The elegant meditative essays in Stirring the Mud five years ago introduced me to Barbara Hurd, a naturalist and poet. Walking The Wrack Line (Univ. of Georgia, $22.95) is a beautiful addition to Hurd’s naturalist writings. A wrack line is the odd assortment of seaweed, shell fragments, driftwood, and plastic detritus left behind by a high tide. Combing beaches from New England to Morocco, Hurd “begins to listen for rhythms and repetitions” in seemingly disconnected fragments. Like Terry Tempest Williams, she searches for pattern, convergence, and coherence in the random shoreline tidal debris. In childhood she cherished the perfectly preserved shells on her dresser, but Hurd’s adult passion is for the salvageable and transformable: “I’m more interested these days in what might be rescued from near destruction, from invisibility, from silence.”
“Valentine's Day” is the name of a chapter about a Chicago mob trial in a tremendously entertaining paperback, RULE 53: Capturing Hippies, Spies, Politicians, and Murderers in an American Courtroom. The author, Andy Austin, is a Chicago artist who sketches trial participants for the media because Rule 53 prohibits cameras in courtrooms. She's very, very funny in recounting the preening Chicago mobsters on trial for a long list of charges, from tax fraud to racketeering to murder. Austin began her career in 1969 when she was hired by ABC to cover the conspiracy trial of the Chicago 7; the defendants included Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, and Bobby Seale. From the beginning, in this courtroom circus Andy displayed a talent not only for sketching but also for reporting the daily tumult. She has a special gift for describing the proceedings as simultaneously shocking and funny, outrageous and worthy of sympathy. "The stories I heard as I drew fascinated and educated me,” she writes. “I learned that the courthouse is the grand bazaar of American life."