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“In Mysterious Fathoms Below”

The ocean and what lies beneath the surface continue to remain quite the mystery despite the continued exploration and new discoveries. While

summer brings fun days at the beach, news of great white shark sightings and stinging jellyfish (Lion’s Mane), both recent news here in Maine, inspire a healthy respect for the sea, if not outright fear. I know people who won’t swim in the ocean, and it isn’t because of the cold water. Despite the “mysterious fathoms”, I love the ocean and stories of the sea. The unknown allows for great exercise of the imagination.

In regard to the sea, no matter what direction your imagination takes you, include The Little Mermaid. Disney’s version, with its great music, spunky heroine and happy ending, has long been a favorite. However, there is something about the original Hans Christian Andersen story that is deeper (no pun intended), more profound. When I read it for the first time, I was so upset by the ending I swore I would never read it again. This story does not have the “happily ever after” of the Disney version, but it does emphasize the choices the little mermaid must make when she is unable to win the heart of her beloved prince. With time and consideration, I think Andersen has created one of the noblest heroines of any fairy tale.

Tea: In order to get you in the mood for all things “under the sea”, try one, or all, of the four types of tea from Cup of Sea, a Maine company that blends seaweed with tea to create a unique experience. As yet, I have only had the chance to try two out of the four. Great Wave blends green tea with kelp, while Sea Smoke pairs lapsang souchong with dulse. Great Wave has the strongest “sea” flavor, and I like it straight up without any sugar, which is unusual for me. I like green tea iced, and I will try this soon. Of the two, I prefer Sea Smoke. I just like all things smoky. The directions on the back of both packages say to brew for five minutes with boiling water. I was very leery of this, as usually tea, particularly green tea, gets bitter the higher the temperature of the water and the longer it sits, but believe the package. There was no bitterness at all. I definitely plan to try Emerald Honeybush and Sailor’s Cure-all, herbal/seaweed blends, in the future.

Children’s Book: The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend retold by Aaron Shepard relates the story of a young and poor musician, Sodko, who lives in Novgorod. One evening as he is playing along the banks of the Volkhov River, he encounters the Sea King, who invites Sodko to come play for him in his court. Taking up the Sea King’s offer, he so enchants the whole court with his lovely music that he is offered the hand of any of the daughters of the Sea King. The only problem is that if he accepts, Sodko will never be able to return to Novgorod. The allure of the sea is strong, but is it stronger than the pull of home? Gennady Spirin’s illustrations complement the story very well. Muted greens and blues dominate, and there is a darkness that reminds you that this story is set in northern waters, not the tropics. My favorite picture is of the crustacean guards. The end notes also provide some really interesting information, such as Rimsky-Korsakov composed an opera based on this story, and the fact that Novgorod was the “only medieval Russian city to win independence from princely rule”. It was a republic from 1136 until 1478.

Fiction: Published just this year, young adult novelist, Axie Oh, has written an updated version of an old Korean myth entitled The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea. In this story, the sea god is angry. Every year the most beautiful maiden is offered to the sea god to appease his wrath and bring an end to the storms that ravage the villages of the coast. One year, Mina, who is not the most beautiful or accomplished girl, throws herself into the sea in order to protect the chosen one. What she finds in the sea god’s kingdom is not what she expects at all. I really liked the imagery of fish flying (swimming) above your head. On one hand, this book is a light summer read with high entertainment value, particularly if you have been hooked by K-dramas. Yet on the other hand, there are some really interesting statements that the main characters, Mina and Shin, make as they struggle to understand why the storms occur and how to stop them, what it means to be brave, the importance of stories, and the true nature of a soul. When Mina complains that the gods, and in particular the sea god, have forgotten the people and are no longer worthy of regard, Shin responds, “‘Your people suffer not because of any great will of the gods, but because of their own violent acts. They wage wars that burn the forests and fields. They spill the blood that pollutes the rivers and streams. To blame the gods is to blame the land itself. Look upon your reflection to find your enemy.’” (30) And one more: “‘There is no place you can go so far away from forgiveness. Not from someone who loves you.’” (163)

Nonfiction: In quite the change of mood, The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson brings us from the imagined depths of the ocean to the very real study of one of the creatures that actually live there: the lobster. There are many good, if not great, books on sea creatures and lobsters in particular, including The Lobster Gangs of Maine by James Acheson and Colin Woodard’s The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier, both of which I have read and enjoyed. However, I liked Trevor Corson’s book the best. Even though I live in Maine and am personally acquainted with people in the business, I am not a lobster-eater, nor am I naturally interested in all things biology. In other words, I normally would not pick up a book about what makes Maine lobsters the best in the world, their cannibalistic tendencies or their sex life, but this is just a great read, interesting from start to finish.

Who knew that the lobster’s eye was used by NASA to create a telescope called Lobster-ISS? Not only are you introduced to the lobster himself, but to the people who work with lobsters such as Diane Cowan, scientist, who established The Lobster Conservancy in 1996. Often the lobster industry is at odds with politicians and conservationists, but this book shows that all are needed to truly understand this not-as-mysterious-as-before crustacean.


Artwork credited to Aurora Draws - contact for more details

All photographs by the author

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