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On fishes and fishermen - A parable in two acts

By Montague Ullman, M.D.

with an assist by Nan Zimmerman.

Dream Appreciation Newsletter Vol. 2 No. 4, Autumn 1997


Fishes and dreams have something in common. They each have their own unique environment in which they go about doing their own thing. When brought to the surface and properly "socialized" they are sources of nurturance, one for our body and one for our soul. Both are exquisitely sensitive, each in its own way, to environmental pollution.

Cast of Characters

A Fisherman

Dr. Flawed, The Great Fish Doctor

Dr. Young, Another Great Fish Doctor

The Fisherman's Wife 

Rachel Carson (as a young woman)

Act One

Scene One: A fishing village nestled somewhere in a small European country

Time: The turn of the century

A fisherman is seen fishing in a lake. There have been many generations of fishermen at this same lake before him, all grateful for the harvest of fish the lake provides. There is a hidden but deeply sensed connection between the fisherman and the fish that swim about in the lake. He sees them as creatures remarkably suited to an environment so different from his own. He respects their way of life and the freedom they enjoy in their environment.

He is out to catch only the amount of fish to meet his and his family's daily need. The scene opens with the fisherman meditating on the oneness that exists between the fish he is about to catch and himself. Suddenly he feels a tug on the line and begins to pull in a good-sized fish. As he witnesses the struggle of the fish to get off the hook and get back into the water, many thoughts go through his mind. He addresses the fish directly:

"We both know that once out of the water you can no longer survive as a live fish. You will, however, survive in the life you will give to my family and myself and for that we are grateful. You are part of a different world now - our world - and your survival will be part of our survival. Of course some preparation will be necessary. The cleaning and cooking will cause you no pain. You are dead to the world you came from but alive to our world as you replenish our bodily tissues and provide us with the energy we need to meet the new day. Without you our children could not grow nor could we remain as healthy as we are."

The day's catch is brought home for the family dinner.

Scene Two: The fisherman's home

Time:  One year later

The fisherman's wife awakens in pain. She is obviously ill. The fisherman tries to comfort her. He says to her:

"Yesterday in the village I heard that many have taken ill as you have and in each instance they had eaten fish caught the same day. I have also heard of Dr. Flawed, The Great Fish Doctor who lives in a city not far from us. Tomorrow we shall go to see him. I'm sure he can help you."

Scene Three: The office of Dr. Flawed, The Great Fish Doctor

Time: The next day

The fisherman had come with his wife to Dr. Flawed, The Great Fish Doctor and had brought along a fish he had caught the day before. The doctor spent most of the time in a very thorough examination of the fish, even studying specimens from each of its organs under a microscope. The Great Fish Doctor then spoke directly to the fisherman's anxious wife.

Dr. Flawed: "I have examined many fish like this and have recently published what I think will turn out to be a classic on the subject. I can tell that the fish contained the poison that made you sick. Your entire system has been contaminated. To rid you of this poison will take a long time and require many visits."

Fisherman: "Dear doctor did I hear you right? You said there was poison in the fish. If that is so, how did it get there?"

Dr. Flawed: "I had formerly thought that healthy fish had been contaminated by poisons that had somehow gotten into the water. After seeing many patients like your wife, I realized that the poison did not come from an external source, but that the poison was internally generated as part of the natural development of the specimen of fish that you have brought me. In some way their sexual organs do not develop properly and generate toxins that spread through their system. A word of caution: If you're planning to go fishing again, you may be in some danger unless a properly trained person is there to dissect out the poison and prepare the fish for human consumption."

The fisherman was taken aback by this explanation. It didn't sound right to him. After all, his family and generations of his forebears had fished in the same water for many years and had never before encountered poisonous fish. There was no doubt the Great Fish Doctor was right and there was poison in the fish, but the question was how did it get there and why now? Nor did he want someone else in authority with him when he went fishing. That would interfere with the personal sense of communion that exists between the fish and himself. Disappointed at the prospect of a protracted and expensive treatment, the fisherman and his wife returned home.

Scene Four: The office of Dr. Young, The Second Great Fish Doctor

Time:  One week later

The fisherman's wife was still ill but recovering.

The fisherman continued to be puzzled by the First Great Fish Doctor's explanation of the illness. He decided to seek another opinion. He heard that Dr. Young, a Second Great Fish Doctor, younger than the first, had just begun practicing in a nearby city and was becoming almost as well known as the First.

The scene opens with the fisherman and his wife in the office of Dr. Young, The Second Great Fish Doctor. This doctor was also very thorough in his examination of the fisherman's wife, but he seemed even more intrigued by the appearance of the fish the fisherman had brought with him. He approached the examination of the fish in quite a different way than Dr. Flawed had. He didn't biopsy or look at the fish under a microscope, but instead carefully noted all of the features of the fish's external appearance, its shape, size, color and texture. When he finished he came to a very different conclusion than his older colleague. He turned to the fisherman's wife and said:

"There is nothing wrong with the fish you have brought me but eating it did induce a severe allergic response, one that pointed to a certain imbalance in your various organ systems. When this is not properly attended to it can result in the kind of symptoms you have had. Treatment will be needed to explore and correct these imbalances. In the course of treatment, I may through incantation evoke the help of various mythical figures, including Pisce, the ancient Greek goddess of all that lives in the sea."

The fisherman liked this explanation better than the first, but he still remained puzzled. It didn't explain why, after all these years, these imbalances would suddenly occur. Besides, he didn't see how ancient mythical figures could be of help. His wife had no signs of any allergies before. They left the Second Great Fish Doctor's office still not certain the problem had been solved.


Act Two

Scene One: The fisherman's cottage

Time: Three months later

Nearly everyone in the village had developed symptoms of greater or lesser severity. By chance a young woman named Rachel Carson had come to the village. She was on a mission to alert the world to the way the rivers, lakes and oceans of the world were being polluted by the waste that human beings and industrial plants were dumping into them. She shared with the fisherman and his wife the results of the investigation that had brought her to the lake in this village. She had discovered that the lake was polluted and that the source of the pollution was the way waste products were being poured into tributaries of the lake from new factories that had sprung up.

This made sense to the fisherman. He had never believed that the fish produced the poison or that his wife had allergies. Neither the fish nor his wife were to blame. Before leaving, Rachel Carson left with them an early draft of a book which was later published under the title of Silent Spring.

Scene Two: Lakeside

Time:  One year later

Much had happened since Rachel Carson's visit. The manuscript she had left was an eye-opener for the fisherman. It was the answer to what had eluded him for so long. It spurred him to action. He arranged for Rachel Carson to address a meeting of the villagers. Armed with the facts she had provided them and through their untiring efforts to call this to the attention of the authorities, new laws were put into effect prohibiting the pollution of the waterways and thus protecting the natural environment of the fish and the people whose lives were so closely involved with the fish.

The fisherman continued to fish at the lake and his family thrived on the healthy fish that nurtured them.


The dream has treasures for everyone - for ordinary mortals, for the experts and for those who need the care of experts.

Most people thrive on home-cooked meals.