Monday, January 09, 2012


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The Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson, Oxford University Press, 1951, 243 pp

Without reservation I can say this is one of the most amazing reading experiences I have ever had. I rarely read non-fiction in book form. When I do, I read memoirs, biographies (usually of writers and artists), and occasionally history, but never science. I decided to read The Sea Around Us because it was a non-fiction bestseller in 1951, a year that falls within my Big Fat Reading Project, but also because Rachel Carson is one of my heroines.

She is an eloquent and inspiring science writer. She writes about scientific information better than some sci fi authors I could mention. As far as my interactions with the sea go, I have always loved sitting on a beach and watching waves. But I do not enjoy swimming or boating. I like to keep my feet on solid ground.

Now I have realized that I had little to no idea about more than half of the planet I live on. I read the book slowly, a chapter at a time over several weeks, with a globe and the Internet close by. It was like taking a tour of the world and getting oriented in a whole new way.

I learned about the history of planet Earth, at least as far as what was known by 1951 plus new developments up to 1961 when the book was revised. I learned about currents, winds, tides, and oceanic wild life; about the ice ages and the relationship of continents to oceans. Most importantly I learned that what we do on land ends up in the seas; that though we keep learning more about the seas we still keep doing our best to use them to spread radioactivity and toxins.

All that learning was excellent and good for me but what I loved most was a feeling I got in every chapter. It was as if I were in a spaceship far out from the earth's surface, looking down and seeing the whole big picture. This was a better high than any substance has ever given me; almost better even than music has ever given me.

Second to that effect was a suspicion that while it is crazy to use up natural resources faster than they can be replaced and stupid to toxify our world and ourselves, the oceans will outlast us and possibly transmute mankind's insanity and stupidity into more life and future. We are racing ahead at an almost incomprehensible speed but still the earth, its continents and oceans are almost eternal. When it comes to material existence, the closest thing I have to faith is that the cycle of life goes on. Rachel Carson's book renewed that faith for me.

(The Sea Around Us is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in your local indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)

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