I learned early on that if you tell people what you see at low tide they'll think you're exaggerating
or lying when you're
actually just explaining strange and wonderful things
as clearly as you can. Most of the time I understated what I saw because I
couldn't find words powerful enough, but that's the nature of
marine life and the inland bays I grew up on. You'd have to be scientist,
a poet and a comedian to hope to describe it all accurately, and even then you'd often fall
short. The truth is I
sometimes lied about where or when I saw things, but take that
little misdirection away and I saw everything I said I saw and more.
Most people realize the sea covers two thirds of the planet, but few take the time to understand even a gallon of it. Watch what happens when you try to explain something as basic as the tides, that the suction of the moon and the sun creates a bulge across the ocean that turns into a slow and sneaky yet massive wave that covers our salty beaches twice a day. People look at you as if you're making it up as you go. Plus, tides aren't news.They don't crash like floods or exit like rivers. They operate beyond the fringe of most attention spans.
Anyone can tell you where the sun is, but ask where the tides are, and only fishermen, oystermen and deep-keeled sailors will know without looking. I grew up hearing seemingly intelligent grown-ups say "what a beautiful lake," no matter how many times we politely educated them it was a briny backwater connected to the world's largest ocean. We'd point to charts that showed the Strait of Juan de Fuca inhaling the Pacific all the way down to our shallow, muddy bays at the southern end of Puget Sound. It still wouldn't stick. It was the same way with beach scavengers. There was no way to make them understand they were tromping across the roofs of clam condos. Most people don't want to invest a moment contemplating something like that unless they happen to stroll low tide alone at night with a flashlight and watch life bubble, skitter and spit in the shallows. Then they'll have a hard time not thinking about the beginnings of life itself and of an earth without pavement, plastic or Man.
People usually take decades to sort out their view of the universe, if they bother to sort at all. I did my sorting during one freakish summer in which I was ambushed by science, fame and suggestions of the divine. You may recall hearing pieces of it, or seeing that photo of me looking like some bloodshot orphan on the mudflats. Maybe you remember the ridiculous headline USA Today pinned on me after that crazy cult took an interest: KID MESSIAH? You could have seen the same article recycled in the London Times or the Bangkok Post Then again, you might have been among the hundreds of rubber-neckers who traveled to our bay to see things for yourself. Part of the fuss had to be my appearance. I was a pink-skinned, four-foot-eight, seventy-eight-pound soprano. I came off as an innocent nine-year-old even though I was an increasingly horny, speed-reading thirteen-year-old insomniac. Blame Rachel Carson for the insomnia. She was long dead by the time I arrived but I couldn't resist reading her books over and over. I even read The Sea Around Us aloud to make it stick.
"There is no drop of water in the ocean, not even in the deepest parts of the abyss, that does not know and respond to the mysterious forces that create the tide."
How do you read that sentence, yawn and turn out the lights?
My family lived in a tiny, metal-roofed house on the soggy, fog-draped bottom of the Sound where the Pacific Ocean came to relax. Farther north, glassy dream homes loomed on rocky bluffs above the splash, but once you reached Olympia's bays the rocks crumbled to gravel, the beige bluffs flattened to green fields and the shoreside mansions turned into remodeled summer cabins.
From The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch, pages 1-8. Copyright 2005 by Jim Lynch. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Bloomsbury Publishing,175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
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