Monday, 7 October 2013

Review: Strands A year of Discoveries on the Beach by Jean Sprackland

 with the exception of one chapter I really, really enjoyed this book it was a really engaging, enveloping read. I loved the way she entwined nuggets of history, science, environmentalism, , folklore, and archaeology together with the descriptive pieces, I love the way she started with the immediate local environment and ecology beneath her feet and widened out to talk about the global and how those things were connected.

I learnt a lot about sea life, my favorite being the Sea Mouse and the Sea Potato  I also really liked her random nuggets of scientific knowledge such as:

 "You can keep a peacock feather for years and the blue will not fade; ... the reason for the longevity of these colours is that they are a sort of optical illusion, made up not of pigment but of photo-tonic crystal structures generated within scales on the...feather.The same phenomenon is responsible for the Sea Mouses fantastic skirt of rainbow hairs"

 The basic shape of the book is that Sprackland documents a year of walking on one particular stretch of beach and the things she finds there, that get washed up or uncovered by the sea, things such as dead sea creatures from seals to starfish, driftwood, china, a shipwreck, seven thousand year old footprints, enormous amounts of small bits of plastic, two messages in a bottle. She takes each item and weaves a net of knowledge around them, reflections on their place on the beach,in time, in her life, in the world

The chapter I didn't like was the one on Prozac and what that is doing to the ecosystem. I thing its important to know what it is doing to the ecosystem but I feel she ends up blaming depressed people themselves for the damage it does and minimizing depression. I've been on Prozac since i was seventeen and i can't function without it, I've tried several times but every time i stop taking it i come to a grinding halt. i just stop functioning. there are lots of things i am willing to give up for the environment but my sanity isn't one of them. and as i understand the chapter on Prozax isn't even entirely factual accurate. Sprackland  suggests strongly that all SSRI's contain Fluoxetine which is not true and she states that everybody who take Proxac looses their sex drive and is unable to fall in love, neither of which have been the case for me. She also seems to minimize depression by saying Proxac is "oversubscribed" Maybe it is, but also maybe we live in a world that damages so many people and pushes them in to unnatural  shapes and that's why they end up depressed.

Sprackland is a poet and she has a poets understanding that the sea while being a real concrete place is also a liminal place, a place of soft edges,blurred  boundaries, a place where stories are told and which humans are pulled to

Sprackland gently but persistently talks about the environmental damage that humans are doing to the sea and shorelines, about the connectedness of environment and how what  we do on the land effects the environment hundreds of miles out to sea. in her chapter on plastic that she finds at the beach she says:
 "The [North Pacific] Gyre has become home to something known as the Great Pacific Garbage  Patch, a gigantic stew of suspended plastic and other human debris.. estimates put the garbage patch at a hundred million tons, and it is aid by some observers to cover an area twice the size of Texas"

she  also talks about the damage this waste does to sea life, how they mistake small pieces of plastic for food and it ends up killing them. In another chapter she explains how seals often wash up upon beaches after having been fatally wounded by boat propellers, how half the know species of shark are now endangered

one of the interesting things was how she talked  about the history of food in relation to the sea , i am known to grumble frequently about how "poor people food" or things that people ate becuae they had to, has now become really expensive, gourmet food and she talks about that a couple of times

"its typical: as with Lava Bread so with Samphire, an ordinary wild food- something you can forage for, free of charge - falls almost completely into obscurity, and then is revived as an expensive menu item"p 87
 but she also points out that this is  not always a bad thing

"it is easy to be cynical about these reinventions. but perhaps something genuine and good is going on here: the rediscovery of the local, the home grown. A revived awareness of the richness all around us. A desire to know where things come from before they end up on our plates" p62

And I'd never really thought about that before, while it is true that while these items are only on the menu of gourmet restaurants only affluent people will be able to afford them, there is a pattern of "posh" food becoming more mainstream and mundane throughout society which may encourage people to start collecting this food themselves from the wild, which would be a really good thing, especially in the current economic climate

  I really liked the way  she went through the whole year, not just documenting the things she found on the beach but also describing the weather and the state of the sea.

There's a lot more in this book than I can even write about here but this book it's absolutely worth a read and it's definitely one to keep and dip in and out of.

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