High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never

High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never

4.9 14
by Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Mirocha
     
 

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"There is no one quite like Barbara Kingsolver in contemporary literature," raves the Washington Post Book World, and it is right. She has been nominated three times for the ABBY award, and her critically acclaimed writings consistently enjoy spectacular commercial success as they entertain and touch her legions of loyal fans.

In High Tide in Tucson,<

Overview

"There is no one quite like Barbara Kingsolver in contemporary literature," raves the Washington Post Book World, and it is right. She has been nominated three times for the ABBY award, and her critically acclaimed writings consistently enjoy spectacular commercial success as they entertain and touch her legions of loyal fans.

In High Tide in Tucson, she returnsto her familiar themes of family, community, the common good and the natural world. The title essay considers Buster, a hermit crab that accidentally stows away on Kingsolver's return trip from the Bahamas to her desert home, and turns out to have manic-depressive tendencies. Buster is running around for all he's worth -- one can only presume it's high tide in Tucson. Kingsolver brings a moral vision and refreshing sense of humor to subjects ranging from modern motherhood to the history of private property to the suspended citizenship of human beings in the Animal Kingdom.

Beautifully packaged, with original illustrations by well-known illustrator Paul Mirocha, these wise lessons on the urgent business of being alive make it a perfect gift for Kingsolver's many fans.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Kingsolver's essays should be savored like quiet afternoons with a friend.... [She] speaks in a language rich with music and replete with good sense.
Seattle Times
Whether cultural, personal, or theoretical, Kingsolver's nonfiction is a delight.
San Francisco Chronicle
A delightful, challenging, and wonderfully informative book.
Entertainment Weekly
The acclaimed novelist's extraordinary powers of observations and understanding of character serve her beautifully in this collection of essays.
Washington Times
Ms. Kingsolver possesses the rare ability to see the natural world with the keenness of both the poet and the naturalist.
Kansas City Star
Brilliant...lucid, well thought-out, and remarkably sensitive. Kingsolver's power will linger long after you've finished High Tide in Tucson.
Weekly Entertainment
The acclaimed novelist's extraordinary powers of observations and understanding of character serve her beautifully in this collection of essays.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
A book full of discoveries.
Milwaukee Sentinel
Clever...magical...beautifully crafted. Kingsolver spins you around the philosophic world a dozen times.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060927561
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/19/1996
Series:
Harper Perennial
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
202,860
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

High Tide in Tucson

A hermit crab lives in my house. Here in the desert he's hiding out from local animal ordinances, at minimum, and maybe even the international laws of native-species transport. For sure, he's an outlaw against nature. So be it.

He arrived as a stowaway two Octobers ago. I had spent a week in the Bahamas, and while I was there, wishing my daughter could see those sparkling blue bays and sandy coves, I did exactly what she would have done: I collected shells. Spiky murexes, smooth purple moon shells, ancient-looking whelks sand-blasted by the tide--I tucked them in the pockets of my shirt and shorts until my lumpy, suspect hemlines gave me away, like a refugee smuggling the family fortune. When it was time to go home, I rinsed my loot in the sink and packed it carefully into a plastic carton, then nested it deep in my suitcase for the journey to Arizona.

I got home in the middle of the night, but couldn't wait till morning to show my hand. I set the carton on the coffee table for my daughter to open. In the dark living room her face glowed, in the way of antique stories about children and treasure. With perfect delicacy she laid the shells out on the table, counting, sorting, designating scientific categories like yellow-striped pinky, Barnacle Bill's pocketbook . . . Yeek! She let loose a sudden yelp, dropped her booty, and ran to the far end of the room. The largest, knottiest whelk had begun to move around. First it extended one long red talon of a leg, tap-tap-tapping like a blind man's cane. Then came half a dozen more red legs, plus a pair of eyes on stalks, and a purple claw that snapped open and shut in a way that could not mean We Come in Friendship.

Who could blame this creature? It had fallen asleep to the sound of the Caribbean tide and awakened on a coffee table in Tucson, Arizona, where the nearest standing water source of any real account was the municipal sewage-treatment plant.

With red stiletto legs splayed in all directions, it lunged and jerked its huge shell this way and that, reminding me of the scene I make whenever I'm moved to rearrange the living-room sofa by myself. Then, while we watched in stunned reverence, the strange beast found its bearings and began to reveal a determined, crabby grace. It felt its way to the edge of the table and eased itself over, not falling bang to the floor but hanging suspended underneath within the long grasp of its ice-tong legs, lifting any two or three at a time while many others still held in place. In this remarkable fashion it scrambled around the underside of the table's rim, swift and sure and fearless like a rock climber's dream.

If you ask me, when something extraordinary shows up in your life in the middle of the night, you give it a name and make it the best home you can.

The business of naming involved a grasp of hermit-crab gender that was way out of our league. But our household had a deficit of males, so my daughter and I chose Buster, for balance. We gave him a terrarium with clean gravel and a small cactus plant dug out of the yard and a big cockleshell full of tap water. All this seemed to suit him fine. To my astonishment our local pet store carried a product called Vitaminized Hermit Crab Cakes. Tempting enough (till you read the ingredients) but we passed, since our household leans more toward the recycling ethic. We give him leftovers. Buster's rapture is the day I drag the unidentifiable things in cottage cheese containers out of the back of the fridge.

We've also learned to give him a continually changing assortment of seashells, which he tries on and casts off like Cinderella's stepsisters preening for the ball. He'll sometimes try to squeeze into ludicrous outfits too small to contain him (who can't relate?). In other moods, he will disappear into a conch the size of my two fists and sit for a day, immobilized by the weight of upward mobility. He is in every way the perfect housemate: quiet, entertaining, and willing to eat up the trash. He went to school for first-grade show-and-tell, and was such a hit the principal called up to congratulate me (I think) for being a broad-minded mother.

It was a long time, though, before we began to understand the content of Buster's character. He required more patient observation than we were in the habit of giving to a small, cold-blooded life. As months went by, we would periodically notice with great disappointment that Buster seemed to be dead. Or not entirely dead, but ill, or maybe suffering the crab equivalent of the blues. He would burrow into a gravelly corner, shrink deep into his shell, and not move, for days and days. We'd take him out to play, dunk him in water, offer him a new frock--nothing. He wanted to be still.

Life being what it is, we'd eventually quit prodding our sick friend to cheer up, and would move on to the next stage of a difficult friendship: neglect. We'd ignore him wholesale, only to realize at some point later on that he'd lapsed into hyperactivity. We'd find him ceaselessly patrolling the four corners of his world, turning over rocks, rooting out and dragging around truly disgusting pork-chop bones, digging up his cactus and replanting it on its head. At night when the household fell silent I would lie in bed listening to his methodical pebbly racket from the opposite end of the house. Buster was manic-depressive.

I wondered if he might be responding to the moon. I'm partial to lunar cycles, ever since I learned as a teenager that human females in their natural state--which is to say, sleeping outdoors--arrive at menses in synchrony and ovulate with the full moon. My imagination remains captive to that primordial village: the comradely grumpiness of new-moon days, when the entire world at once would go on PMS alert. And the compensation that would turn up two weeks later on a wild wind, under that great round headlamp, driving both men and women to distraction with the overt prospect of conception. The surface of the land literally rises and falls--as much as fifty centimeters!--as the moon passes over, and we clay-footed mortals fall like dominoes before the swell. It's no surprise at all if a full moon inspires lyricists to corny love songs, or inmates to slamming themselves against barred windows. A hermit crab hardly seems this impetuous, but animals are notoriously responsive to the full moon: wolves howl; roosters announce daybreak all night. Luna moths, Arctic loons, and lunatics have a sole inspiration in common. Buster's insomniac restlessness seemed likely to be a part of the worldwide full-moon fellowship.

But it wasn't, exactly. The full moon didn't shine on either end of his cycle, the high or the low. We tried to keep track, but it soon became clear: Buster marched to his own drum. The cyclic force that moved him remained as mysterious to us as his true gender and the workings of his crustacean soul.

Buster's aquarium occupies a spot on our kitchen counter right next to the coffeepot, and so it became my habit to begin mornings with chin in hands, pondering the oceanic mysteries while awaiting percolation. Finally, I remembered something. Years ago when I was a graduate student of animal behavior, I passed my days reading about the likes of animals' internal clocks. Temperature, photoperiod, the rise and fall of hormones--all these influences have been teased apart like so many threads from the rope that pulls every creature to its regulated destiny. But one story takes the cake. F. A. Brown, a researcher who is more or less the grandfather of the biological clock, set about in 1954 to track the cycles of intertidal oysters. He scooped his subjects from the clammy coast of Connecticut and moved them into the basement of a laboratory in landlocked Illinois. For the first fifteen days in their new aquariums, the oysters kept right up with their normal intertidal behavior: they spent time shut away in their shells, and time with their mouths wide open, siphoning their briny bath for the plankton that sustained them, as the tides ebbed and flowed on the distant Connecticut shore. In the next two weeks, they made a mystifying shift. They still carried out their cycles in unison, and were regular as the tides, but their high-tide behavior didn't coincide with high tide in Connecticut, or for that matter California, or any other tidal charts known to science. It dawned on the researchers after some calculations that the oysters were responding to high tide in Chicago. Never mind that the gentle mollusks lived in glass boxes in the basement of a steel-and-cement building. Nor that Chicago has no ocean. In the circumstances, the oysters were doing their best.

When Buster is running around for all he's worth, I can only presume it's high tide in Tucson. With or without evidence, I'm romantic enough to believe it. This is the lesson of Buster, the poetry that camps outside the halls of science: Jump for joy, hallelujah. Even a desert has tides.

Copyright © 1995 by Barbara Kingsolver.

Meet the Author

Barbara Kingsolver's work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned a devoted readership at home and abroad. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country's highest honor for service through the arts. She received the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work, and in 2010 won Britain's Orange Prize for The Lacuna. Before she made her living as a writer, Kingsolver earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She now lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
April 8, 1955
Place of Birth:
Annapolis, Maryland
Education:
B.A., DePauw University, 1977; M.S., University of Arizona, 1981
Website:
http://www.kingsolver.com

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High Tide in Tucson 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What I really really like about Barbara Kingsolver is her versatility. In college, she minored in music and majored in biology. Eventually, she became a science writer-- among other things--and secretly wrote fiction in the evenings. In the essay, 'High Tide in Tucson,' she writes about her journey to Arizona: 'I believe I like it here, far-flung from my original home. . . . And yet I never cease to long in my bones for what I left behind.' Kingsolver has lived in both Greece and Africa. She plays a musical instrument/s. In this book, Kingsolver reveals herself as not only a woman with a social conscience, but as someone really interesting. She plays in a rock band and writes of her rock-band adventures in 'Confessions of a Reluctant Rock Goddess.' My favorite of the bunch.
finity More than 1 year ago
This book is autobiographical and worth reading after becoming familiar with Barbara Kingsolver's other books. Her essays give the reader real insight into her life and are fun to savor, rather than finishing this book quickly.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This collection of Kingsolver's essays makes thought-provoking and occasionally hilarious reading. Be warned: if you don't share her values, you probably won't enjoy it because unlike her fiction it doesn't cloak those values in story. Yet even then you may find it interesting, because you'll learn a lot about how Kingsolver writes. From conceiving her characters and building their worlds (something literary novelists must do just as surely as must sci-fi writers), to marketing the books after publication, she takes the reader of these essays on a lively journey through her own version of the writing life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want amusement, a jumpstart to your imagination, a certain kind of healing, scientific squints at problems we face or refuse to, or just a good book, this is it. If you liked Kingsolver's fiction or her poetry, or if you never heard of her before, or you hate nonfiction, trust me, you need this book -- that includes if it is the only book you bought for a year. Kingsolver takes aim at subjects from the fearsome to the funny, and hits the mark every time from a different angle. There is an essay in this book for any mood you are in, thoughts or lessons for the rest of your life, and all neatly giftwrapped in Kingsolver's unbeatable style.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Whats happening!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
" yes" i sqeek
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Anne Campbell More than 1 year ago
i read this book for school and i loved it! i definitely suggest reading it. Semper fi was my fav essay: its really funny
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Ed-Philosopher More than 1 year ago
Barbara Kingsolver is an American treasure. This collection of essays is both inspiring and encouraging, especially for artists of the written word. It is a glimpse into the soul of this profound writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading all of Kingsolver's novels I somewhat reluctantly picked up 'High Tide in Tucson'. I was amazed at the power of Kingsolver's prose and the sheer joy with which she writes. This is quite possibly one of the most moving books I have ever read.