Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Currently plowing through Susan Casey's "The Devils Teeth," a first hand account of life on the Farallon Islands (home of the west coast's largest population of great white sharks.) If I was given the option of inventing a book that did not yet exist, it would probably be something pretty close to this.
You can tell very quickly how a writer really feels about white sharks by the language they use to describe their one on one encounters with them. I've read some personal accounts that had all the passion of a legal brief (or worse, the cliched passion of the "heroic" shark hunter.) Thankfully, Casey gets it just right. That perfect mixture of fear, wonder and respect that these creatures should inspire in anyone who is breathing.
The book was a gift from my friend, Jim Affinito- surfer, naturalist and appreciator of all things larger than himself. Jim lives and surfs just two hours below the Farallons, in the bottom quadrant of the "red triangle." His ability to enjoy his sport with the full awareness that he is sharing the ocean with these animals has always amazed me. A few months back he sent me a photo taken at one of his usual spots, moments before an "aborted session." The photo shows the dorsal fin of what is obviously a very large white shark, knifing sideways through a crumbling wave, only 10 meters offshore. An impossibly large and ancient presence, gliding smoothly through our present.
These animals have been doing what they do for a very, very long time. So long that it is almost beyond the reach of the human imagination to comprehend. Casey sums it up in three words:

"Sharks predate trees."