by Rachel Carson
I have a few of Rachel Carson\’s early works, books about oceanic life in all its minutiae. The other one come to mind now is The Edge of the Sea, which describes the creatures that live on the margins of sea and land. If I remember correctly, that book is kind of a list of descriptions. This one is more narrative in style. It details the life cycle of several animals that live in or near the ocean. First a shorebird called the skimmer, and alongside the story of his migrations and search for food are the lives of other birds and animals he encounters, but the landscape is really a key feature here. The rolling hills and seagrass, the wind and the tides and the sand flats. Crabs that scuttle along the shoreline. Creatures that shelter in the seaweed.
The second section is about the life of a mackerel fish, from egg to spawning adult. This is more focused on the one fish, although it still describes the movements and habits of other creatures that share the environment. The life of the fish is one of chance- he narrowly escapes being eaten many many many times before growing large enough to maneuver and avoid dangers and seek safe areas. Descriptions of how fishing nets are set and the activities of the fishing boats- it sounds destructive, how many fish are caught and how many thrown out and how many small lives blindly destroyed, but really I think it is nothing compared to the waste that happens in later decades.
Last of all is the life of an eel- from its origins in the ocean, travels upstream to a creek, development and growth into an adult eel, and then the journey back to the sea decades later. I think I liked this narrative, and that of the fish, the best. Reminded me a lot of Eels in its descriptions of where eels go and how they live. But there are so many other creatures in this book: starfish and octopus and tuna and dolphins and lobsters and barnacles and sand fleas and on and on. The movement of water, the pressure of tides, changes in salinity or light or temperature and how the fish and other animals respond to that, how they feel it. There were some things Carson could not explain that I know a little more about- what fish use their lateral line for, is one example- but this book really does not feel dated. It is impressive how clearly she describes the interwoven lives and activities of so many different animals in the ocean. It encompasses so much. In some ways very like Watchers at the Pond, or Sally Carrighar\’s books One Day on Beetle Rock, One Day at Teton Marsh, Icebound Summer…
Rating: 3/5 314 pages, 1941