Review by Bill Meyers
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There are many books about the seashore, including some nice guides to Pacific Coast shells and invertebrates. But if you are seriously interested in our tidal pools and intertidal life, it's time to pick up a copy of Between Pacific Tides. I had heard quite a bit about the book, and then saw it for sale at Gualala Books. It turns out to be as wonderful as advertised. It was originally published in 1939, with Ed Ricketts and Jack Calvin listed as authors. John Steinbeck did a foreword to the 1948 edition, which is included in the current edition. Those familiar with Steinbeck lore know that Ed Ricketts was the model for Steinbeck's fictional Doc in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. Like Ed Ricketts, Doc ran a biological supply house in Monterey. But Doc appears to be a satire of Ed Ricketts the man. In Sweet Thursday Doc struggles to write a single paper on octopi. Between Pacific Tides is a major scientific and literary work, sharing a lifetime of observation and insight.
For the most part the book is not set up to make it easy to identify specimens. Instead it has an ecological organization. The first section deals with rocky shores, of which we have plenty to explore on the north California coast. It begins at the top of the shore ecosystem, where the salt water animals and plants may be exposed to salt water spray only at the year's highest tides. As you descend into this zone you can find snails, limpets, and barnacles. These animals have an amazing ability to survive in the hot sun between high tides. An interesting associate that I learned about from the book was a pinhead-sized bright red crustacean Tigriopus Californicus. On my first trip to the shore after reading about this creature, while looking at a rock crab, I noticed some of these tiny creatures. It is tempting to go on and on. The book is filled with fascinating details of the feeding habits, sex lives, and brooding habits of our sea denizens. And yet, and at well over 600 pages, it is admittedly far from complete. A range of species, or even genera, must often be represented by a single type.
This ecosystem, which at first looks so simple, is in fact so complicated that in many ways it remains sparsely documented. All of the creatures have associates and parasites; if you want to discover and name a new species, the California seashore is still a good place to look. However, even in 1939 the seashore was being devastated by collectors. One person picking up a starfish might seem to do little harm, but our coast is visited by millions of people every year. Many once common species are now difficult or impossible to find. So when you do go to the beach or tidal pools, please respect them. It is illegal to collect any living creature without a license. Take no souvenirs; not even dead shells. Take pictures, or memories, instead. You can see many creatures any day as soon as the tide ebbs off its peak, and of course at ordinary low tides. The holy grail of tide pool fans, of course, is the monthly and seasonal low tides, when we glimpse something more akin to the ocean bottom than to the ordinary intertidal zone. These tides occur when the sun and moon are in conjunction. Check your tide tables for other "negative" tides.
Stanford University Press, paperback, $22.50
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