The book takes place on one of the Barrier Islands near the Florida Keys and contains reflections by a woman in her 70s of her life’s journey and how they relate to the nature surrounding her. I love the sea as well and found the book a relaxing read imagining the shells, sea life, and sand she so aptly described in flowery detail.
Chapters ended with her giving her younger self insights into the wisdom she had garnered over the years. And, although you can’t undo past mistakes or challenges, you can pass on what you have learned to others.
The author, Terry Helwig, came from a hellashish childhood with an alcoholic mother who abandoned her and her 5 younger sisters and married multiple partners. She was brought up by her stepfather who managed to keep the family together but moved them from place to place. That made it hard for her to make lifelong friends. She later became estranged from her stepfather, but despite those obstacles, Terry went on to become a psychologist and have a solid marriage.
The sea became her solace and inspiration
The simple acts of walking on the shoreline, picking up and collecting shells and stones, and contemplating the moon and solstice are ways Terry finds meaning and purpose in her life. It spurs her creativity and helps her make sense of the world.
Shifting Shorelines is divided into 3 parts, Ebb Tide, the period in which water flows away from the shore, Slack Tide, a short period when tidal water is completely unstressed and there is no movement either way, and Flood Tide when the tidal water rises and flows toward shore. Each section is a metaphor for life in various instances and how we find our place in the natural world.
The natural world is fascinating
In the chapter Housing Crisis, Helwig observed how hermit crabs find their homes in conch shells depending on their size. If the shell is too spacious, the crab will wait for another crab to come by who is large enough for the shell. Sometimes the crabs line up by size and take their places one by one in a chain reaction.
Then, she related what she saw to how older women seek to enlarge themselves in the world. As women we look for a space “that can accommodate, maybe even celebrate, our maverick spirit, our latent creative potential, the time etched on our face and our graying hair of lived experience. We are encouraged to remain in our cramped shell of youth for as long as possible. We dye our hair, Botox our wrinkles, and seek relevance, not in the essence of who we are and what we do, but in doctoring our appearance and minimizing our role. We deny the abundant harvest of our ripening by permitting our relevancy to wither on the vine.”
After walking along the shore in Florida, after reading the book, I saw it in a whole new light.