Reading (about) water

Kersplash! It’s summer, and I think I’m ready to jump right in and name my favorite nonfiction book for this year. True, it’s only summer, just the second of four seasons of reading in my year. Yet I don’t want to wait to share this particular book with other readers, and in particular, those who also enjoy spending time in nature and learning more about it. Therefore, while I will continue to look at more nonfiction in the coming months and seasons, I’ll leap now to saying that How To Read Water by Tristan Gooley is my favorite to date – and likely to remain so – at the year’s end.

How To Read Water is not actually a new book this year, being a 2016 publication. It is, nevertheless, quite a timely read at present, given how it promotes slowing down and staying close to home. In this accessible guide to outdoor skills, author Tristan Gooley tells readers about the “physical clues, signs, and patterns to look for in water,” and he encourages them to study water, both carefully and locally. Throughout, Gooley conveys his examples and explanations with clarity, making the volume a swift and interesting read. Still, I quickly learned that I needed to slow down, at least when I began using the book’s lessons to read water itself. Gooley collected the “gems” of information he shares here over many years – and also over many miles. Even so, he doesn’t privilege distant or dramatic waters over those found nearby, but continues to find value in observing what’s available. As he puts it: “things we notice in puddles and streams can be just as profound and helpful to understanding what is happening as those that might be spotted from a vessel mid-Atlantic.”

This book is also the right book at the right time, purely because it’s all about water. In order to teach readers how to use their senses and increase their skills in the outdoor world, Gooley has written several books in the last decade about nature and navigation, in general. This particular volume, however, is the only one focused totally on water. I don’t know to what extent I’ll end up navigating the outdoors using what I’ve learned here. I do know that it has pleased me to read and think about water during the heat of summer. Moreover, in a year characterized on the whole by difficulty and distress for so many, the time I’ve spent perusing a book on the subject of water, an element that is “good for our minds, bodies, and souls,” has been a restful interval.

Water is fascinating: its colors and sounds, its changes and movements. While explaining how water works, this author communicates both method and philosophy, and he speaks of water, both scientifically and lyrically. In the end, this combination of the practical with the poetic helped to make this book one of my favorites. I’ll close, with some of the author’s own introduction, since these sentences convey so clearly the writing, knowledge, and perspective that make this book such an excellent one:

“Understanding the things we see and the reasons for them does not reduce the beauty of the whole – quite the opposite. As I discovered a few years ago, once you learn that you can measure the size of raindrops by looking at the colors in a rainbow – the more red, the bigger the drops – rainbows take on a new beauty and lose none. The same is true of all the signs we find in bodies of water. There is room for poetical and analytical minds to stand on the same quayside. We can appreciate the beauty of the glittering path below the setting sun and enjoy reading the clues in its form.”


What a wonderful thing to better understand our life-giving resource, and to see analysis of our natural world as a way to dig deeper into its inherent philosophical and poetic teachings. Thank you for the glowing review, Laura-- I can't wait to read this!