Archive for May, 2012


The Strange Evidence and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic

(Marq de Velliers and Sheila Hirtle)

You probably never had the chance to visit Sable Islands – but this book will take you to a tiny ecosystem that reveals much about the powerful force of natures.

One hundred miles due east of Nova Scotia, in the midst of the worse weather in the North Atlantic, Lies Sable islands, a Thirty-mile-long sand dune (Sable is the French word sand, uninhabited except two government agents who maintain a weather research and research station and a bonds of wild horses that have populated the island for more than two hundred years. Yet as Marq de Velliers and Sheila Hirtle relate, this small place illuminates grand and global themes, both human and natural.

It’s entirely possible that the Vikings encountered Sable Island, and certain that by the time the Barques were fishing the Grand Banks it was on maps of the region. Sable has been the subject of several failed colonization efforts by Portugal, France, the Basques themselves, and even by a group of prominent Bostonians, including the uncle of John Hancock. For centuries before the advent of lifesaving global-positioning technology, the Islands terrified legions of mariners crossing from Europe to America – more than five hundred ships have been wrecked on its shores, fully ten disasters for every mile of coastline.

Yet while its past is fascinating, it’s present is even more so. Sable’s Topography is constantly changing. Five miles or more of its beaches disappear and reappear in single storm; in fact, the whole island is drifting in slow motion to the southeast. Because of this, it is a metaphor for the way the planet governs itself, for to appreciate Sable Islands is to understand the working of the great oceans current and tides, the winds and the North Atlantic gale and the forces of spontaneous change and disorder.

From its glacial origins to the physics of the waves that found its shores to the human dramas that have been played out on it, this dune adrift in the Atlantic is a place you’ll never forget impressive in its broad array of knowledge, Sable Islands is a lyrical ode to one of nature’s wonders.