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Grayson    by Lynne Cox order for
by Lynne Cox
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Lynne Cox, who swam the English channel at age fifteen, and also wrote Swimming to Antarctica, brings us Grayson, a lyrical, empathetic account of interspecies connection and communication, the lure of the ocean, and the rich experience it offers to those with the courage to move outside their comfort zone and brave its dangers.

As a seventeen-year-old, Cox was on a training swim 'two hundred yards offshore, outside the line of breaking waves off Seal Beach, California.' She tells us of currents 'wrapping around me like long braids of soft black licorice', when the water changed below and around her till it felt 'like I was sitting on a tree branch beside a nest of angry, buzzing bumblebees.' She found herself surrounded by thousands of baby anchovy fleeing grunion (there are marvelous descriptions of how the latter lay their eggs high on a beach before returning to the water.) They were in turn followed by albacore tuna - in a veritable marine tree of life - who would inevitably attract even larger fish, such as sharks.

So Cox moved closer to shore, and found something huge swimming below her. After further excitement involving a big wave and a stingray city, she swam towards a pier, where an old friend, sixty-something Steve, warned her that a baby gray whale - separated from his mother - was following her and that if she swam to shore he would run aground and die. 'His body was breathtaking, perfectly streamlined. His mouth was large, stretching from one side of his head to the other and he held it slightly open, as if giving me a gentle smile.' She stayed in the water with the whale, tried to communicate with him, and to guide him to where the local seagoing community eventually reported a sighting of what might be his mother. She called him Grayson.

It takes time and the author gets chilled and exhausted. She tells us she was unsure of success but that 'Sometimes it's the process of doing that makes things clear. If we don't start, we never know what could have been. Sometimes the answers we find while searching are better or more creative than anything we could ever have imagined before.' Such nuggets of life wisdom add layers and depth to what is already a fascinating and heartwarming account of a journey through a colorful seascape, inhabited by a diversity of living creatures, from dolphins to sea turtles. And, of course, Grayson - 'beauty in motion' - is guided back to his mother, to the joy of all concerned.

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