Changing Tides

Changing Tides

3.6 6
by Michael Thomas Ford

View All Available Formats & Editions

Few authors write about the full spectrum of gay men's lives with as much warmth, honesty, humor, and compassion as Michael Thomas Ford. Now the bestselling author of Last Summer, Looking For It, and Full Circle, delivers a shimmering, heartwarming story of one summer in the lives of three people, of the elusive search for human connection-and the necessity of love.See more details below


Few authors write about the full spectrum of gay men's lives with as much warmth, honesty, humor, and compassion as Michael Thomas Ford. Now the bestselling author of Last Summer, Looking For It, and Full Circle, delivers a shimmering, heartwarming story of one summer in the lives of three people, of the elusive search for human connection-and the necessity of love.

Marine biologist Ben Ransome understands the sea, especially the tiny, beautiful sea slugs he has studied and admired for most of his life. What Ben doesn't understand are people, and now, one of the most important people in his life-his sixteen-year-old daughter, Caddie-is coming to live with him for the summer. But the sweet, happy child he remembers has been replaced by a wounded, angry stranger who resents everything about her father. Caddie is determined to act out in every way, leaving Ben feeling more alone than ever.

Hudson Jones has come to Monterey, California, to find the answers to all his questions. The young, ambitious graduate student believes he's found a lost John Steinbeck novel called Changing Tides that seems to hint at the author's love for his best friend, Ed "Doc" Ricketts. If he can prove it, his career will be made. And then, perhaps he can quiet the personal demons that haunt him. But first, he'll need some local help in his research, and Ben just may be able to supply him with access to the information he needs. It's clear to Hudson that the handsome, quietly passionate Ben needs some help, too-with Caddie and his life.

Sharing dinners and walks on the beach, intellectual discussions and heart-to-heart conversations, Ben and Hudson move from tentative friendship to a surprising, revelatory relationship, one with the power to point them toward the most important discoveries of their lives. For Ben, it's a summer of new beginnings, even as his daughter embarks on a dangerous course that will test the new happiness he's found.

Changing Tides is an extraordinary novel that explores the glorious flaws and frailties of human beings in the never-ending struggle to connect, to be open to love, and to embrace the unknown in order to live fully.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Ford (Full Circle; Last Summer) bridges the gap between gay romance and mainstream fiction in his latest. Ben Ransome, a 40-something marine biologist living modestly in Monterey, Calif., is anxious about his 16-year-old daughter's summer stay. It's been nine years since they've seen each other, and when Caddie arrives, she's a bit icy toward her wayward father. Ford explores vividly and honestly a teen girl's longing for love and a place in the world. He then furthers the theme of finding one's self when Ben meets Hudson, a Ph.D. candidate in town to investigate an unfinished Steinbeck manuscript. The men bond over stories of Steinbeck's Monterey and instantly become pals. As Caddie finds a man of her own and a heretofore straight Ben grapples with his feelings for Hudson, Ben also learns a few things about fatherhood. A deft sense of place and a handle on romance-both Ben's and Caddie's-that's neither sappy nor shallow will help set this one apart. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2007 Michael Thomas Ford
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-1059-3

Chapter One

As Ben Ransome descended through the water, he had the feeling, as he always did, that he was entering a cathedral. Float like an angel, he told himself. The words of his Open Water instructor passed through his thoughts as if he'd been certified only yesterday, instead of the twenty-odd years ago it had actually been.

Instinctively, he pushed the valve on the front of his drysuit and felt a puff of air enter. The suit eased its restrictive grip on his body, and his speed decreased slightly. Finning lightly so that he was horizontal, he looked down at the bottom, estimating that it was about twenty-five feet away. The visibility was fantastic, especially for early summer, when algae blooms often turned the water into a cloudy soup.

Today, though, he could see clearly the topography below him. On one large rock, a group of sea stars of various colors formed a constellation. To the right, a moon snail made its slow trek across the sand, leaving behind the peculiar egg case that resembled a piece of broken pottery. Tiny crabs, orange and red and brown, skittered in and out of cracks on their endless search for the bits of detritus upon which they feasted.

And all around him was the kelp. It was the kelp thatmade the place so special. It rose from the bottom in thick strands, reaching for the light. The fronds swayed lazily, rocked by the gentle current, and schools of dusky orange cigar-shaped señoritas darted through it like herds of silent jungle animals, hunted or being hunted, it was impossible to tell.

Descend like an angel, Ben thought again. An angel falling out of heaven. He disagreed with the last part of his instructor's description of the proper way to begin a dive. It wasn't falling out of heaven; it was falling into it. No place, he thought, was more beautiful than the world beneath the water.

As he neared the bottom, he added more air to his suit, until he was hovering less than two feet above the ocean floor. He looked at the dive computer strapped to his wrist. Twenty-nine feet. The vis was even better than he'd thought. Maintaining his position in the water, he looked up. The early morning sun streamed through the kelp, turning it a golden green. Kelp greenlings hovered in the shafts of light, and the sandy bottom was alive with shadows.

Ben set a heading on his compass and began to swim. He'd visited the site so many times, he didn't even need the compass to get where he wanted to go. Even in low vis he could find it simply by following familiar landmarks. But he was a creature of habit, and so he continued to wear and use the compass, despite the fact that he rarely looked at it.

He swam slowly, unhurried. He had time. He'd cleared his schedule for the day in anticipation of the event to come later in the afternoon. That particular appointment he wasn't as relaxed about, which is why he'd come to his favorite dive site. He needed time to prepare, to try and ready himself for what was certain to be, at best, a difficult encounter and, at worst, an unqualified disaster. It could go either way.

He pushed the troubling thoughts from his mind and concentrated on the world through which he moved. Swimming parallel to the ripples in the sand, he headed northeast, across the bottom of Whaler's Cove toward the sandstone-and-granite formation known as the Middle Reef. Neatly bisecting the cove, the reef stretched out into the Pacific to a depth of more than seventy feet. Its numerous crevasses and outcroppings provided protection for a host of undersea life, and it was there that Ben sought his treasure.

Reaching the reef, he turned north and headed into deeper water, keeping the rocks on his right-hand side. He kept his eyes trained on the changing terrain, alert for signs of his intended quarry. Ever watchful, he passed disinterestedly over the rockfish and sculpins that followed him with cautious eyes, although he paused briefly to observe a rose anemone devouring an unfortunate jelly that had drifted into its stinging grip. It was a routine act of underwater survival, yet the simple act of feeding was turned, somehow, into performance. The jelly's ravaged and impotent tentacles swirled around the anemone's translucent arms, each one tipped with the deepest pink, as they danced a brutal ballet. Dulled by poison, the jelly fluttered like a failing heart as it was pulled, inexorably, into what passed for the anemone's mouth.

At thirty-seven feet he spied a flash of yellow amidst the purple and black of the rocks, and stopped. Maintaining his position in the water column, he hovered almost motionlessly as he gazed upon the tiny creature before him. Less than three inches long, it resembled nothing so much as a slice of lemon peel, a scrap perhaps tossed over the side of a boat, a bit of refuse that had drifted down to settle, randomly, on the rock below. Closer up, however, it revealed itself to be something far more interesting than a bit of rind. Its surface was covered with hundreds of tiny bumps, and a line of black spots formed a trail that originated between two cone-shaped appendages on the animal's head and ran the length of its back, where it ended in a seven-branched spray of fernlike plumes.

As Ben observed his find, he thought, not without irritation, that its common designation-sea slug-did no justice whatsoever to the marvelousness of its design. The slug, moving nearly imperceptibly over the surface of the reef, presumably cared little about its name, but Ben was offended for it. He preferred its more noble, and accurate, classification of nudibranch, and liked even more its full proper name of Archidoris montereyenis, the Monterey dorid. He considered it the local representative of its genus, native to their very own Monterey Bay and therefore deserving of celebrity status.

The nudibranch, with admirable focus, was feeding. Although its outward appearance suggested a complete lack of activity, Ben knew that on its underside its ribbon of cartilaginous teeth was scraping away at the encrusting marine sponges that dotted the surface of the rock. From time to time, it revealed itself to be engaged by the furling and unfurling of its delicate branchial plume, like a flower blooming over and over again.

The creature was perfect in its design, which is why he had fallen in love with it, and with all its kind, upon their first meeting. Common to all of the world's oceans, the nudibranchs nonetheless remained objects of mystery. Although they were frequently photographed due to their uncommon beauty and their habit of remaining for a long time in one spot, making them excellent subjects, their lives were largely unrecorded. It was suspected that they contained within themselves numerous compounds with medical applications, only a few of which were even in the beginning stages of study. It was to unlocking their mysteries that Ben had devoted his life.

He left the yellow dorid to its feasting and continued on. Having found one nudibranch, he now saw that the rocks were speckled with them. Some were identical to the first, but there were others as well: the ghostly white Discodoris, phantom of the reefs; Dialula sandiegensis, spotted black like an undersea cow; tiny orange Rostanga. The various species existed side by side, each concerned only with locating and consuming its particular food source, few of which were shared. Ben had once counted seventeen distinct species on the reef in a single dive. It was believed that the waters of Whaler's Cove were home to more than thirty.

Among them, there was one with which Ben was enamored more than the others. He looked for it now. Unlike its kin, it was seldom so public in its appearances, preferring to remain tucked into less accessible places like a camera-shy starlet. Like Garbo. He had never seen one roaming freely on a rock; always they were discretely situated. But over time he had developed a knack for finding them, primarily by blocking out all other images from his mind so that only the one he sought registered on his vision.

It took him fifteen minutes of searching, and several false starts, before he located what he was after. When he found it, it was not on the rock but affixed to a piece of kelp that had somehow been removed from its stalk and now lay on the sandy bottom like a discarded length of ribbon. The nudibranch was moving across it, a bright spot of white against the dark green background. Having found its preferred food in the form of a scalelike sponge that barnacled the kelp leaf in dimesized patches, it was in no hurry to go elsewhere.

Less than an inch in length, the animal was milky in color, almost translucent; Ben could see the green of the kelp beneath it through the nudibranch's outer edges. The perimeter was lined in startling yellow, and a row of similarly colored spots ringed the creature's body. Its rhinophores, the hornlike structures at its anterior end, were pure black.

Cadlina flavomaculata-the yellow-spotted Cadlina-although in its case he broke from his preference for accurate scientific nomenclature and called it Devil Horns, a name of his own invention. It was his favorite, for reasons he found difficult to put into words. True, it was the first species he had found on his own, without a more experienced diver to point it out. But something about it enchanted him, its ethereal appearance and incongruous assemblage of multicolored parts. Perhaps its reticence to be observed.

Cadlina. Caddie. His joy faltered at the thought. Caddie. His daughter. Soon to arrive back in his life. He'd gone beneath the water to escape his fears over her imminent arrival. He realized now that it was a futile effort. How could he possibly forget the child named for the object of his fascination?

A shadow, larger than usual, floated slowly across the kelp leaf, eclipsing the tiny moon of the nudibranch. Turning his head, Ben looked up in time to watch as a leopard shark, its belly a pale, luminous silver, passed a dozen feet above him. Although not at all uncommon to the waters of Monterey, a sighting of the shark was not something to pass off as an everyday occurrence. The creatures were timid, easily startled, and particularly leery of the bubbles produced by divers.

For this reason, Ben slowed his breathing, wanting to prolong the shark's visit for as long as possible. Perhaps sensing this, it turned and circled back, providing him a glimpse of its slitted gold-brown eyes. He saw then that there were two others accompanying it. The three companions moved in unison, their powerful tails snaking from side to side, their gills fluttering. Smaller fish moved away as the larger predators pressed, disinterested, through their midst, coming together again in the safety of schools once the danger had passed.

As the dark-spotted sharks turned once more and headed for open ocean, Ben gave a contented sigh, releasing the air he had been holding in his lungs and sending a net of bubbles surfaceward. Perhaps, he thought, the sharks were an omen of good luck. He hoped so. He knew he would need all the luck he could get.

When he looked back to the kelp blade, he found that the nudibranch was in the process of laying eggs. It had secreted a small ribbon of them, the beginning of what would become a spiraling wreath containing thousands. Exhibiting the same lack of urgency it applied to all of its activities, the nudibranch seemed fully prepared to continue its work for as many hours as it took.

Ben left it to its endeavors and turned back toward shallower water. Although he had enough air left in his tanks to allow him another half hour, he sensed the protective magic of the cove fading. His calm had been disturbed by the thoughts of Caddie, and he knew it was futile to try and banish the memories now that they had surfaced.

He swam back in more quickly than he had gone out, following the channel that ran down the center of the cove. As he wound his way through the kelp stalks, he noted the changes in landscape, the transition from rock to sand, the thinning of the kelp forest into more open spaces. Sand dollars, martialed in rows like silent soldiers, dutifully faced the current, while elsewhere nervous shrimp peered out from beneath protective ledges.

As his depth decreased, he released air from both his suit and his buoyancy control vest to offset the change in pressure. He attempted to remain submerged for as long as possible, until, at six feet, he found it impossible to stay down. Only then did his head break the surface, returning him to the world above.

He had made it almost all the way in. The boat ramp that provided access to the water was less than ten yards away. He swam to it and floated on his back as he removed first one fin and then the other. Then, standing, he walked slowly up the mossy ramp, sometimes using the rocks to balance himself as a small wave washed over the concrete. He'd slipped on it enough times to know that it could be treacherous, and the last thing he needed was a trip to the emergency room. He could hear Carol now, accusing him of doing it on purpose for some unspecified, but implied, selfish reason. He hoped Caddie had not inherited her mother's talent for finding malice where none existed.

Only when he was safely at the top of the ramp did he remove his mask and allow the regulator to fall from his mouth. A safe diver is a diver who comes back to dive another day, he told himself. Another ridiculous mantra drummed into his head all those years ago by his instructor. More junk from the old attic.

His old Volvo was parked in the lot, which was quickly filling up with cars. With only fifteen teams of divers allowed into the Pt. Lobos Reserve per day, competition was fierce for reservations, especially in the summer. As Ben walked toward his aging station wagon, he saw other divers regarding him suspiciously. Park rules dictated that, for increased safety, divers dive in pairs; you couldn't even get past the ranger station unaccompanied by a buddy. As a solo diver, Ben knew he was an object of both concern and envy. Long ago he had stopped feeling the need to explain to the curious that his scientific credentials and affiliation with the nearby Hopkins Marine Station research center exempted him from the restrictions placed on recreational divers.

"Hey, Ben. Anything to see?"

Opening the back of the wagon, Ben turned and sat down, releasing the straps on his BC and slipping it from his shoulders before answering.

"Couple of fish," he said. "Lots of water."

The man speaking to him grinned. "I see you lost your buddy again," he said. "How many does that make?"

"Oh, I guess about ninety-two," said Ben thoughtfully.

He and the man laughed.

"How are you, Davis?" Ben asked.

Davis Huffinsen nodded. "Can't complain," he said.

The ranger stood to one side, watching the divers preparing to enter the water. He and Ben had been friends for a dozen years, but Davis had been a ranger at Pt. Lobos for twice that length of time. Although there was little he didn't know about the park and its history, he had never visited the underwater portion of the reserve, something Ben found unimaginable.

"When are we going to get you wet?" he asked, as he always did.

"Maybe in the fall," answered Davis, giving the answer that varied only according to whatever season followed the current one.

"One of these days you'll say yes," Ben said. "And I'll drop dead of shock."

"Well, we can't have that," replied Davis. "So maybe I'll have to stay a drylander."

After unzipping his dry suit, Ben gently pulled his hands through the latex seals that surrounded his wrists and then did the same with the seal around his neck, lifting it up and over his head to free himself. Once the suit was off, he unzipped the insulating undergarment. The sun warmed his skin, and the light breeze cooled his body, now uncomfortably warm without the cooling effects of the water.

"Got here early," Davis remarked. "Looking for something special?"

"Just wanted to beat the crowds," said Ben. He paused. "Actually, my daughter is coming today," he added, surprised at himself for revealing the information.

"Daughter?" said Davis. "Since when do you have a daughter? Don't you need a wife for that?"


Excerpted from CHANGING TIDES by MICHAEL THOMAS FORD Copyright © 2007 by Michael Thomas Ford. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >