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Review | How to Read Water

As a keen advocate of water-based recreation it was interesting to hear about Tristan Gooley's latest book, How to Read Water: Clues, Signs & Patterns, from Puddles to the Sea.

From ocean kayaking, wild swimming, bodyboarding and diving, I was certain this would be both insightful and practical, as a means of learning more about what, after all, covers approximately 71% of our planet!

First impressions were positive: hardbacked and traditional in style, with a simple illustration on the front jacket, plain inner cover and a total of 331 pages (excluding sources, bibliography and index). There are sixteen glossy pages of photographs. However, these are quite basic, especially when considering the advancement in digital photography and photo-editing suites which could of made them more vibrant. Still, it’s a minor point as the text paints a perfect picture of water-based life, as we soon discover.

The book summary explains that this is a must-have read for walkers, sailors, swimmers, anglers and everyone interested in the natural world. Tristan is a natural navigator who shares his knowledge, skills, tips and useful observations to help you enjoy and explore the landscape around you.

With over 700 clues, signs and patterns, the book will help you to “interpret ponds like a Polynesian”, spot dangerous water in the dark with the help of a clock or watch face and read the ocean, traditionally as the Vikings would have. Use the waves to forecast the weather and find your way, using puddles as a guide. Unravel winding rivers, decode the colour of the water and decipher waves as they roll on to the shore.

We are traveling the world with Tristan's guidance, from wild swimming in Sussex to wayfinding off of Oman, via the ice of the Arctic.

As we begin our journey, the authors intention is clear: whilst this is predominately a book about nature and should be treated as such, it diversifies in to man-made objects if those help the reader to find the correct route. It gives the analogy of a buoy being just as useful as a barnacle should it help us to read the water - and rightly so.

The signs that Tristan goes on to point out are extraordinary - for example, we can measure the size of raindrops, by looking at the colours of a rainbow: the more red, the larger the drops. Nature at its finest; beautiful.

We go on to a voyage across open sea, inspiring, captivating - a new adventure which continues to outline a brief history of nautical navigation and confidently unpacks the following chapters.

From historical fact to the physics of water and how this links to flooding, tension, stickiness and the molecules of water that form rain.

Different birds behave in their own unique way: ducks, kingfishers, puffins and dippers are all "water" birds yet all have a preference between fresh and salt water, rivers and the sea. And birds which we may not immediately associate with water, such as crows, pigeons, sand martins and birds of prey; all have their own relation to water and particularly when feeding or in flight.

How the lives of animals and plants are shaped by the seasons. How plants, insects and fish are intertwined in their life-cycle, dependent on each other and the water and how this goes on to show the health of a river and environmental impact.

How does water effect us in our day to day life? From puddles that form on the side of the road to tracks and trails and how they are affected by walkers and mountain bikers. I had only mildly considered the effects of erosion but never exactly how this formed and that different puddles take different names, from Tracker, Turn and Junction.

From Eddies and a particularly interesting narrative about the birth of an island, to riffles, glides and pillows - and how these relate to kayaking white-water and the much feared "hole" or "stopper". This is a good, practical and extremely useful chapter for kayakers to study as it provides a guide to reading white water and the dangerous hazards to be mindful of when traversing the rapids.

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