His name was Neil, and he was more than just a human man – a mere mortal. He was a mysterious being composed of an essence unbeknownst to the human race and he possessed knowledge of the natural world unique only to himself. Some would call him farcical, worthy of no respect, but his powerful connection with nature sets him apart from the rest of us. Not only do creatures of all shapes and sizes understand him, he, too, understands them.
He is their god. He is the Gastrogod.
I’m almost 100 percent certain that this first paragraph made absolutely zero sense to you. What on Earth could I be talking about? Has the intense heat and delusion from myriad bug bites finally gotten to me during my stay in Honduras? Have I contracted some tropical, alien disease? Fortunately, neither of these things have (so I believe) and the story I am about to tell did actually happen. This Neil person I speak of is a real person and yes, he is the King of the Gastropods. At least he thinks so.
It all started when we were sitting on a dock watching the sunset at Babalu’s, a restaurant and bar on the small island of Utila, off the coast of mainland Honduras. Steve, Andrea, and I were discussing the work that we had ahead of us (mainly catching iguanas for population study) when a rugged looking, sun-bleached man wearing nothing but a pair of shorts (they could have passed for a nice pair of boxers) came up to Steve and offered him some nuts. They were pistachios. Without an introduction to Andrea nor myself – turns out Steve knew him quite well – he began articulately speaking in a monotonous, clear tone:
“With a full moon the ocean waters around this very dock come alive with the piercing neon-blue glow of millions upon millions of gastropods. This glowing, although aesthetically pleasing to us humans, serves a much different, more complex purpose. This glowing, this innate firing of synapses between the nerves and primitive brains of the gastropods, reveals to us so much, yet we do not have the capacity to understand it. The mysterious display of light by these ancient creatures is such a bizarre thing to us, it is such an old process that renders us completely thoughtless. All we can do is observe, watch in absolute awe. Have we come here to watch them or have they come here to watch us? They communicate with one another through waves of light in a world much different then ours although the world in which they live is only a few feet beneath our toes. The universe in which they live is so strange, so alien, yet they are able to captivate us and invite us into their world on the night when the moon is full. They speak to us with their light, and although we will never understand, a connection is made with them, with nature, and with the world. This is what animals do to us. They bring all forms of life together despite an absence of understanding.”
Pretty impressive for a guy with barely any clothes on, right? He then went on stating that if he could somehow understand what the gastropods (or plankton) were doing, saying, and communicating with the light they produced that he would be their god, or as he put it, the Gastrogod. After assuming this grandiose title he would hold conventions on the dock every full moon and everyone would dress up as plankton and compliment one another on their tentacles and smooth shells.
So I’m not quite sure what he was trying to say with the latter statement, but surprisingly enough I did learn something from the first part: nature is a mystery. Much like who this man was and what exactly it was that he was telling us, the relationship between humans, animals, plants, and everything else on the planet is a mystery. We may never truly understand how life began but the fact that there exists a connection between animal and man offers us much insight about life in a very primitive sense. Just think about that.
Finally, after all this, he offered pistachios to Andrea and me. He said his name was Neil.