The lowest tide
Women, many nonbinary people, and a few trans men, at a certain time of life wake at 3 a.m. for an hour or two, to stare into the dark. It’s an odd, barren stasis where the known world has ebbed and tossed you up like detritus. You learn to wait it out, to say there, there, use this time, do some reading, catch up on correspondence.
Last night during those wakeful hours, an email pinged. It was from my friend Kelsey in the next neighbourhood over, where presumably she was staring into the barren dark too – well, into a rectangle of light in the barren dark. She’d sent me a link to a news story. Just a link. No hello or hope you’re well. Only the code to new information about a subject I am deeply interested in. Again I count my lucky stars – my good friends.
Kelsey and I live on a burl of land hanging off a large island, in the Salish Sea. If you walk in nearly any direction, you soon bump into ocean. Our city is a sack of coastline. Bakers here do not worry about cakes over-rising.
The news story’s title was “Victoria will have its lowest tides in a generation this week.” In this case, a "generation" was spread across 19 years. The reporter explained plainly: “Tides change on a few time scales based on where the moon is and how near it is to the Earth.” He went on to quote a scientist of “nearshore ecology” who spoke of “cycles of cycles of cycles.” I sat up and started to Google.
There would be a supermoon, meaning the moon would be both full (tide magnet) and as close to Earth as it gets during its orbit (tide magnet). And this would all happen when the sun, moon and earth were aligned (tide magnet extraordinaire!). Pull plus pull plus pull-extraordinaire! Wow!
The other day, my 32-year-old friend Q., who is one generation (it’s a loose term) younger than me, mentioned she often had coffee with the women in her YMCA exercise class. “You’re so cool, always hanging out with older women,” I teased. She answered: “Everyone my age talks about jobs and apartments. Older women are a lot more fun.”
We’re more fun because we know life is cycles. And we’ve all but completed the largest loop-de-loop, which those young lasses see from their vantage point as a straight line. They are in for a ride!
An hour into the workday, I told my boss I had a dental appointment. It wasn’t entirely a lie -- there is a huge hole in one of my teeth that I seriously need to think about. I said dental, not dentist.*
On my (emissions-spewing) drive along the coast, I listened to the radio. The CBC was interviewing a survivor of Kuyper Island residential school, whose voice filled the waves with chisel-clear details, of the horrible arrivals of priests after dark – and of his own moment of power when he moved to an empty upper bunk somewhat out of reach. Tony Charlie spoke so well it seemed the entire world had stopped and was listening.
Demi Moore was next, utterly likeable, speaking about what she calls “geographies” – the doomed act of moving to a new place to escape pain.
Then the news: astonishing photos from the James Webb Telescope had been released, showing galaxies clashing, stars forming -- stars we never knew of, dying. We can now see twelve times farther than ever before, a scientist explained, nearly to the edge of time. What the antiquated Hubble could only show as darkness is now filled with stars and their whirling planets.
There was a day last summer, when I swam in the ocean most evenings, that I cradled a bull kelp’s gas-filled float with a hand. I whispered “I love you” to the fast-growing (up there with bamboo), at-risk-of-endangerment alga. I feel real pain--in my shoulders, my stomach--watching motorboats cruise through bull kelp beds. So I was feeling out of sorts, cranky, driving along the coast. When nature’s sanctity is the only way to the future, the writer of the article had publicized the low tide and urged people to witness it. He went so far as to recommend sunscreen (I saw oil slicks). He had invited thousands to trample and poke at sea stars and sponges and cucumbers that were already in shock, from a kind of birth— exposure to the air.
It was not as bad as I’d feared. Lots of people were out, yes. But nature educators should be proud: no one was crashing around in the pools. People pointed rather than poked. Children kept the distance their parents modelled, a gauge of personal space they just might carry with them always. They were excited by what they saw, calling “Look at this!” “I see a ----”
I crouched at the edge of a tidal pool and stared. As always when tidal pools are gazed into, the pool incrementally revealed its depths, changing from lifeless puddle to miniature sea, streaked with movement, even of struggle and desire. Tadpole-like sculpins darted, hermit crabs ventured, limpets glided.
Crows unabashedly took advantage, turning over rocks, once in a while pinning something wriggling under their feet and stabbing at it with their beaks. I could never make out clearly what they had found. My iPhone would not zoom in far enough. I craved a backpack filled with binoculars, magnifying glasses, a microscope.
Dental appointments must come to an end. I got back into the car and returned to my desk, my mouth filled with barnacles and the blue sky beyond the window thick with stars.
*I made up the time later, and then some.
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Sara Cassidy posts short creative non-fiction pieces on Instagram every day or two @sarascassidy The longer ones are in full here.