Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains

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Barbara Hurd continues to give nature writing a human dimension in this final volume of her trilogy that began with Stirring the Mud and Entering the Stone. With prose both eloquent and wise, she examines what washes ashore, from the angel wing shells to broken oars. Even a merman appears in this brilliant collection that throws light on the mysterious and the overlooked.

Writing from beaches as far-flung as Morocco, St. Croix, or Alaska, and as familiar as California and Cape Cod, she helps us see beauty in the gruesome feeding process of the moon snail. She holds up an encrusted, still-sealed message bottle to make tangible the emotional divide between mother and daughter. She considers a chunk of sea glass and the possibilities of transformation.

The book began on a beach, Hurd says, "with the realization that a lot of what I care about survives in spite of—perhaps because of—having been broken or lost for a while in backward drift. Picking up egg cases, stones, shells, I kept turning them over—in my hands and in my mind."

Each chapter starts with close attention to an object—a shell fragment of a pelican egg, or perhaps a jellyfish—but then widens into larger concerns: the persistence of habits, desire, disappointments, the lie of the perfectly preserved, the pleasures of aversions, transformations, and a phenomenon from physics known as the strange attractor.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a beautiful book. It is as skillfully constructed as a poem, and like a poem its meanings widen. It is a series of fascinating, informative nature essays, but more deeply it is a series of meditations on 'what might be rescued from near-destruction, from silence, from invisibility.' As such, it becomes spiritual autobiography with a great deal to say, though almost always indirectly, about human aging and loss."—Ann Fisher-Wirth, author of Five Terraces

"In the partial and broken objects she gathers, Hurd finds the transcendent. Easily braiding observation and reflection, she is a clear-eyed witness to living gracefully with the wrack and ruin of our human burdens. She is a marvelous writer."—Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Writing the Sacred Into the Real

"Each sentence is an exploration. Every small thing opens into a universe seen through Hurd's brave and curious lens. Her hunt for minutia is subtly inspired and above all tangible, worldly, real."—Craig Childs, author of The Secret Knowledge of Water

"In this lovely collection of essays, Hurd explores the wrack line and finds strength and fragility in tiny by-the-wind sailors suddenly cast ashore, raw beauty in a moon snail devouring its prey, disintegration and renewal in stone and sand. Belonging to land and sea, the wrack line is evanescent and enduring, broken and seamless. With her insight, in its particulars, we see our own."—Deborah Cramer

"Hurd delivers nineteen pithy and gorgeously written meditations on the places where land and ocean meet. . . . [She] is magnificent at translating the world into words, in witnessing some small incident on a beach . . . and spiraling it out into a sustained series of questions about impermanence."—Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe

"There's scarcely anyone writing better about the natural world than the much-unheralded Barbara Hurd. In . . . Walking the Wrack Line, Hurd turns her spare prose and lyrical powers of observation to shingle beaches, spider crabs, jellyfish, dead sailors, and such landlocked matters as why Franz Schubert never finished his Symphony in B Minor, known as the Unfinished Symphony.“—Alan Cheuse, National Public Radio

"Hurd writes laconic, vivid, generally brief essays. . . . She promotes the radical practice of paying careful and loving attention."—The Georgia Review

Publishers Weekly

In these rich essays, Hurd (Stirring the Mud) wanders the shoreline in search of meaning. Meandering along beaches from Massachusetts to Morocco, she sifts through shells, flotsam and driftwood, finding mythology and metaphor almost in spite of herself. "Am I looking for clues?" she asks, "I'd like to think not.... Yet it's hard to resist: we're doomed, it seems to try to make meaning." Examining a moon snail, a gastropod that surrounds a clam with its oversized foot and invades it with its tongue, she finds its proportions "unseemly" and concludes that "a certain beauty recedes when hunger and threats intensify." Walking a beach of glass pebbles beaten smooth by the waves, she admires the sea's ability to transform human carelessness and reflects, "If there is such a thing as transformation, perhaps the smaller manifestation is the more reliable." While Hurd's careful depictions of found objects are delightful, her attempts to relate them to human affairs are occasionally hackneyed. Still, this lyrical book with its scrupulous attention to language and the world will please poets and naturalists alike. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Boston Globe
Hurd delivers 19 pithy and gorgeously written meditations on the places where land and ocean meet.... [She] is magnificent at translating the world into words, in witnessing some small incident on a beach...and spiraling it out into a sustained series of questions about impermanence.--(Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector, About Grace, and Four Seasons in Rome)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820331027
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 136
  • Sales rank: 976,466
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Hurd is the author of Stirring the Mud, Entering the Stone, and a collection of poetry, The Singer's Temple. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays, Yale Review, Georgia Review, Nimrod, New Letters, and Audubon. Hurd teaches creative writing at Frostburg State University, where she has held the Elkins Professorship, and at the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xv

1. Broken Oar: Preface 1
2. Wordwrack: Openings 8
3. Moon Snail: Unseemly Proportions 10
4. Egg: Breaking Out 13
5. Spider Crab: Disguise 17
6. Stones: Turning Points 25
7. Meiofauna, a Holy Man, and Singing Sand: Incoherence 34
8. Wentletrap: The Pleasures of Aversions 43
9. Lime Sea Glass: Transformations 48
10. Bottle and Feather: A Different Question 58
11. Beached Icebergs: Erasable Truths 65
12. Worms: The Persistence of Habits 68
13. Jellyfish: The Unfinished 71
14. Pebbles: Fine Distinctions 80
15. Purple Sailors: The Shape of Chance 93
16. Angel Wings: Missing Pieces 97
17. Driftwood: A Meditation on Soul 100
18. Bits of Clay, Glass, Wood: The Strange Attractor 103
19. Sea Stars: Return 113

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