The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic
Publication Date: October 2004
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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The story of a small but deadly sand dune in the middle of the North Atlantic
Sable Island—one hundred miles due east of Nova Scotia, in the midst of the worst weather in the North Atlantic—is a thirty mile-long sand dune, uninhabited except by a couple of government agents who maintain an outpost and by bands of wild horses that have populated the island for more than two hundred years. Yet this small place illuminates grand and global themes, both human and natural.
There is evidence that Sable may have been discovered as early as the fifteenth century, and it has been the subject of several failed colonization efforts by Portugal, France, the Basques, and even a group of prominent Bostonians, including the uncle of John Hancock. For centuries before lifesaving global positioning technology, Sable terrorized 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. Sable is constantly moving, its beaches disappearing and reappearing in storms, its very body in slow motion to the east. Because of this, it is a metaphor for the way the planet governs itself, because to appreciate Sable is to understand the workings of the great ocean currents, the winds and the North Atlantic gale, and the forces of entropy. Impressive in the array of its knowledge, Sable Island is a lyrical ode to one of nature’s wonders.
Marq de Villers and Sheila Hirtle are co-authors of Sahara: The Extraordinary History of the World’s Largest Desert and several other books on exploration, history, politics, and travel. Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource by Marq de Villiers won the prestigious Governor General’s Award in Canada. De Villiers and Hirtle live in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.