Friday, August 29, 2014

Book Review: Deep Blue Home

Julia Whitty
Houghton Mifflin, NY 2010 (link above is to a 2011 edition)

Whitty, a writer and environmentalist, gives us a book worthy of its title. She is a wonderful writer – while we have many good nature/science writers (Angier, Safina, et. al.), Whitty and Diane Ackerman are in a class by themselves when it comes to vivid descriptions and marvelous you-are-there evocations of time and place.

Writing in the first person, Whitty begins by taking us back to 1984 and to Isla Rasa in the Sea of Cortez, a global center of seabird nesting and an example of difficult but successful conservation efforts. Later trips venture into the Pacific, the north Atlantic, and even the high desert of Mexico (the one sequence that failed to hold my interest).

Whitty has a lot to tell us about the creatures of the great waters. Did you know hermit crabs are the basis for a moving community of other invertebrates totaling over 500 species? Or that some Pacific rockfish of the genus Sebastes live over 200 years, a span more than doubled by the quahog Artica islandia?

But it is the language that stays with this reader the most. Hordes of spawning capelin at the Newfoundland shore are “turning the waves into polished silver purses that roll ashore and spill their wriggling treasure onto the beach.”    (Two males clamp onto every female.)  At a cold seep off Oregon called Hydrate Ridge, “the mud on the bottom of the sea is more alive than dead” with an amazing density of invertebrates. Working on a marine research ship, she learns that calling a specimen “interesting” is a cautious yet excited way of saying “possible new species.”

Whitty deals with rough waters, drunken sailors, and a sperm whale that comes right at her while she’s swimming until she has to look up and down to see the whole head, and she thinks for a moment he’s going to crush her before he slips gracefully beneath. Along the way, she shows us not just marine creatures but the people who depend on them and the threats that we have to fight against.

Deep Blue Home is a voyage home, and you’ll enjoy the journey.

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