Natural World Reflections Book Reviews

Hope or High Water by Duncan Morrison
Publication date: March 28, 2016
Print Pages: 312
Language: English

Book Review by: L. G. Cullens on June 21, 2016

Live as if your Life had consequences far beyond your understanding. It does.

This is a non-fiction adventure story of the highest caliber. It's a riveting account of an epic, perilous ocean voyage, recounted in somewhat a captain's log format with an adventure writer's flair — the narration catching one up in experiences very few dare to contemplate. Their vessel one of seven double hulled voyaging canoes, and their voyage a roundabout from Aotearoa-New Zealand to San Francisco and back in 2011/2012. Beyond the expansive adventure, there are insightful portrayals of life's interactions on varying scales, and the playing out of the purpose in undertaking the voyage.

I can't begin to give the reader an idea of all they'll discover in the book's pages, so have touched on what lingers in my mind. That, given the broad range of readers, may not be what appeals to others. So be aware there's a wealth of good reading within, that I've left the reader to delight in discovering. William Wallace said, "Every man dies. Not every man really lives."  To me really living is realizing one's place in the natural world, and reveling in the experience. In the pages of this book the author conveys his journey through a portal of consciousness in an evocative manner, propelling the reader from their human bubble.

The book also has intriguing learning potential for those that haven't experienced taxing natural forces at length, such as those found in the expanses of the Pacific when afloat in only a canoe. Subjects range from tacking to traditional navigation, that is navigating without modern instruments, to understanding more about reading waves than one might imagine, and even includes varying cultural immersion.

As an example, imagine yourself as one of a crew on a canoe, alone in the vastness of the Pacific.

Wati was now on the long watch of the navigator. Traditionally they don’t sleep from the start to the end of voyage, or if they do it’s only a few hours a day with catnaps and meditation, depending on their habit. The lives of the crew and canoe depend on their vigilance, simple as that. During the day the sun rolled across the sky, and at night the stars spun on their own courses. As he guided us north, we watched the Southern Cross sink lower in the sky. When it stands on end and the distance between the top and bottom stars is the same as the distance from the bottom star to the horizon you’re at the latitude of Hawai’i, twenty degrees north.

There are also vivid observations of the effects of human activity on our little blue planet, such as the following:

We were skirting the Eastern Pacific Gyre, “the Great Garbage Patch.” Twice the size of Texas, or as big as France, it’s an enormous pool of trash created by currents and weather patterns in the middle of the sea. We’re told that only twenty percent of the plastic is visible on the surface. The bulk of it lives as a plastic soup down through the water column. It breaks down and disappears from sight, but it only breaks down to micro-waste, molecular level particles of plastic that attract the heavy toxins in the water, and are then absorbed into the food web, ingested by plankton, the plankton by larger organisms, then on to bigger and bigger fish and eventually to us. We all have plastic in our bodies today.

That is, images of the extent of what we don't pay heed to in our day to day lives. It doesn't help that in our materialistic pyramid culture, big business interests actively counter understanding.

An augmenting thread throughout the book is contrasting cultural immersion. That from the breadth of far flung ports of call, down to the up close interactions of crew members with differing origins and experiences. On the broader scale, I even found strong parallels with my own early nurturing, which was gratifying. One example is:

It seemed that, no matter where we went or who we talked to, the message was the same. The way forward is in the past, in the old recognition that all things are one. That to live fulfilled, we must live with conscious respect for all things.

The above doesn't mean reverting to primitive life styles. It means that going forward we need to think and act outside our human bubbles. There's hope for humanity if we begin to use the advanced consciousness we believe we're endowed with.

Saving the best (to me) for last, there are many evocative passages that give one pause to think, with more being said than the words at first glance might convey. A mark of good writing in my eye.

Listen to the breathing of the tides, and know that all the world beats with one heart, breathes with one breath.
. . .
The dolphins had been frolicking, and the whales, sperms and humpbacks had been pec-fin slapping and lob-tailing and breaching and synchronised breaching in pairs and … And if we hadn’t been halted by the wind, we would’ve missed it all. We would’ve zoomed on through as we do for most of our lives, distracted by the music and the white noise of the modern world, and really just missing the point.
“Listen, listen, listen!”
You can’t hold a conversation unless you listen, and our lives are always talking, they never shut up. This world has some beautiful conversations if we give and take the time.

And some important thoughts to listen to if we really value the world (Our Blue Canoe as the author calls it) our children will have to get by in:

Often we’re put to the test, and it takes strength and tolerance to allow people their differences. It takes wisdom and compassion to share resources and make sure everyone is looked after. It’s a question of simple logic that, if people are unhappy and you don’t address the issues in some shape or form, then things will deteriorate. We have successfully ignored so many basic issues for so long, regarding the people of our planet and our environment, that finally our chickens are coming home to roost.
Kahlil Gibran, 12th century Persian poet, said, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encases your understanding.
. . .

Stewardship extends to not only our physical environment and the creatures and plants in it, but to the rich diversity of culture that has thrived on our planet. That, beneath the weight of consumerism and the Western mindset, has been diminished and mocked as redundant, old fashioned, and of less value than the science/commerce/dollar based worldview we now operate on.

It took me a good while to complete this review because the book is longish, befitting the scope of the adventure, and not one can skim or skip through, keeping the reader involved in the story as it does. All in all it's one heck of a ride, with an appropriately questioning yet uplifting ending. It's also a book you'll recall in becoming more aware of the interdependencies of life. There's a beam of ancient wisdom reemerging.