If you write a blog about algae you shouldn’t be surprised if people give you books about algae as Christmas presents (maybe I should start writing a blog about single malt whisky or fine wine and see what that yields?). This year, it was a book on seaweeds, called “An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed” by Josie Iselin, a rather beautiful little volume that straddles the boundary between fine art and natural history. The book is structured as a series of diary entries, each detailing a visit to her local coast (Maine and California at different times), accompanied by a beautiful image of the seaweeds that she collected on that visit. The images were produced by arranging the fronds on the glass of a flatbed scanner, and then generating a computer image file. The results are intriguing, perhaps because the translucence of the thin tissues of seaweed fronds creates a fascinating balance between reflected and transmitted light. The artist’s sensibility comes to the fore as she arranges the fronds on the plate; the scientist in the naming of each species and the comments on their natural history; the writer in her weaves the strands of anecdote and fact into the notes that accompany each image.
I’d like to think that I had infected people around me with a little of my enthusiasm for algae. I fear that the truth is that I have inoculated them, and that they have developed a tolerance that means that they can zone out whenever I start to ramble on about algae yet again. However, I think that I could probably leave Josie Iselin’s book lying around, and that those same people might well pick it up and start to marvel yet again. Well worth investigating.
Josie Iselin (2014). An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed. Abrams Books, New York.