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Swimming to the Top of the Tide, Book Cover

Swimming to the Top of the Tide

Finding Life Where Land and Water Meet


My husband, Robert, and I have lived near the Great Marsh for more than 40 years. But it wasn’t until our three children were grown that we started regularly swimming the estuary’s creeks and channels. Over the years, our boats had become smaller and smaller, until finally our own bodies—altered slightly with gear—became our main watercraft.


Book Reviews

“Written with a swimmer's spirit, a naturalist's eye and an ecologist's heart, this book took me to places I have never been. I loved it!" 


—Lynne Cox, author of Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer, and Swimming in the Sink: An Episode of the Heart

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We made a pact with each other to swim every time we possibly could. After a summer idyll of blue skies and marshes as lush as Kansas cornfields, we swam later and later into the fall, matching the dropped temperatures with wetsuits, boots, and gloves. We took for granted that we’d eventually hit a wall that would stop the swimming until the ocean warmed up again the following year. But as we swam in rain, darkness, and, a few times, slushy water just above freezing, we discovered that walls are relative. Or, as Robert declared one night, stoking the fire, “Walls have doors. Or if you can’t find the door, you can go around it.” Even the coldest and stormiest conditions were navigable with the right gear and the mutual desire to be there. 


As we swam into the winter and then into a spring that was agonizingly long in coming, the practice became what Wendell Berry has called a “journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.”


Part 1 of this book is the chronology of a particular year, from July 2008 to the following summer. It’s about exploring the same landscape over and over, noticing more and more about its materials and its creatures, its cycles and patterns and processes. It’s about the vibrant energy of a place where two ecologies blend, jostle, and bring forth new life. 


But prolonged exposure to an estuary also reveals the human interventions that have affected this critically important ecosystem, the disconnects and disruptions. Part 2 is necessarily less linear; it is a citizen-scientist’s attempt to understand—through the lens of my own local environment—something of our current cultural and evolutionary moment, with both its tragedies and its possibilities. It is about how the habit became, as the philosopher David Abram has put it, “a dialogue where the environment puts questions to the organism and the organism, in answering those questions, puts new questions to the environment. The environment, in turn, answers with further questions.”


Swimming to the Top of the Tide, Book Cover
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