Anyone inclined to take the movement of the tides for granted will think twice after reading this wide-ranging study from a conservationist and avid sailor.
White (Talking on the Water: Conversations about Nature and Creativity, 1994) chronicles his travels around the globe watching the tides go in and out, often pausing to reflect on the history of the still-incomplete human understanding of their workings. At the site of one of the highest tides in the world, close to the Arctic Circle in Canada, he ventured under the ice left behind by the retreating tide with an Inuit guide to hunt for mussels, finding himself in a “dreamlike state…inside the body of the ocean.” In southern Chile, White was awed by the “seesaw” motion where two large oceans, whose tides are out of sync, meet. In England, he assisted at a “tidemill,” where the movement of the tide is harnessed to grind grain, and he ponders the future use of “tide energy,” which is still in its infancy. While intricate explanations of the mathematics and science behind the workings of the tides may leave some readers baffled, White always returns to the solid ground of personal experience. Graphs and line drawings illustrate the principles, and a series of photographs of places taken at both high and low tide serve as reminders of the dazzling power of this everyday change. If the author sometimes strays from his ostensible subject to focus on surfers riding enormous waves or to interview monks whose monastery is daily separated from the mainland by the tides, he always finds his way back to the dance between the sun, the moon, and the waters of Earth.
White’s heightened awareness of the planet’s “cosmic beat” is bound to make readers more sensitive to the mysteries of what might otherwise seem commonplace.