The White Sucker


I witnessed a peculiar incident last week on the Kennebec, the death of a white sucker. It was an unceremonious death.

While preparing the fire for morning coffee I noticed a splash by the river bank. Further investigation revealed that the maker of the splash was a large white sucker about sixteen inches long. Upon my first approach it slowly swam out to the safety of a deep back eddy. Several seconds later it returned to the river bank, so close that its dorsal fin was out of the water. This time I crept up to it on hands and knees, approaching too within inches of it, although it saw me, it did not try to swim off. For about fifteen minutes I watched it, looked into its eyes and snapped pictures of it. Suddenly, it flicks its tail, rolls over, and dies just inches from my face. It was the strangest thing. I have never seen a fish just roll over and die like that, and there wasnít a scratch, bruise or mark on it.

Now, I donít know about you but trying to contemplate such things before morning coffee is a challenge for me. However, I had awoken in the misty false dawn to a chorus of chattering eagles punctuated by the gravelly cackles of great blue herons, and it seemed coffee or no coffee I would be contemplating this peculiar incident.

As usual my contemplations led me to the conclusion that I will need to live several hundred years, or several more lives to properly contemplate all that needs contemplation. Before tumbling into a state of mental chaos over the whole affair another incident snapped my attention back to the contemplation at hand.

While I sat, the dead sucker drifted off the river bank and sank to the bottom of the sandy back eddy. Not long afterward it floated back to the surface, caught the edge of the current and began drifting downstream. Before it made the big bend and drifted out of sight a bald eagle swooped from the top of a dead birch, plucked the sucker off the surface, and retired to a rocky point for a hearty breakfast.

There it sat in the morning mist, our noblest bird, the symbol of our nation, gaining sustenance from our most lowly and humblest fish, the white sucker. I chuckled to myself at the thought of a grand old New England home with a gold leaf carving of a white sucker hanging above the entrance way, or a shiny new coin, fresh from the U.S. mint, adorned with a white sucker. If the eagle were concerned with such ornamentations, there would be a gold leaf carving of a white sucker hanging above the nest of every eagle in New England, the osprey, kingfisher, merganser, herons of different sorts, most any bird or fur bearers with a fancy for fish would hang a gold leaf carving of the white sucker above their abode.

The humble white sucker is an often overlooked, yet vital component of our watery ecosystems, particularly in urban environments, which have been robbed of their anadromous fishes by dams, and where pollution and flow problems often destroy other native fish populations. The white suckersí constitution to survive in altered and polluted environments are unmatched by any other large native fish. Therefore, next time you see a bald eagle, or whenever you see a kingfisher swoop down to pluck a minnow from your favorite stream, tip your cap and raise a glass to the humblest of our unsung river heroes, the white sucker.


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