Underwater to Get Out of the Rain
Trevor Norton
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Buy *Underwater to Get Out of the Rain: A Love Affair with the Sea* by Trevor Norton online

Underwater to Get Out of the Rain: A Love Affair with the Sea
Trevor Norton
Da Capo Press
400 pages
June 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars
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"Barnacles are tiny crustaceans, members of the class Cirripedia - 'the hairy feet.' Some, in the best traditions of alien invaders, transform into fungal-like filaments and ramify throughout the bodies of their cousins, the crabs, castrating them and making them forget how to shed their shell; others surf the ocean on the fins of flying fish, but most of them have settled down on the shore and live in calcareous teepees." And you thought barnacles were boring!

Trevor Norton is a University of Liverpool Marine Biology Professor who further informs us that barnacles are tiny critters that live in houses with hinged roofs and eat dust-particle-sized detritus with gusto. This is one of thousands of facts he injects into his book, painlessly, with subtle, often self-deprecating good humor. He would have us believe that as a boy he was an indifferent scholar whose main claim to possible bright destiny were his detailed drawings of snails.

The book moves from Liverpool, to California, to the Isle of Man, aka "the Manx Riviera," a small island off the northwest coast of Britain probably best known for its motorcycle races. It was also a fragilely popular holiday site where both German and Jewish refugees were interned during the Second World War. Norton describes that era in entertaining detail. Everyone had to pitch in and do whatever work came up; one man asked to do plumbing said he was a gynecologist "but it's also a matter of tubes and pipes." The temporary population took to carving all manner of gewgaws and knitting with bits of wool that local sheep left on the barbed wire fences. The results of these efforts were sold shamelessly to the tourists who straggled in for the brief warm season, some coming just to gawp at the foreign ladies who sunbathed without clothes. One B&B was being assessed for damages after the war and all appeared well until someone realized that the drawers had fronts, but no backs – the innards had been used for whittling souvenirs. Norton centered much of his marine research at Port of Erin on the Isle of Man and so became something of a wool-gatherer himself, drawing together the threads of pertinent local history along with his studies of any and all species of sea life.

It was at Port of Erin that Norton observed the casualties that remained after the dredges dragging for herring, "the silver darlings," passed on. He comments that lost dredges keep fishing, with dead creatures trapped within becoming the bait for new generations of hungry captives. "Even if all the fisherman became extinct, some of their gear would go on fishing...we call it ghost fishing."

In California, Norton followed in the sandy footsteps of John Steinbeck and the legendary biologist Ed Ricketts, model for the character “Doc” in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Everywhere Norton goes he records the pertinent and the hilarious, such as his experience in a Spanish bar where the ceiling appeared black. Then his companion tossed a sardine up into the air, and the blackness moved and parted, revealing a white ceiling underneath a thick layer of flies.

Even if you’ve never had the mildest interest in the activity of plankton or the lovemaking techniques of dolphins, you will find something in this book to cherish. Norton is not only an expert in his field; he is a first-rate raconteur who can find reason for a story in the most humble species and surroundings.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2006

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