Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: the intertidal zone

The incredibly rich inter-tidal zones, described so movingly by Rachel Carson in The Edge of the Sea, are another blessing both foreign and familiar, like a violent and disturbing Shakespeare play seen so often it becomes comforting. The tide comes and goes. The flatlander tries to burnish his claim to Maine by guessing whether it’s high or low, and wastes hours watching rocks cover and uncover, and doesn’t think of the trillions of seeds (barnacle, rockweed, lobster) floating under the surface unless he’s read Carson. 

The very words time and tide are basically the same, “tide” coming from an old English word meaning “division of time.” I believe the orderly passage of tides comforts the restless, bringing good tidings if you will, even though that annoying half-hour discrepancy – a tide peaks, then ebbs at approximately 6.5-hour intervals – especially that half-hour discrepancy jars us out of expectations and easy calculations. I wouldn’t really want to punch in four tides a day, perfectly spaced like Midwestern meals. When I want to walk a particularly rocky and steep stretch of shore nearby, I have to look at the tide clock, or the progress of the water against Little Island in our cove, to make sure the tide is low enough. The gods and the lobstermen would laugh at the sight of this formerly agile, now slightly creaky wanderer clambering up the granite ledges. Let him sneak around on the rockweed instead, like a normal lowly being.

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer

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