Hid­den worlds re­vealed by the eb­bing tides

Cyclic al eb­bing water re­veals oth­er­wise hid­den worlds. Tif­fany Fran­cis goes with the flow, telling us what she finds when the shore shares its se­crets.

Project Calm - - Contents -

Last winter, we flew to the west­ern shores of In­dia to es­cape the lethargy of Bri­tain in late Fe­bru­ary. Each day the tem­per­a­ture climbed to 30°C, and we spent our time slic­ing through the streets on a dusty moped, past stray dogs and sa­cred cows adorned with f low­ers, our senses con­sumed by sun­light and spiced turmeric. It was a beau­ti­ful and chaotic place, but each evening, al­most de­feated by the noise and heat of the day, we would wan­der down to the shore and swim in the wild Ara­bian Sea, where the cool, salty waters washed away the dirt and ospreys cir­cled through the sky above us in search of fish.

The air here was peace­ful and still, but the waves pushed down on the shore in an end­less rhythm, ar­riv­ing and de­part­ing, em­brac­ing and with­draw­ing. We tried to stand against the force of the waves, but re­sis­tance was pointless. We were thrown into the water and car­ried back to the sand like drift­wood. Try­ing to stand against the tide was like try­ing to stop time; bet­ter to f loat through it, un­con­trolled, and em­brace the rhythm of the water. We re­laxed our bod­ies and the sea lifted us high into the air and back down to earth, ready to re­peat that eter­nal cy­cle again and again and again.

Ever since the earth and moon were formed around 4.5 bil­lion years ago they have been en­gaged in a cos­mic waltz, where the moon or­bits the earth, and the earth moves around the sun. As the moon or­bits the earth, its grav­i­ta­tional pull causes the clos­est side of the ocean to rise up in a ti­dal bulge; at the same time, the earth spins and cre­ates a cen­trifu­gal force – the same that pushes us away from the cen­tre of a play­ground round­about – caus­ing a sec­ond ti­dal bulge on the far­thest side from the moon. This is why we have two tides each day – one is pulled up by the moon, the other pushed away by the earth.

Our tides re­veal the se­crets of the ocean, but only for a while. They stretch back to ex­pose the shells and stones and tiny crea­tures that live on the seabed and then come again to hide it all away like an emer­ald cloak. The tide is na­ture’s time­keeper, and both hu­mans and other an­i­mals have adapted their lives to its rhythms, from cal­en­dar sys­tems to fer­til­ity cy­cles. Stud­ies of Florid­ian fid­dler crabs show that in­di­vid­u­als are most ac­tive when the tide is out, even when they are in a lab­o­ra­tory miles away from the shore. We may not all be were­wolves, but re­search sug­gests lu­nar tides have a greater in­flu­ence on our lives than we might think.

Learn­ing to wait

Just as tides re­veal new worlds, they can also keep se­cret places to them­selves. Small coves and coastal is­lands can be cut off when the tide rises, and cause­ways that were once pleas­ant walk­ways be­come in­ac­ces­si­ble to those with­out boats or uni­mogs (am­phibi­ous ve­hi­cles that can drive through water). It is good for the mod­ern hu­man to lose con­trol some­times; we are so used to hav­ing our own way, in­stant ac­cess to friends, places, pic­tures, mu­sic, words; shap­ing and bend­ing the nat­u­ral world to suit our own re­quire­ments. The tide forces us to wait, to turn around, change our plans and let our­selves be sub­ject to some­thing else’s sched­ule, wait­ing for the water to sweep back and let us share its se­crets once more. Each sum­mer we travel to Lang­stone Har­bour on the Hamp­shire coast to col­lect sea­weed and drift­wood. There is an eigh­teenth- cen­tury mill on the sea wall that over­looks the water, and on warm evenings the sun glows across the har­bour and in through the win­dows. At low tide the Lang­stone shore is a trea­sure trove of shells, cut­tle­fish bones and peb­bles, drift­wood sea­soned by the salt­wa­ter, per­fect for craft­ing at home; we use twine to make wind­chimes out of the nat­u­ral f lot­sam. All is lost at high tide, our hoard aban­doned on the seabed; then we have no choice but to drink cider and watch the pink evening sky in­stead. There is no ar­gu­ing with the ocean. When the tide calls time, there is noth­ing left to do but re­treat and en­joy the view.

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