I remember a TV movie I saw as a child. It was about a slave-labor camp in present-day America, in the mountains. Disobedient men were forced to put a hand in The Bag as punishment. They had to wait all day dreading it. Nobody was told what was in The Bag. They only knew the screams of the punished. When the camp was broken up by the heroes we learned what was in The Bag: live eels.
This NYT article explains how these fat, nutritious and easy-to-catch fish saved the Pilgrims from starvation. But this bit of natural history captured my sense of wonder:
They moved in great numbers at night, en masse, sometimes forming braids with their bodies to overcome obstacles, or large balls to roll over gravel bars that separate the mouths of rivers from the sea. On wet nights eels would even travel overland, relentless in their quest to return to their natal womb in the deep ocean.
Think about it. In a strange, cold land of dark forests and a thousand unknown dangers, you could step out of your cabin to see wet writhing things moving through the brush, glistening by moonlight.
Early wild America was really something -- the sky dark with flocks of passenger pigeons and other birds by the millions. Even when Lewis and Clark set out, there was hope of finding live wooly mammoths.
Nice illustration (a painting in the NYT!) by Roberto Parada. Click to enlarge.