Tag Archives: Environment

Seven Tenths: The Sea and Its Tresholds by James Hamilton-Patterson

Seven Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds

by James Hamilton-Patterson

Europa Editions, New York,  2009

Borrowed from the library.

I first read James Hamilton-Patterson in Granta, one of my few literary indulgences.   It was years ago, an article about the sea and it stayed with me.  When I saw this book on the “New Book” shelf at the library I had to grab it.  Since reading it I have purchased my own copy.

First published in 1992, Seven Tenths is a survey of the ocean world written by someone who treasures it and who has spent years exploring its depths.   Beautifully written, it is a  mix of poetry and science, fact and myth, filled with superb imagery.

It was whale song which mariners heard filtering through their vessels’ resonant wooden hulls and which they took for Sirens’ voices, beckoning them to disaster..  To have lain in one’s bunk at night and heard on the other side of a few inches of oak and copper sheathing those directionless, distanceless cries must have been to feel the chill of utter melancholy and dissolution–also to have felt one’s nakedness.  This is the effect of listening to reef sounds at night, too.  It is more that just the nakedness of wearing next to nothing, and it is more than vulnerability.  It is the sensation of animal messages passing through one as if, being seven-tenths water, one’s body were transparent.  From page 138.

Broken into sections, it speaks of  measurement and control, mysterious islands, unknown boundaries and the deep.  Each section contains stories of our misconceptions about the oceans,  about our fears and our need to understand the unknowable.  It is filled with unusual facts and the interesting people who work on and under the sea.   Hamilton-Patterson writes with joyous excitement and great love.

That night I go to bed with my head full of marvels.  In the course of the evening I also learned that the sea levels at either end of the Panama Canal are different by nearly half a meter, and the same went for the sea on either side of the Florida Peninsula.  This was caused by such things as the heaping effect of the wind and the Coriolis force.  But I am most captivated by the idea of the earth’s crust vibrating at an ascertainable frequency since it could theoretically be possible to calculate the precise note.  True, it probably would not be a pure tone because there would be all sorts of harmonic interference from irregularities such as mountain ranges.  Yet, it ought to be possible to determine the fundamental note of the planet, the music of our spheroid.  From page 33.

I have never seen phosphorescence as bright as on that night.  Leaning over the edge of the bangka I could follow every move of the searchers below.  Only, the whirligigs of sparks, the flashings and showers of cold fire were at depths which could not be determined.  Just as the glints and refractions in the best opals can appear deeper than the thickness of the stone itself or else closer than its surface, so the divers movements excited discharges of light which were either a few feet away or in a universe beyond.  It was vertiginous to gaze down because the view was more what one normally expected to see overhead.  On nights as dark as that, it is always hard to define the horizon, to separate black sky from black sea.  From page 325.

All of these sections are bound together by the description of a swimmer lost at sea.  This description expresses the feelings of fear, loss, loneliness and wonder felt by a person floating in the middle of the ocean.

I found myself awestruck reading about our historic misunderstanding of the sea’s great depths, and our desire to make sense of it.  The very human need to mark and measure, to claim some mastery, and if we couldn’t master it to at least have some semblance of control.  I could go on quoting passages of fine text for pages and pages.

Hamilton-Patterson has written a meditation on the sea, and a warning to all those who seek economic and political gain from these waters.  There are descriptions of the mapping of Economic Enterprise Zones around islands and continents, the destruction of a small Indonesian island for the enjoyment of wealthy tourists and the rampant overfishing by factory trawlers.  This is a study of  human effects and, in this time of oil spills and acidification, I am glad that Europa has chosen to republish it.


Filed under Earth, IYOBChallenge, Ocean, Review, Science, Science Books 2010

Finding Beauty In A Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams


Pantheon Books, New York, 2008

First of all,  I need to say that Terry Tempest Williams is a hero of mine.  I have felt that way since reading  Refuge and that admiration doubled after she wrote The Open Space of Democracy, published by The Orion Society.  I find her writing lyrical, beautiful and filled with strength.

When I first started reading Finding Beauty in a Broken World I was not sure where it was going.  What was the author doing in Ravenna,Italy,  learning an ancient art form?  I found I wasn’t letting myself really take in what Williams was saying.  I had to stop and start over, bringing the attention to the words that Williams asks of her readers.  Then I got it and had to take it in like a cool drink after a long, hot hike.

Mosaics are made of things that are beautiful and broken, much like human beings.    Williams creates a mosaic of words, bringing together disparate ideas, her travels to Italy, the fragility of a Prairie Dog populations and the struggles Rawanda faces after genocide.  There is much sadness and suffering here and yet, through the work of human hands, the same hands that are so capable of destruction, something lovely is built and healing can begin.

The author shows us stories from her own life, tells of her own fear, her own breaking apart through personal and national loss.  It is a beautiful, difficult book and. in the end, miraculous.

“We cannot understand social problems without looking at historical roots.  It is impossible to change society without changing the societal stories.  We must listen to the stories being told on the ground by those who have survived the abuses of power, those who bear witness and embody the resiliency of the human spirit.  And resiliency is what I see in Rawanda.” from page 285

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Filed under Culture, Nonfiction, Review

Weekly Geeks – Passions – 1/30/09


This mini challenge found here.

This week’s Weekly Geek is inspired by Dewey’s Knit-a-Long, a mini challenge of Dewey’s Reading Challenge. Dewey had other passions besides reading and blogging. Knitting was one of them. This made me think, what are the Weekly Geek’s other passions?

#1. What are you passionate about besides reading and blogging? For example, are you crafty (knitting, woodworking, scrapbooking, model building)? Do you cook? Into gaming (computer or board)? Sports (player or spectator)? Photography? Maybe you like geocaching, rock climbing? Or love attending events like renaissance fairs, concerts? Music? Dancing? You get the idea.

Tell us why you’re passionate about it. Post photos of what you’ve made or of yourself doing whatever it is you love doing.

When I first read this mini-challenge I thought about several things that I like to do.  Gardening, art (mostly playing around with watercolors), learning new recipes.  None of these things struck a cord so I figured I’d wait or skip this one.  It was late so I read for a while and fell asleep.  I woke up early, my mind going a zillion miles an hour, thinking about what I love.

The beach at Shilshole

The beach at Shilshole

All my life the place where I live has been extremely important to me.  By place meaning I mean the actual place, the land, the natural environment. I am very lucky. I live in Seattle and we are blessed with a huge body of water known as the Puget Sound.  Years ago a dear friend told me about a volunteer program she helps organize.  It’s called the Volunteer Beach Naturalist Program and it’s run by King County, The Seattle Aquarium and several other agencies.My friend dragged me to a meeting and I was hooked.  For several weeks during spring and summer volunteers staff 7 beaches on Puget Sound and talk to the public about the beaches and the animals that live there. I get out to the beach and talk to people about the place where I live.  I am, by nature, a hermit, so this is very good for me.  It hones my social skills.  I believe if I can convince one person to stop using chemical fertilizer on their lawn or take their car to a car wash instead of washing it in the street I have done some good.

This summer will be my eighth year with this program and every year I learn something new.

Ocre Seastar

Ochre Seastar

Moonglow Anemone

Moonglow Anemone

I know the animals that live along the tide line, the fish that live in the near shore, the importance of the near shore and beaches for our salmon.

I know about our local Orca pods and am slowly learning about the birds of Seattle.  When I travel I make sure to visit beaches or parks or nature centers, to stay connected to where I am.  This program is one of the things that keeps me sane.

L pod

L pod

#2. Get us involved. Link to tutorials, recipes, Youtube videos, websites, fan sites, etc, anything that will help us learn more about your interest or how to do your hobby. Maybe you’d like to link to another hobbyist whose work you admire or tell us about a book or magazine related to your interest.

Inlets in Puget Sound

Inlets in Puget Sound

If you love where you live, get involved.  Most communities, even very  small ones, have local environmental programs that need volunteers.  Check out local parks, museums, schools.  If being out side and maybe getting wet or mucky is not your thing how about a local history museum, art museum or food bank.  Do not feel intimidated by your lack of knowledge, the volunteer programs will give you what you need and are grateful for your help.

There are guide books written about many things that can you help out , Beach Naturalists  rely on several when we’re on the beach.



#3. Visit other Weekly Geeks. Link in your post to other Geeks who’ve peaked your interest in their passion. Or maybe you might find a fellow afincionado among us, link to them.

What wonderful posts!  I could get lost in them for hours.  I love the music Nymeth wrote about and Ali’s playlist.  Claire posted some great art, hope we get to see some of her own work sometime.  More art at The Dark, creepy thought, watch out for sharp objects!  There are so many others, just go here and go through the list! Oh, and I love Lydia’s pups!


Filed under Weekly Geeks