During one of my first solo visits to Maine in my late twenties I had the opportunity to spend several hours one sunny afternoon sitting on rocks just above tide line at Pemaquid Point. Having grown up in Ohio with only very limited exposure to the ocean, I had never had realized the ageless rhythm of the awesome twice daily ebb and flow of the enormous body of water such as the Atlantic Ocean. Beginning at mid-tide, as I witnessed the variety of sizes of the waves that lapped at my feet, I became totally engrossed by the subtle changes in how the rocks received the waves as the waves came, little by little, closer into me, with an occasional wisp of mist in my face, followed by an equally powerful undertow in a mesmerizing ancient dance of the sea, all with the subtle orchestration of the moon and the ebb and flow of the tide.
What intrigued me most was the two-fold physical phenomenon of both the surface action of the individual waves while they also engage and succumb to the rise and fall of the mega movement of the tide itself. As I became absorbed in the tide that day, my soul responded with one of the most profound philosophical realizations of my lifetime, one that I have referred to so many times as I have tried to fathom inevitable change and resistance to it. My life itself, I find, is a movement of dailiness like the waves, of good times and bad, while all along my aging and wisdom moves at a deeper, subtler rhythm as does flow of the tide over millennia. And so it also goes throughout the seasons, throughout history, throughout all the cycles that define life itself: the constant motion of incoming wave and undertow under the control of the mighty tidal rhythm of the sea.
All this preamble is to say that, despite what is obviously an arrhythmic historical time, I am inclining to believe that under all the disruption of climate and the mistreatment of the earth, there is greater power like the tides that is also moving among us.
Sailors and oceanographers who know the ocean well will recognize several kinds of tides besides high and low. And these, too, can provide a metaphor for framing the flow of human history . A neap tide, for example, occurs twice when there is little difference between high and low tide, a metaphor for relative stability; “spring tides” occur with higher tides during full and crescent moons, like the occasional significant historical change in cultural attitudes and practices; and rip tides that act like dangerous, life-threatening underwater rivers that pull all in their path away from land, which I can liken to the political catastrophe we are enduring at present.
But I was most excited to learn about the "bore tide" that perhaps best explains the historical moment. The bore tide is a huge wave or series of waves that advance down an inlet in a wall of water up to 10-feet high! Just as it difficult to imagine the extent of the current shifts occurring across the planetary culture and environment during the climate crisis and now the Covid-19 pandemic and the anti-racism movement, it is also difficult to imagine a 10 foot high wall of water (like a natural tsunami) "boring” down on us. In some ways, life during lockdown is like being subject to a bore tide, we may feel like we are subject to a slow but powerful phenomenon of change that we simply cannot fully understand or resist that we must endure until it plays itself out. I don’t know enough about bore tides to know their level of positive or negative change opon their landfall, so I will leave that to the oceanographers among us, or at least until another Saturday Evening Post!
As the pandemic continues without any assurance of duration or the extent of its ultimate physical and economic impact, I am finding some solace this evening thinking about the larger power and endurance of the ocean itself. “Tides" of all sorts come and go, but the oceans of the world, in sync with the moon and the sun, will have the final say about survival and grace. With all the planetary disruptions, maybe it is naive, but I will continue to believe the existence and rhythms of the oceans will outlast, and hopefully support, life on the planet for us all as an enduring depository of essential, sustainable life and spiritual inspiration.