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Mythical creatures are all around, if you know where to look [Commentary]

BY JIM KENNEDY, jkennedy@theaegis.com

10:45 AM EDT, July 8, 2013

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In the search for things that may or may not exist, there's bound to be a certain level of disappointment when the realities of making the find set in.

I'd long thought that the capture of the elusive giant squid, for example, would have made for a fairly impressive documentary. Having grown up watching Capt. Nemo and his crew on the Nautilus battle a giant squid (or maybe it was an octopus), as presented by Disney Studios, it seemed such a massive creature should make for some impressive footage when one was captured alive.

There even was some question as to whether one would end up being captured alive. There's no such thing as sea monsters, after all.

Then again, it's only a sea monster if it's make believe. A shark capable of eating someone isn't a sea monster because it's really a big fish.

Giant squids, initially believed to be the stuff of seafaring legend, turned out to be real, and nearly as large as the one the fanciful crew of the Nautilus fought. When pulled onto the deck of a modern research vessel, however, like many a giant creature of nature, they seemed, at least on the show I saw, to be rather pathetic. An ocean-going science ship, unlike a submarine imagined by a science fiction writer of the late 1800s, is a big boat. No aircraft carrier, but a big boat nonetheless.

As it turns out, a fair number of mythical creatures are a good deal easier to ponder in the flesh than might be immediately obvious. The unicorn, for example, the creature which, according to legend and fairy tale, missed the boat – not an ocean-going science lab, but Noah's Ark.

The strange reality is a certain variety of unicorn can be found in substantial numbers across Harford County, and pretty much anywhere in the U.S., the no-horn unicorn. Commonly referred to as horses, these first cousins to the unicorn also are related to another eye-catching but very real creature, the zebra. Unicorns, as they appear in fantasy art and black velvet paintings have a certain aura about them that belies any kind of unpleasantness.

I strongly suspect, however, that cleaning out a barn where unicorns are kept would be an awful lot like cleaning out a barn full of no-horn unicorns. They'd probably need brushing and to have their shoes replaced regularly. All in all, keeping unicorns would take a lot of mundane work, just like keeping horses.

So long as we're on the subject of the mythical, I'd like to point out that the Fountain of Youth, coveted by Spanish explorers of a few centuries back, could well be a spring that feeds Deer Creek somewhere between Norrisville and Darlington. The thing about such a spring is it would be indistinguishable from any other spring. Importantly, there would be no real way to tell if it were the fountain of youth. It would take a longitudinal study of people who have drunk from it to determine if they ever pass from this plane of existence. Is one sip sufficient, or does the water from the fountain need to be consumed daily to impart its version of immortality? Does water from other sources negate the effects of the fountain of youth water?

A lot of questions remain about the springs in these parts, so until they're answered, you can't necessarily rule them out.

Which brings me to my point, which is a lot of the stuff that can be experienced every day, especially in the summertime, is pretty impressive, even mystical. We've got bugs that light up at night. Vines on the roadsides produce strange little pods that open up to reveal sweet, red berries. Honeysuckle vines – which grow wild in the environs of Harford County but were originally imported – have those little flowers that offer the curious taste of the nectar bees end up turning into actual honey.

It's possible to go on pointing out the fanciful qualities of fairly mundane things, but that's kind of what I'm driving at. When picking and eating those wild berries alongside the road, don't focus on the seeds that get caught in your teeth or the thorns on the vines. Think about the magic, such as it is, of being able to find a sweet snack without having to put any effort into it.