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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
Author, writer, sailor and surfer Jonathan White recently took a crowd of people at the Ketchikan Public Library across the globe and through its waters as he discussed his book: “Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean.”
White, from Washington, traveled the world to write his book, visiting places such as China, France, Chile, Scotland, Panama, Venice and the Arctic to discover how the tide moves all over the world. He began by saying the tide is a long, low wave that travels around the world at 450 mph. It has no beginning, and no end.
For a chapter on the spirit, mythology and history of early tides, White traveled to Mont St. Michel in France, on the west coast of Normandy. He said the area has a 45-foot tide that washes on a monastery built there in the sixth century.
“I went there of course to see the tide, but also I wanted to interview the monks,” White said. “Here they are, they’ve dedicated their lives to this spiritual practice, but they’re plunked in the middle of one of the most amazing tide phenomenons in the world.”
He thought for sure the tide was influencing their practice in some way and wanted to find out more, but, as it turns out, it was very difficult to get to them.
“The monks keep a private practice,” White explained. “They disappear and you see nothing. Their robes kind of flutter, and they disappear into a door.”
White said he enlisted the help of someone there who translated his letters to the monks, and it took two years, but he was finally granted permission for a silent lunch and a 30-minute interview with the monks.
He got to pick when he would interview them, so he chose the largest tide of the year and went back to Normandy. White ate lunch with them, and his 30-minute interview turned into an hour-long discussion. He said that chapter is wrapped around that experience, and what the monks had to say.
“When the tide is out at Mont St. Michel,” he said, “the ocean is about 10 miles away.”
White also traveled to the Arctic, and as he was leaving after being there for a week, he overheard a conversation two people were having about going under the ice in the winter during low tide, when it’s hollow underneath the ice, and hunting for mussels.
“I waited until the conversation was done, and I introduced myself to the man who was talking about it,” White said. “Eventually, he invited me to come with him.”
White went home and rented Arctic gear and called the man, an Inuit elder, once a month during the winter time. Every time, he would say, “No, not right.”
“They were looking for a very particular tide, ice conditions and so forth,” White explained.
After another two years, the man finally said “Come now.” White grabbed his gear and said he flew on progressively smaller planes until landing in a cargo plane in a small village, with a load of Coca Cola and ammunition.
“And me,” he said. “I was the only passenger. He picked me up, and I spent a week with him there.”
He said the village had about 300 people and 200 sled dogs. White read a section from his book about the experience and what it was like slipping under the ice. He said not only did it feel like he was under the ice, but beneath the sea and within the body of the ocean.
White’s book is available everywhere, including Parnassus Books in Ketchikan.