a basin way out in the middle of nowhere. While at the seaside, I visited the cactus garden by the entrance at the north end. There was a small pool in the garden with a sign telling about the pool’s strange inhabitant — the pupfish.
The pupfish is a small fish (one to two and a half inches long) that can take on big odds. An old species (they have been called living fossils), pupfish were around 10,000 years ago when glacial lakes started to dry up and become land. It is theorized that pupfish became separated from other fish species (who became amphibians or became extinct). Rather giving up and dying, the pupfish adapted to survive harsh conditions. This short guy lives in places you would never expect to find fish — shallow marshes, salty lakes, mud holes, desert aquifers. Pupfish can tolerate high salinity plus high heat — existing in waters that top 95 degrees in the summer, freeze in the winter, and have enough salt to brine your Thanksgiving turkey. You can find pupfish surviving and thriving in places as harsh as the Salton Sea and Devil’s Hole in Nevada — not where you would expect to find fish.
At the time of my visit to the Sea, I was recuperating from a lousy year. No major setbacks, but a stream of petty problems, minor disappointments, opportunities missed, cash shortages, unexpected expenses, betrayals, blow-ups, and the slogging-through-mud drudgery of picking up pieces thrown willy-nilly all over the place in the last couple of years. I found myself making adjustments (not always willingly) and coming to know myself better in the process (not always happily). I often felt like a fish out of water during 2018.
I persevered. I gave up old routines and started new ones. I cut back. I got by without things I previously felt I could never give up. I was in situations where I had no idea what to do next but I figured out some course of action and sallied (or stumbled) forth. I talked to God in my kitchen on a daily basis. I called creditors almost as often. I lost my routines and started new ones. I lost (or got rid of) friends so I got some new ones. I gave up certain goals and dreams and expectations and trudged forward. At times I felt I was gasping for air and stumbling through a murky dark world, but I survived.
And that is what the pupfish does — change itself to meet the new environment that is presenting itself. I had tried to keep myself in the same trappings (get a job similar to the one I had lost with a similar salary and similar benefits and the same routines so I could just swim through life unobstructed) but found my old environment receding from me and not showing any signs of coming back. I had to get creative or croak.
So my inspiration for 2019 is the pupfish. I will adapt. If need be, I will shrink a body part, build up another, get a new diet, get used to the heat, withstand the cold, grow a thicker skin, live a saltier existence. When faced with new (and even bizarre) conditions, I will not only survive, but thrive. Like the pupfish, I will adjust and alter myself in order to overcome adversity.
And as for feeling like a fish out of water? It occurred to me that were not for some aquatic creature crawling out of the sea on God’s sixth day and gasping for air, we humans would not be here.