What Denmark’s North Sea coast can teach us about the virtues of respecting the planet

By | February 25, 2023

Kiley Bense writes:

When the writer Dorthe Nors was a little girl in Denmark, she had a formative encounter with the North Sea, a moment that would stay with her for the rest of her life. “I was holding my mother’s hand,” she writes, in “A Line in the World,” her book of essays about the North Sea coast that was published in English in November. “As we walked along the beach, letting the waves splash around our ankles, one of them dragged me out.”

Her mother’s quick instincts saved Nors; she was able to grab her daughter’s leg in time, anchoring her to land and to safety. Sitting on the beach after they’d escaped, her mother refused to let go of her hand.

The incident taught Nors to fear the sea’s strength; now she calls those dangerous, sudden swells “Valkyrie waves,” after a figure in Norse mythology who carries the dead into the afterlife. “They’ll take you out to sea if they can,” she writes. “I’m afraid of them, and every time I see them, I remember love.”

“A Line in the World” explores the contradictions that Nors captures so sharply in this scene: the harsh landscape of the North Sea coast embodies both fear and love; beauty and terror; continuous change and generational memory. It is at once a gateway to the wider world and a vast graveyard, a horizon teeming with possibility and the source of swift and staggering grief.

Climate change hovers at the edges of “A Line in the World” like a specter. Global warming fuels the violent storms and surges that the region is famous for, making them more intense and more frequent. On the North Sea, change is a constant; its beaches and isles are always being remade by wind and water. For centuries, the sea has swallowed iconic landmarks, houses, ships’ cargo, whole towns. But climate change has ushered in an era of artificial extremes. [Continue reading…]

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