Adam Nicolson explores the marine life inhabiting seashore rockpools with a scientist’s curiosity and a poet’s wonder in this beautifully illustrated book.
The sea is not made of water. Creatures are its genes. Look down as you crouch over the shallows and you will find a periwinkle or a prawn, a claw-displaying crab or a cluster of anemones ready to meet you. No need for binoculars or special stalking skills: go to the rocks and the living will say hello.
Inside each rock pool tucked into one of the infinite crevices of the tidal coastline lies a rippling, silent, unknowable universe. Below the stillness of the surface course different currents of endless motion—the ebb and flow of the tide, the steady forward propulsion of the passage of time, and the tiny lifetimes of the rock pool’s creatures, all of which coalesce into the grand narrative of evolution.
In Life Between the Tides, Adam Nicolson investigates one of the most revelatory habitats on earth. Under his microscope, we see a prawn’s head become a medieval helmet and a group of “winkles” transform into a Dickensian social scene, with mollusks munching on Stilton and glancing at their pocket watches. Or, rather, is a winkle more like Achilles, an ancient hero, throwing himself toward death for the sake of glory? For Nicolson, who writes “with scientific rigor and a poet’s sense of wonder” (The American Scholar), the world of the rock pools is infinite and as intricate as our own.
As Nicolson journeys between the tides, both in the pools he builds along the coast of Scotland and through the timeline of scientific discovery, he is accompanied by great thinkers—no one can escape the pull of the sea. We meet Virginia Woolf and her Waves; a young T. S. Eliot peering into his own rock pool in Massachusetts; even Nicolson’s father-in-law, a classical scholar who would hunt for amethysts along the shoreline, his mind on Heraclitus and the other philosophers of ancient Greece. And, of course, scientists populate the pages; not only their discoveries, but also their doubts and errors, their moments of quiet observation and their thrilling realizations.
Everything is within the rock pools, where you can look beyond your own reflection and find the miraculous an inch beneath your nose. “The soul wants to be wet,” Heraclitus said in Ephesus twenty-five hundred years ago. This marvelous book demonstrates why it is so.
Includes Color and Black-and-White Photographs
Ondaatje Prize winner Nicolson studies the life that teems inside tide pools in this evocative meditation (after The Seabird's Cry). "Creatures" are the ocean's "genes," he writes, and sheds light on the life that lives along the coast, among them the common prawn, "minuscule adventurers, at home in this world, with pitch-perfect neutral buoyancy, floating in their stillness neither up nor down" and whose limbs serve "different functions—manducatory, for chewing, ambulatory, for walking, natatory, for swimming." There's a fascinating section on "the dramas of crab life," as Nicolson baits the creatures with bacon and watches males "fight hard over access to females." A chapter on vibrant, many-colored anemones references a young T.S. Eliot, whose family spent summers near Gloucester, Mass., where the poet saw "a sea anemone for the first time," an event that influenced Eliot's writing, Nicolson suggests. The author's wonder is infectious, and he makes a convincing case that to better understand the sea, people must pay more attention: "Go to the rocks and the living will say hello." As poetic as it is enlightening, this is tough to put down. Illus.