The Highest Tide is a love story on several levels. Superficially, it is about the romantic love thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley feels for his former babysitter Angie; his caring love for his older neighbor Florence; his comradely love for his friend Kenny Phelps; and his conflicted love for his parents and their conflicted love for each other. But overarching them all is a love for the beauty of life in the sea, and how much there is to see around you if only you take the time to look.
This lovely paean to marine life turns tidepools into treasure chests, as we accompany Miles on his nightly collecting forays into Skookumchuck Bay in Puget Sound. We learn about the dazzling beauty of the Nudibranch, the mating habits of barnacles, the defensive strategies of sea cucumbers, and the nesting patterns of butterfly squids. We become acquainted with the addictions of razor clams, the male parenting skills of sea horses, the navigational hazards of sand dollars and survival tactics of sand fleas. No dry encyclopedia is this, but rather a picture book of words that evokes such images as “pulsing moon jellies” in “an endless gaggle of fringed, see-through flowers packed so tightly together… they changed the texture and color of the bay in the silvery glare of the forgotten sun.”
Miles escapes to the sea when he feels troubled:
“. . . it was hard for me to feel fear or sadness at dawn on that bay, especially when I knew the sun wouldn’t set for another fifteen hours and thirty-two minutes, and the water was so clear I could see coon-stripe shrimp in the eelgrass near the tavern and the bottomless bed of white clam shells pooled across the sunken tip of Penrose Point.”
In this summer that marks Miles’ coming of age, the transmutations that come into his life are echoed by the changes in the ocean, yet Miles understands that it is all part of an ever-flowing process; that life is both unique and timeless. From his study of Rachel Carson, he learns the lesson to “see as much as you can see.” Adults, caught up in their long “to-do lists” tend to forget the beauty and magnificence of nature, and even, of each other.
Published by Bloomsbury USA, 2005