The tide moves in a rocking chair rhythm, in and out, day after day, century after century. On a sun-speckled beach, it’s a drowsy rhythm. But your own drowsiness can be rudely shattered if you’re daydreaming on a small rocky island the tide has exposed. Without your knowing, the tide has begun to rise, and as the water sloshes around your feet you realize abruptly that the tide does not negotiate. Not now, not ever….
Far out at sea you wouldn’t even notice the movement of the tide, although it moves there, too. But as the water edges up against the open coast, skippers of small fishing boats and bulky freighters alike watch the tide tables and the sky. While the effect of the tidal current on them is minimal in the open sea, they know that the coastal tide paired with a strong wind can be deadly.
The tide moves up the rocky shores. It covers the green and white anemones and the brilliant sea stars and sets the eelgrass afloat. The water rises onto the sandy beaches and muddy shores, shifting and rearranging logs, sand and debris in its own whimsical design.
Now the tide enters the great harbors and seaports, usually located on rivers that empty to the sea. The water sweeps the main channels of silt, insuring their depths. Ocean liners and cargo ships will be able to continue to pass, often with the help of local experienced pilots who know the tide’s behavior as well as the harbor. At an especially shallow harbor entrance, the captain waits until the tide is high. Now his ship can float the passage. The harbor comes to life on the incoming tide.
The tide continues up into the smaller harbors and communities. Here, too, the tide is the clock. A new year doesn’t start until the new tide table is posted in the kitchen…Beside the “Community Calendar” in the local paper, “This Week’s Tides” tells the fisherman when he can launch his boat and when the cod are likely to strike. Summer swimmers check first to see if the tide is high enough to cover the mudflats and the barnacles. Clam diggers check to see if the tide is low enough to expose their prey.
The water pauses and then begins to recede. It departs the sleepy little towns, the lively seaports. It exposes sandflats and green rocky beaches. The sandpiper and the gull swoop down onto their now exposed feeding grounds….
This home you and I call Earth has been described as the “water planet.” About 70 percent of its surface is covered by water. And no other force that affects the oceans of the Earth is so strong as this force called the tide.
From Where Does the Tide Go? Out. Published under my previous name, Mary Lynn Seavy, Welcome Press, Seattle, WA, 1983, now out of print.