A grand, fluid dive into the exploration of ‘Tides’

“Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean” offers a grand mix of science history, ocean lore and literary travel writing. Author Jonathan White will make an appearance at the University Lutheran Church on Sept. 12.

“Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean”

by Jonathan White

Trinity University Press, 335 pp., $28

At Shark Reef Sanctuary in Washington state’s San Juan Islands, you can hear the rapids before you see them. But it’s not a river that’s singing out. It’s the turning tide between Lopez and San Juan Island.

Writer and marine conservationist Jonathan White lives in the San Juans and for years has sailed the Inside Passage between Puget Sound and Southeast Alaska. He has navigated whitewater extremes of tidal activity, but it was only after being stranded by a 14-foot tide on a mud flat near Sitka that he was spurred to investigate the forces behind tidal activity more closely.

“I thought I’d find my answer in a book or two,” he writes, “but the more I read, the more complex and mysterious and poetic the subject became.”

Author appearance

Jonathan White

The author will appear at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, University Lutheran Church, 1604 N.E. 50th St., Seattle; $5 (206-652-4255 or townhallseattle.org).

The results of his research are marvelous.

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“Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean” offers a grand mix of science history, ocean lore and literary travel writing. It transports you to Venice, Mont St. Michel and the Bay of Fundy with their unusual tidal situations. It also ventures to less obvious locales, including Ungava Bay in the Arctic where, at low tide in winter, you can poke around the ice shelf to gather mussels.

Along the way, White fills you in on various cultures’ ancient myths about the tides and the gradual discovery by scientists of what triggers tides’ rise and fall. He makes gnarly subtleties lucid, and his writing can be gorgeous as he takes us from the long-held belief in tides as evidence of a living, breathing Earth (as Plato and Leonardo da Vinci thought) to the realization that they had something to do with the monthly phases of the moon.

The shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric vision of the solar system in the 16th century cast an increasingly complicated light on the workings of the tides. Sir Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking “idealized tide model” stemmed from his…

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