Saturday, December 20, 2008

Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains by Barbara Hurd

I enjoyed Barbara Hurd's collection of essays Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Imagination so well that I read it twice. Her new collection Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains is just as good. Hurd takes readers with her to beaches around the world, not for idle recreation, but to see what washes up from the sea. The "wrack line" is the high water mark, the top of the tide, where driftwood, shells, jellyfish, kelp, and garbage are deposited. Hurd always finds something interesting there. What's more, she then always learns something interesting about herself.

Hurd is very quotable. I noted several passages to reread. In "Lime Sea Glass: Transformations," she tells about debris near a long time garbage dump in California. For many decades in the middle of the 20th century, people threw old furniture, refrigerators, and lots of glass and pottery off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. The constant battering of the waves reduced the broken glass and pottery to pebbles of many colors that are still washing up on a nearby beach. Jewelry makers frequent the multicolor beach. To this, Hurd states the following:

We know now that what's discarded doesn't disappear and that what's in friction with the world - and what, including us, is not? - can be both shattered and smoothed.
In "Bottle and Feather: A Different Question," she finds a feather and contemplates the myth of Icarus flying too near the sun while thinking of her mother recovering from a heart attack. Because her mother can not visit the beach that she can see from her hospital bed in Florida, Hurd agrees to report what she finds. Like in a novel, she finds a bottle with a note inside. The paraffin that seals the bottle is unmovable, so the pair have to decide whether to break the beautiful emerald green bottle to read the note.

One more quote:

Never begin what you can't finish, my father once insisted. I was ten: we were standing over an outdoor rabbit pen I was trying to fashion out of chicken wire. Stumped by my inability to make the cage escape-proof, I nodded my head. But if he were alive now I'd want to ask him how can I ever tell what's finishable, what's not? How can I always know at the outsetthat this is something I can bring to completion or will have to give up on, discard in midform? Even as an adult, I'm drawn to so many things that I might never complete - writing a novel, playing a Bach partita, planting a garden of constant white blooms. And though I tend to keep my false starts and failed attempts private, I'm aware that to never begin such things would likely cause more angst than to leave them half undone.
Walking the Wrack Line is a difficult book to classify but easy to enjoy. I recommend it highly.

Hurd, Barbara. Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains. University of Georgia Press, 2008. ISBN 9780820331023

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