As Nicolson observes his companions, his relationships evolve. As soon as, he’d skilled prawns as “meaningless bits of candy meat” slathered in mayonnaise. Beholding the beautiful type of a reside shrimp, nonetheless, he’s awed by its “unseen genius,” its life wondrous as his personal. Such pure kinships, he writes, deflate “the primacy of the self” and “permit the opposite a legitimate and vivid place in your thoughts.”
The notion of dredging huge truths from small swimming pools isn’t novel; Steinbeck urged readers “to look from the tide pool to the celebrities after which again to the tide pool once more.” However few writers have executed it with Nicolson’s discursive erudition. He introduces a litany of scientists who’ve sought universality in tide swimming pools, these accessible, self-contained aquariums. Darwin seems, in addition to Descartes, Newton and Galileo, who mistakenly believed that tides sloshed across the planet like bilge water. Most memorable, moreover Paine and his sea stars, is John Vaughan Thompson, biology’s “nice hidden hero,” who proved that crustaceans had larval levels, solely to be mocked by friends. Bankrupted by his research, he decamped to Australia to work at a penal colony. Genius isn’t appreciated in its time, even when its preoccupation is crab metamorphosis.
In his last act, Nicolson turns to the Scottish coast’s human denizens. For millenniums, the shore impressed mythology, supplied “famine meals” when crops failed, and facilitated blood sacrifice and corpse disposal. Homo sapiens belong to the intertidal as a lot as any mollusk does: “We endure and wrestle like the opposite animals, battle and dominate, threaten and show, make alliances, set up our hierarchies.” In free-diving into human historical past, nonetheless, he abandons his swimming pools, unmooring the reader barely in time and house.
Nicolson’s at his greatest when he’s targeted on his valuable littoral world. Right here, even rocks have tales: They fashioned 200 million years in the past, when volcanoes pumped out a lot carbon dioxide that they boiled the earth, acidified oceans and triggered mass extinction — occasions harking back to human-caused world warming. “An acid sea is hostile to the life-forms we have now cherished to seek out in it,” Nicolson warns. As our planet cooks, tide swimming pools will proceed to furnish microcosms, though we could also be appalled by what they present us.