Water, in Tristan Gooley’s hands, becomes an astonishingly diverse phenomenon, rich with signs, clues and meanings. The ripple patterns on a pond turn out to be as fascinating as an ocean’s currents and, if you’re attentive while on the move, listening to the changing sound of flowing water in the distance allows you to map ‘every bump and wrinkle in the land.’ Gooley is an expert in ‘natural navigation’ but even we amateurs and Sunday strollers will learn a great deal from these pages. Forecasting the height of tides would be a bit of a stretch – one scientist has identified 396 determining factors – but a little effort will allow you to make a decent guess about the nutrient value and acidity of your local lake.
In this ‘age of dazzlingly capable electronics’ it is refreshing to take tips from bygone cultures and our animal cousins in order to rediscover old, trusty ways of exploring the landscape. Reading water is a vital component of this dying art and Gooley is a terrific guide. He blends joyful accounts of his discoveries with a gentle pedagogical tone. Trial and error, he assures the reader, is part of the learning process.
This book encourages us to admire those who have known the secrets of water – whether sea-faring Vikings or humble fly-fishermen – and one crucial lessons stands out. Knowledge enhances rather than diminishes awe and the more we understand water, the way it plays with light, sound, the senses, the more remarkable it becomes.
This review was published in the August 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.