November 8 is International Octopus Day. Now, you may wonder why I come up with such a seemingly exotic topic today. I was playfully looking into a website that deals with celebratory dates, and among others this resonated immediately with me. Because I love octopuses or octopods. And yes, that’s the plural, not octopi or octopedes, because the anglicized word originates from Greek, not Latin!
The first time I actually encountered a live octopus was at the marine center in Port Angeles. Her name was, very befittingly, Octavia – she was huge, watchful, and absolutely regal in attitude. Apart from sitting in a tank and languidly letting the tips of her feet dangle in the water.
Back then, I had no clue that each of her legs work as brains apart from the one that she has in her head. Not just Octavia, of course. Every octopus, no matter what size. With these legs, an octopus, smells, senses, grasps – in short, the amazing cleverness of these ancient creatures is a matter of cooperation and coordination between nine brains. They can solve puzzle boxes. They can squeeze themselves through infinitely narrow spaces, which makes them escape artists. They are strong, too. About a year ago, I watched a movie that documented how an octopus reacts to people who play with him or her. (They are so personable, I can’t think talking of an octopus as “it”.) So, when the filmer’s daughter wanted to leave, the octopus reached for her arm outside his tank and held on to her, while splashing her with water with another arm, until she relented!
The very first time I heard of giant octopuses was when I was nine years old. My family went to watch the Jules Verne movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. In that case, the octopus was as big as Captain Nemo’s submarine. Well, whenever we pass across, by, or under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge I think of the Pacific giants that purportedly live underneath. Nine-feet long legs, too shy to make themselves seen. And sometimes I wonder whether it’s Washington State’s equivalent to Scotland’s Nessie. On the other hand, reading my dear friend Dorothy Wilhelm’s book “True Tales of Puget Sound” (https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Puget-Sound-American-Legends/dp/1467139696/), I tend to believe they ARE out there. There were world championships in octopus wrestling, after all. And in one of my famous author, radio and TV host friend’s Zoom parties, I comfortably chatted with one of the last octopus wrestlers, Dupont’s mayor, Ron Frederick. He showed pics of quite sizeable species.
At one time in summer 2018, I was sitting at the dock of the Point Defiance Marina, where my husband was fishing, when a few places next to him a man took an octopus of his fishing hook. He simply left it on the boardwalk. I was aghast: poor little octopus about to die?! But poor, little octopus suddenly got onto all his or her eight legs and walked towards the edge of the dock to thrust him- or herself back into the water. I was so happy to see the creature disappear into the depths.
On another note, I have to say that I also love to eat octopus. Yes, my love is twofold, and I feel like a traitor. I cannot remember when I first had it or which way it was made. Photos a German Facebook friend of mine took in Greece the other day show how they literally hang the catch on clothes lines. I don’t know how they go about the octopus we get in the stores over here. Catching and keeping octopuses in Washington State is regulated, and one better looks it up at the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website before bringing such an eight-footed friend home. I have learned how to take apart a fresh octopus and turn them into a marvelous stew, a salad, a pasta dish. Also, my husband has relished the meals I dished up – so they can’t have been all wrong. And many of us probably know the slim leg slices they put on nagiri in sushi restaurants.
Whichever way, octopuses are wonderfully versatile in more than one way. Check them out on YouTube – they are marvelous, intelligent beings. If you come by any waters that might hold them, help them on. Picking up litter from the water and not causing any that might end up in there, is our small way to keep them thriving.