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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"How to Read Water" (Tristan Gooley)

TITLE: How to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea
AUTHOR: Tristan Gooley
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: The Experiment, 2016, (368 pages).

Water is everywhere around us. They are visible in the clouds and the rains; the rivers and the streams; the lakes and the oceans. We use it to hydrate our gardens; to cook our meals; to wash our premises; and many other aspects of life. Just as water has many uses, if we take the time to consider what we are looking for, water can be interpreted in both philosophical as well as practical ways. Rather than to reduce it to the level of meaning only according to the eyes of the beholder, the author believes that with wisdom and intuition, there is more to water than the physical images that meet the eye. Several things move Tristan Gooley on her quest for discovering the meaning of water. First, knowing how to read the clues in puddles and streams can give us a good idea of what it happening underneath them. Second, it is easier to learn about water when our feet is on firm ground. Third, reading water is a unique navigational skill. Four, there is a mystery about water that can deepen the wonder and appreciation of this precious resource.

This book is essentially like the "third eye" to help us see beyond what we normally see with our natural eyes. We learn to water is rarely flat as its edges have a shape of a meniscus. There is a stickiness of water, a surface tension, and its changing properties when mixed with various ingredients. The author teaches us how to observe not only the main subject but also the contexts and the surroundings. Even by looking at a small pond, one can see the great Pacific Ocean in the midst, which is an amazing feat in itself. With the stone and the ripples, Gooley teaches us to observe the five different types of water waves. There is the 'open water' which is the main part of the pond. There is the 'ripple shadow' in which ripples cannot reach. There is the 'echoing wave' when the ripples hit the stones; and different patches of water that create their own unique patterns. We learn that even on land, one can find sources of water in the most parched places. By observing the presence (and absence) of native peoples, one can find traces and clues to the presence of water. Even pilots use the presence of water as a guide in their aerial navigation. Puddles are signs of blockage. Rivers and streams can be subdivided into different stages. The presence of algae and mosses can tell us about the different light levels happening to that section over time.  As mosses can only grow on stable places, it gives us an idea of how long the stones had remained stationary. Water flows faster in the middle than on the sides. The waters near the banks are slowed down by the shallow banks and the other impediments. Readers will know that the way to paddle deep is always toward the middle of the river. The colour of the sea waters is a chance for us to consider whether it is the reflection, the shallow or deeper parts of the ocean, or simply a mirage. It is also dependent on the place we are looking from. The same spot may contain different colours because of reflections and refraction effects of light. Sometimes, the presence of algae will dramatically change the colour of the sea. These and many more form a very fascinating book on something as simple as water.

Tristan Gooley calls himself a "natural navigator." He started a natural navigation school in 2008 and leads groups on nature expeditions. Besides water, he is also able to recognize a lot of other nature signs and elements. You can watch him on YouTube here to get an idea of his astute observation and interpretation skills. His conviction is that we will always be able to navigate our way through natural places, as long as we know how to read the clues and signs of nature. Let me offer three thoughts about this book.

First, I am deeply impressed by the observation skills and many insights provided by the author. It is a powerful way to learn about nature and about the natural behaviour of water. Every page flows with precise descriptions of not just water, but the environments which the water interacts with. Using his own navigational experience, Gooley is able to observe the finer details and to draw intelligent conclusions from it. By showing us rather than just telling us, readers can learn quite quickly. Even a small puddle of water that does not normally mean anything contains treasures of information waiting to be uncovered. All it takes is a keen eye and an observant mind. It also requires patience. Sometimes, I feel that one learns to notice only after one knows what to look for. From general things to the specifics, one hones into key pieces of information based on a seemingly mundane clue.

Second, we need more of such books to remind us what we are naturally capable of. In an age where we depend so much on modern technology like GPSes, cell-phones, compasses, flash-lights, sophisticated test machines, and so on, we seem to have rested our natural abilities to observe and to learn of nature. Without exercising our natural senses, we will lose it. Just as the saying goes, "use it or lose it." So is the use of our five human senses. Gooley shows us how the observations and interpretations of water can be opportunities to put to use our instincts, our sensory abilities, and to learn in a way no technology can ever do us. Unfortunately, we have allowed technology to usurp the opportunities for our natural learning. For instance, the use of taste about whether a beaker of water is more acidic or alkaline has largely been delegated to the PH machines or the humble litmus paper.

Third, this book is the perfect guide for anyone intending to take a long nature walk or a hike through forests and mountainous terrains. In the absence of an actual personal human guide, this book can double up as a way to hone our observation skills as well as to sharpen our natural instincts. It can even be a survival guide as we venture into the outback country. From science to history, natural formation to changes in weather patterns, coastal areas, streams and rivers to the large oceans, water is everywhere. Just to think of water occupying 70% of the earth, it is a pity that we tend to notice less of water until we thirst for it or need it in some way. Like the recognition of the importance of water conservation when water ration measures kick in, sometimes, it takes a crisis to make us more aware of the importance of fresh water. Perhaps, this book is that kicker, to wake us up from taking mere water for granted. Water is essential for survival. Gooley has shown us that there is more to water than meets the eye.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of The Experiment and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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