The Life Aquatic: Sailing the Salish Sea with Iris Graville

Friends — even city slicker magical realists like yours truly, look up from time to time and want to know more about the place where we are currently residing. But, I’m not a scientist, and while I consider myself an environmentalist, I get a bit vague on the details of how my locality might be affected by global warming and pollution. Add to that the fact that I was not born in the place where I live, and I moved here relatively recently. I don’t really know much about the history of the PNW, in terms of ecological questions.

Never fear — help is on the way!

Enter my friend Iris’ new book — her user-friendly series of mini-essays about the Puget Sound area. Beginning with humorous sketches., Iris explains what she’s doing on the inter-island ferry between Anacortes and her home on Lopez Island (in the San Juan island cluster) — she is the first ever Writer in Residence on the ferry! (A residency that she created and that will now to go to other eager writers). These mini essays celebrate the ad hoc communities that get formed by ferry commutation, including a monthly ukelele jam fest (talk about magical realism! [note: this is really a thing]).

Having won us over, Iris then shares what is happening to the whale communities in the Salish Sea and she does this by interviewing all kinds of experts and activists. She takes the time to draw the connecting lines between racism, covid, and our current climate emergency. But she covers all this ground (or should I say water), with a generous touch, relaying the information in manageable, highly evocative bites. What can individual citizens do to protect the ecological integrity of the Puget Sound region? Plenty, as it turns out. We get a list of resources and contacts at the end of the book.

But this summary doesn’t do credit to the whimsy and lyricism of the book. One of my personal favorite moments in the book is when Iris writes a thank you postcard from the orca whales to the superior court expressing collective appreciation for the decision to block a refinery’s expansion. It’s wonderful! And there are other flights of imagination that I won’t spoil for you. But underneath it all is the author’s genuine and ongoing love for the place where she lives. When she writes about the water, her own language soars.

Surely some of the lure is the way the inland water sweeps driftwood to the shore and swirls around bull kelp and seagrasses.”

Sentences like these make Iris’s writing into prose poems, and through her language, we share her enthusiasm and communion with the water that surrounds her island home.

Want to know more about Iris and her new booK?

Click on her author website and find out!

Photo by Eric Wagner

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