Floating Coast by Bathsheba Demuth
I am so glad I read this. I don’t have any particular interest in the Bering Strait, but this wasn’t a typical history. Demuth is an exquisitely thoughtful writer. Her “environmental history” is what I would call spiritual.
The book is not devoid of historical facts and narratives. Frankly, much of it could even be a bit of a slog. In chronicling “Beringia”, the land masses which border the Bering Strait, Demuth covers both USA and USSR history. After a while, reading about the fox farming and reindeer farming booming, then crashing, then booming; the quotas on whales being this high, then that low, then this high again… put me into a lull.
But when Demuth is poetic, she is sublime. Most of these moments came towards the beginning and towards the end. Tastes:
“[T]he world is not what we make of it; it is part of what makes us: our flesh and bones, and also our inclinations and hopes.”
“An ecosystem is the aggregate of many species’ habits of transformation, their ways of moving energy from its origin in the sun across space & condensing it over time. To be alive is to take a place in a chain of conversions.”
“We all live in more than one time… The evidence is all around us, in the layered world: a mossy, decaying mission store in Gambell, built near an ancient whale-butchering place, across from a row of tidy new homes… [A] house with Soviet concrete walls, but a roof made of walrus hide so fresh, it smelled.”
“Fossil fuels freed the use of energy from human toil, allowing human history to seem separate from the rest of time… This made possible a new idea of liberty, released from the constraints of the matter that made us, and from the precariousness of being.”
That does sum up for me where we find ourselves.