Life Between the Tides

Life Between the Tides coverLife Between the Tides
Adam Nicolson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 22, 2022), 373 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $27.00

I have known about tide pools since I was in elementary school. They showed up in films we watched in class, in books, and probably on television. But growing up in Southern California there are few places where a youngster can experience a tide pool. It was only as an adult that I got to see tide pools up close when I visited Anchor Bay on the Northern California coast. I loved having the opportunity to wander among the tide pools and observe the sea creatures. (And I did bring home a starfish on more than one occasion.)

Loren Eiseley wrote about life in nature and about starfish. I suppose I was looking for a Loren Eiseley-esque experience in reading this book, and I suppose I should have read the description of the book more carefully. Though there were some Eiseley moments, that really isn’t what the book is about.

Nicolson, who is known more for writing about human history than about natural history, owns property on the coast of Scotland and got permission from the appropriate authorities to dig tide pools where none were before. He writes about the prawns he found in his tide pool and discusses how prawns cope with threats. He then discusses the crabs he found and delves in detail into the mating habits of crabs. There’s some real crab porn here.

From here he reviews the work of a naturalist named Robert Treat Paine III. This is of interest because Robert Paine is a descendant of Thomas Paine of Revolutionary War fame. Another scientist, Thomas O. Paine was also a descendant of the original Thomas Paine and was administrator of NASA when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. I mention this because I shared an apartment with his son George during my Claremont cockroach days after graduating from Pitzer College. But I digress.

Nicholson discusses Robert Paine’s work in demonstrating the huge effect removing a single species has on the ecology of a tidal environment. From here Nicholson goes on to discuss geology, then folklore, then philosophy. He ends the book by describing digging a final tidepool.

There were some interesting passages in Life Between the Tides, but it was not the book I was hoping to read.

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