Monday, February 28, 2005

Get Excited About Octopi

Within the pages of Lisa Crystal Carver's incomparably passionate and fantastic Rollerderby lie many hilarious and shocking secrets, but the greatest one of all is the secret to life itself.

Carver says, and I am paraphrasing here from memory, that the whole point inf life is to be excited. Like, the kind of excited where you just can't shut up about something, where it filters into your dreams to the point where you think you're dreaming but you're actually just lying awake thinking about whatever it is that gets you excited.

People keep asking me "so, what's your blog about?" Until now, I've said something like "well, it's politics, and sometimes it's rock music, or travel stories, or stuff from my friend the prison history teacher, you know, just whatever." But now I've got some sort of sloppy focus. This blog is about things that are (or were) Carver's type of exciting.

The giant octopus at the National Zoo had my synapses humming at high symphony this weekend. The zoo is right down the street, so twice this weekend I rolled out of my apartment with a championship hangover to watch this fantastic sensual beast do his thing. This 25-ish pound invertebrate spends about 23 hours a day all balled up in the corner of his tank like this here:

self portrait with giant octopus
That's me in the reflection...

However, the zoo conducts public feedings daily at 11 AM and 3 PM and I just knew that ball of suckers was going to erupt off the tank wall into an explosive psychedelic ballet. It was all I could talk about Saturday night and the first thing on my mind Sunday morning. And man, that thing did not disappoint...

You might be able to see the feedings on the webcam here, but I have also made my own film of this undulating muscular mollusk that you can see here.

You should know that unless you are looking at the webcam during or shortly after feeding time, it is stunningly boring. My film, on the other hand, features a soundtrack by Ween, and totally rocks.

When the volunteer dropped a crab into the water, the beast slithered off of the wall and tranformed itself into a living parachute, enveloping the crustacean and pinning it to the wall of the tank. The octopus's head grew all sorts of spiky ridges and his entire body changed colors to reflect his gustatory excitement. Underneath this living parachute, hundreds of suction cups busily rotated the crab's body as the beast's powerful beak nibbled meat out of every tiny crevice in that crab's crispy hide. Here's a closeup:


This is a better photo of the octupus's underside in that it is of a more professional quality, but a worse photo because I did not take it myself. It's by Jesse Cohen...
giant octopus

You absolutely cannot watch this creature move and maintain any adult sense of detachment or cynicism. It was all I could do not to knock all the little kids at the tank aside like a bunch of whimpering bowling pins and just flatten my nose against the tank wall myself.

This creature moves with involuntary dignified grace, like eight cats' tails attached to an extremely intelligent head. According to zoo staff, octopi are extremely curious, playful, and intelligent. Octopi are the intellectual colossi of the order mollusca, in that they can actually learn from another creature's experience. One zoo volunteer told me that an octopus with no experience opening a jar can actually watch another octopus open a jar, and then do it himself.

Here is a portrait of the serene creature, heading up to his corner of the tank to munch on that crab...

Lisa Carver is right. Just writing about the experience has got me all charged up, and I am constantly checking another window with the Zoo's webcam for any activity. Even though it's impossible to sustain excited wonderment at a stretch, the pursuit of those jaw-dropping moments is what makes life worth living. I'm sitting here in my office in the middle of cold, grey D.C. and an impending snowstorm feeling warm and alive. I'm thrilled to know that raw beauty in action is right down the street...not just because the zoo is next door, but because life is thrilling once you start paying attention.


At 5:54 PM, Blogger Listmaker said...

i love this post and your movie. in fact the only thing that could have possibly improved your film is if that dancing dude from richmond was getting his groove on in it.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger The Eyes said...


I think you are intriguing and hilarious. I think I found you bloghopping or something and it struck me. I am a budding writer as well, and enjoy wise and funny things.
if you get bored,
my blogofthemoment is my mexico trip journal


At 1:11 PM, Blogger jaed said...

Please. "Octopoda", not "octopi". ;-)

At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SO cool! Love the pictures. Make sure to check out this video (copy/paste the link):

It features a GIANT octopus, and a shark, but I won't spoil your fun. Keep being excited. I really appreciated your 'being excited' revelation. I just had a similar one. 'Being engaged...' Thanks again!


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