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I love children’s books. They are my “go-to” source for straightforward explanations of difficult scientific concepts as well as a reassuring fount of seemingly simple but actually quite astute and often great wisdom.

Bottles and Waves from Dorling Kindersley "Ocean" p. 13

Consider this: A few weeks ago we were down at the beach watching waves. Digging deep into my graduate school education (what was I thinking? A marine biologist who’s afraid of water?) I remembered the physical oceanography course that spent weeks,  and countless words and diagrams trying to explain waves. At the library I was reminded of the very complicated (and incomprehensible to me) nature of waves by an entire 267 page book devoted to the subject called Waves and Beaches by Willard Bascom (1964). In the textbook An Introduction to the World’s Oceans (fifth edition, 1997) all of Chapter Nine deals with the topic, “The Waves.” I looked, I pondered, I scratched my head. As they used to say, It’s all Greek to me.

Waves © SR Euston

But a quick tour of the children’s room landed me Ocean, a Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Book. This is truly a remarkable YA series—now covering over 120 subjects from Epidemics to Baseball, Shipwrecks to Climate Change. And DK did it again. In two sentences they told me just what I needed to know: “Waves are formed by wind causing friction on the surface of the water….Waves that are driven by winds toward a beach, break when the water becomes too shallow.” Oh. I get it now.

Quiet Water © S.R. Euston

As for great pearls of wisdom, whenever the world gets just too crazy (think Republican “debates” or bombing Iran) I can always turn to Wind in the Willows. In the very first chapter, “The River Bank”, Mole is drawn up from his underground spring cleaning into a warm grassy swale. And then he finds the river! By its side “he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last by the insatiable sea.”

And back at the beach, the waves. We, who live next to the ocean, are gifted to listen to their “insatiable stories”. Who cares if  we “understand” what waves are or not.

At the Beach © SR Euston

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