Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Where life begins...

THIS IS MY SECOND READ from the 2006 Book Club list ( being recommended by Richard & Judy (Channel 4). I chose this book not because of its reviews on-line but it struck me most is the title itself - reminded me of my childhood summer holidays in the central part of the Philippines.

When I was in my teens, spending the summer is the most enjoyable one compared it with Xmas holiday. Sad to say, I don’t really get much of the Christmas gifts/presence, but instead I have to earned it by singing carols in the neighbours. Unlike summer (April to May), I really had a good time collecting live shells and some fish for dinner, and not bothered to wake up late in the morning. I had the opportunity to play ‘bingo’ game with my neighbours while waiting for the ‘low tide’ to appear especially during full moon. Having the opportunity to live near the sea (250 meters away), it is convenient to stay longer along the beach witnessing the sunset and the ebbing tide deserted the shore, exposing the brown seaweeds covering the stones and coral reefs.

Aaahhhh… being a grown-up urban professional, I wish I could have the same experience during summer where I live now! Sorry for this emotional state of mind, but I am just carried away of Miles’ story and I am excited to share it with my readers and other cyber-friends.

Anyway, the book has been in circulation in Britain since last year (2005) and the paperback edition (ISBN 0747579385) is released early this year at 7.99 pounds (available at Tesco for 3.73 pounds) by Bloomsbury Publishing ( using natural and recyclable products from wood in well-managed forests. It is a coincidence that the book contains environmental issues that the publisher is also aware of it through the usage of the paper - produced and recycled using a legally accepted manufacturing processes.

JIM LYNCH is an American writer who lives in Olympia (Washington State) with his wife and daughter, and having awarded of several awards for his literary works. I tried to find available facts about him, but unfortunately no avail, nevertheless, this is his first novel.

One Saturday afternoon in Co Antrim (Northern Ireland), I decided to listen to the story of Miles, personally from him. It took him the whole day to finish his funny, environmentally-summer escapade in his hometown, Olympia. This is his story…

Miles is a 13 year old boy who loves to stay late till early morning in the beach (Skookumchuck Bay) during low tide to collect different kind of shells, starfish oysters, fish, crabs, snails, clams, and other exotic marine creatures. Most of his catch are being sold to a restaurant and a private aquarium dealer. Because of his curiosity and love in reading about marine life (inspired by the books of Rachel Carson), Miles could vividly describe and understand marine specimens behaviours, even the bay itself. Being a regular visitor of the bay, aside from being the look-out (caretaker) of the oyster farm of Judge Stegner, he discovered interesting creatures that made him an overnight TV celebrity. The first discovery of the giant squid changed his daily routine and everybody is interested to talk to him. This is also brings awareness to the people in the town about the bay and marine life. Even his best friend (psychic old lady), Florence predicted that there are surprises to come including the ‘highest tide’ in fifty years. Despite his popularity, Miles is still battling with emotional issues during that summer: He does not want that his parents will divorce and his difficulty to express openly his admiration and care to Angie (Stegner’s daughter).

The story brings how Miles managed to face the lowest and highest tides of his life. The ‘lowest tide’ of Miles somehow illustrates his relationship with Florence - giving him the wisdom to understand the meaning of life; his friendship with Phelps - the value of companionship and sense of humour; his secret admiration to Angie - the importance of patience, inspiration and friendship. His ‘highest tide’ on the other hand includes his struggle to accept the separation of his parents - the importance of a family; and the death of Florence - the lost of a friend that taught him the true meaning of trust and confidence!

Being an Urban and Environmental Planning practitioner, the story of Miles moves me intensely for two reasons: Firstly, the life in the coastal bay areas is fragile. Majority of the people residing along the coasts derive their livelihood from the sea. In particular, fishermen earn a living from these marine creatures and every catch is a treasure to them. Low tide during summer is best time to go fishing since coral reefs and mudflats can offer abundant supply of edible shells; and exotic creatures for sea-water aquarium which is now a popular hobby.
Aside from this, coastal areas also serve as attractions during summer for locals and tourists which a big business to the community itself. Despite these opportunities, there also ‘threats’ making coastal life depressing. A very good example of this is the ‘illegal fishing using dynamite’ which is a very popular method in developing countries like the Philippines. Dynamite fishing destroys coral reefs (serving the breeding ground) and kills young fish, consequently affects the future supply of edible marine creatures.

Secondly, the environmental problems brought by both man-made and natural disasters. Prior to my reading of the book, my first impression of the title is that the author was inspired by the tsunami caused by earthquakes and during the hurricane in the US which brought heavy rains and flooding. I had flashes of the events of the footage shown on TV during these two major disasters that made thousands of people homeless and jobless. The only difference with these events with the ‘highest tide’ in the story is that ‘only one person perished in the tide!’

In reality, these disasters are directly connected to our past and current activities that need much of our attention. Improper disposal of wastes causes the quality of sea water to deteriorates, thus it will affect the living condition of the marine life. Also, some of these wastes also clogged our sewer lines and during rainy days it will cause flooding. Overall, either man-made or natural disasters we have to be more aware of what we are doing particularly those things that might have adverse impacts to the environment.

Jim Lynch’s work is an excellent story which captures the essence of our childhood: being young, sensitive, entrepreneurial, and playful. He tries to awakens the ‘child’ within us and reflects the wonderful happy memories of our lives. Every character in the story brings something special that touches our hearts, something that we could reflect on it especially about purpose of living. Through Miles character, being an intelligent, observant and adventurous young boy, lead us to understand that everything happens because of ‘reason’.

Jim also tackles very relevant environmental issue that our Mother Earth is facing today - degradation of marine resources. One of the major human activities that contribute to marine pollution is the illegal dumping/discharge of domestic and industrial wastes. Untreated wastes from ships, tourism activities and untreated wastewater discharges from domestic and industrial processes put our marine life in danger. Natural disaster such as flooding due to heavy rains and illegal cutting of trees in the forest is also threatens our coastal resources. In addition, illegal fishing through ‘dynamite’ is another issue to be addressed which threatens the future marine stock.

LASTLY, the author tries to remind us that we have to pay attention to every small things around us. The author brings us to a discovery of ourselves being nature-lovers. The book itself is a good basic reference in understanding the life beneath the OCEAN - a place where 97% of water on earth contained by it; 80% of life exists under its surface; and the place where we came from!

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