Monday, July 5, 2010

Book Review – Deep Blue Home

The new title “Deep Blue Home – An Intimate Ecology of Out Wild Ocean” by Julia Whitty (2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a welcome new entry for the field of environmental science. Written in a methodical yet somewhat lyrical style that makes the book a surprising page-turner, Whitty proves herself worthy of attention. With her thirty-year career as a documentary filmmaker, she not only talks the talk, but also is truly in the game – Whitty writes about three prodigious adventures taken in the name of naturalism – her time on a small island in the Gulf of Mexico, a sojourn to Newfoundland, and a journey to a remote corner of Baja California. Any one of these treks could consume the wanderlust of a mere mortal, but Whitty is of another strata.

In Part I she describes her time spent with two female companions alone on a small island in the Gulf of Mexico in 1980 studying nature’s secrets while undergoing some serious hardships you might expect in such a remote environ. Imagine an extended stay on tiny Isla Rasa (28 degrees 49’N, 112 degrees 59’W), a three hour boat ride from the nearest remote fishing village on the Baja Peninsula.

Part II finds Whitty aboard a small sailboat “Ceres” in Cape Saint Mary, Newfoundland to film a population of 10,000 breeding gannets and a multitude of other local fauna. Her illustrative prose makes you feel the cold wind at your face.

The book examines an inordinate number of species, many of which are cross referenced with their endangered status. This feature uniquely expresses the enormity of the prolonged effects of pollution and environmental damage upon indigenous species around the world, especially in the context of the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Many life science terms used in the book are annotated with their Latin roots, a nice touch.

I found Whitty’s intensely descriptive writing style to be both uplifting and fresh. Here’s a sample passage that is typical of Deep Blue Home [warning: you might need a dictionary on hand for this book].
A hard wind blows from the north. We list in our saddles, compensating. Much is in flight on the wind: the petals of orange poppies, bumblebees bouncing between the refugia of yellow cactus flowers, butterflies. We have no shelter, except in the haven of observation and in our leisurely pace – time enough to witness the ways the long eons have worn the youth from this landscape, worked it bones through at the joints, labored its muscles to sinew.
Part III takes place in the high desert mountains of Baja California’s remote Sierra de San Francisco. Whitty describes her excursion with guide Juan Carlos atop burros to explore the hundreds of “rockshelter” caves in the area. I found her narrative of the indigenous cave art, some of which is as old as 5,000 years, intriguing. I was excited to learn of one particular painting that depicted a “childlike sun” which turned out to be an account of the SN 1054, a supernova or “guest star” as Chinese astronomers called it. The remains of this core-colapse supernova are now called the Crab Nebula.

You might assume a book about natural settings of this extent would be loaded with photos of the author’s various destinations, but Deep Blue Home has none. I don’t see this as a negative however because Whitty’s verbal imagery is so vivid the book conjures up more than ample imagination from the reader.

I enjoyed Deep Blue Home for many of the same reasons I find other books of this genre so captivating. The stark images of pristine natural beauty coupled with the author’s instinctive ability to paint vibrant pictures with words are a winning combination. Deep Blue Home is a great choice for your summer reading list.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Physics Groupie, thanks for the review! I'm particularly glad to hear you liked the supernova rock art, since I wondered at times if that wasn't a little too far afield for a book about oceans. As for photos, you might like my blog, kinda picks up where the book left off: http://deepbluehome.blogspot.com/

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  2. Hi Julia! I love your books and so does my whole family. Thank U.

    Jeannie W. (Seattle, WA)

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  3. Thanks, Jeannie. Hopefully you'll come and here me read from the new book at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle on Wednesday, July 21 at 7pm!

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