Book Club: ‘How To Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea’

In this absolute must-have for all walkers, sailors, swimmers, divers, photographers, and nature lovers, Natural Navigator Tristan Gooley shares his knowledge and skills to help you navigate and interpret the water around you. Combining elements of natural navigation history, tips for observing the weather and behaviour of water bodies, and a personal narrative to encourage the reader to become an engaged noticer of the natural world, he unlocks the hidden secrets of water.

‘There’s so much here that I can’t do it justice; chapters on water at night; currents and tides; reading waves; the coast. This is an absolute gem of a book. A must have for anyone who loves the water.’ The Outdoor Swimming Society

From wild swimming in Sussex, through wayfinding in Oman, and navigating through the icy waters of the Arctic, Tristan Gooley draws on his own experiences to tell the stories of ponds, puddles, rivers, oceans, and lakes, imparting knowledge onto the reader so that he too can take steps towards understanding the stories water has to tell.

Although oceans and seas play a big role in the book, not every chapter focuses on these vast marine realms. Many parts of the book focus on puddles and what the movements within them can tell you about the surrounding landscape, as well as how the sun reflecting off a stream can represent an invaluable source of information. However, each of these water bodies has an indirect link to the oceans, and so contains clues as to how to transfer knowledge to marine environments. By learning to read a ‘ripple map’ of swell patterns around water lilies in a pond, you will also be able to read analogous swells that form around islands in the middle of the ocean.

Water, written by Gooley, becomes a rich and diverse source of meanings, signs, and clues. And we can all learn from it. Upon finishing this revelation of a book, we may not be able to forecast tide heights (scientists have identified 365 factors that determine this), but by the end, you may be able to establish with decent accuracy the nutrient value and acidity level of your local lake and river. In our time of technological convenience and electronic capability, taking a step back to bygone cultures and skills, and learning from our animal cousins to discover our landscape using natural clues, becomes extraordinarily refreshing. Reading water can be viewed as a dying art movement within the natural navigation practice, and this book, as well as Gooley’s expertise and guidance, revives it. Through recounting first-hand experiences and a knowledgeable tone, the natural navigator leads the reader through this most organic and intrinsic process. And that is something we all need in an age of complete disconnectedness from nature and our roots.

Marshall Islanders are ancient masters of natural navigation and following water’s cues

To complement Gooley’s evocative language, the book contains 30 colour photos that help the reader visualise the different ways in which water behaves, the patterns it forms, and the stories it tells. A big highlight is also a reference to ancient Marshall Islanders whose primal navigational techniques constitute the core of Gooley’s methods. The Marshallese were capable of finding any island just by the feel of waves against their canoes, through the sun’s position, by the feeding positions of certain marine animals, and by following the all-important ripple maps. In our time of online, self-updating maps and precise GPS systems, this is practically inconceivable.

All in all, this book introduces the reader to inspirational water readers, be they sea-faring Vikings, fly-fishermen, or Polynesian navigators. And the message is clear: increased knowledge about how to read and understand water only augments the awe we hold for the various water ecosystems on our planet. Finding out how water interacts with light and sound, how it provides for its inhabitants, shapes the wider climate, and stimulates the senses, only ratifies the remarkability of water. After reading this book, you will never regard a puddle as an inconvenience again, and you will instead smile at the stories and meanings it holds and imparts to you.

This review is the twentieth in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.

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