The Tide of Our Lives

In my favorite opening line in all of literature, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” In my case, though, it’s the ocean itself that holds the greatest pull. Whether I’m sailing, swimming, or just staring, the ocean is a source of endless fascination and renewal. It’s also one of life’s best teachers. The ocean teaches beauty, patience, and above all, respect. For try as we may, it cannot be controlled. And, in Chaucer’s famous phrase, “Time and tide wait for no man.” I’ll save the rumination on time’s passage for another post, but as for tides, well. . .

Sailing, takes me away to where I’m always. . .

In June 2019, we celebrated my younger daughter’s graduation from elementary school by heading north to New Brunswick for the first time. My daughters and I had a marvelous time visiting what we dubbed a “wind-swept wonderland,” Canada’s only officially bilingual province and one too frequently overlooked by those on the road to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. And we’ve been hoping to return and show my wife the great Bay of Fundy tides (the world’s highest) ever since. Though the pandemic scrubbed those plans in 2020, and though the Delta variant’s sweep through anti-science Southern States has brought fear and uncertainty back into New England’s well-vaccinated lives, Canada did re-open the border on August 9. And so a few days later, we decided to take advantage and leave the country for the first time in 2 1/2 years.

Are you, though? I mean, are you really?

We spent the night in Bangor, Maine, whiled away the drive north doing research for a script of mine set in what I dub “Stephen King country,” and reached the Canadian border shortly before 10am (or was it 11?). That little detail turned out to be significant because it took some convincing before the Customs official admitted that we had in fact taken our mandatory COVID tests within the requisite 72 hours (NB is on Atlantic Time, an hour ahead of Eastern). But we got through, and for the rest of the journey were greeted with a mixture of pleasure and puzzlement by Canadians who, though uniformly friendly, seemed largely unaware that the border with the US had in fact been re-opened for the first time since March 2020. To be fair, they appear to have gotten on just fine without us.

I love the mix of pride and modesty exemplified by this sign. Yes, we’re Canadian, but it wouldn’t be nice to boast about it, so let’s just leave a small reminder.

Much of our first day was devoted to chocolate, which is pretty much my definition of a day well spent. St. Stephen dubs itself Canada’s Chocolate Town, and who am I to argue? I certainly had no quarrel with the molasses-infused chocolates we enjoyed at Ganong (https://ganong.com).

This advertisement raises questions on so many levels.

And then it was on to the resort town St. Andrews by-the-Sea for more chocolate, this time with a side order of Christmas. (Spoiler alert: towns in the southern, more English-speaking section of NB are basically a succession of Saints.)

It really doesn’t get much better than this.

After that, we drove an hour or so to Saint John, our destination for the next two nights, where I took a work Zoom and then promptly collapsed with a. . .wait for it. . .common cold. Yes, I managed to acquire my first cold since March 2020 on this trip, and although my family assured me that they had a nice walk around and enjoyed some tasty Thai food, I really have no memory of it. There are many things I miss about pre-COVID, pre-mask life, but catching colds sure isn’t one of them.

Mmmm. . .molasses.

The next morning I had sufficiently recovered to enjoy a wonderful breakfast at our hotel, the outstanding Marriott-affiliated Delta Saint John (https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/ysjdb-delta-hotels-saint-john/). The highlight was pancakes topped with. . .wait for it. . .molasses. Which seems like a good moment to mention how scarcity is a key element of nostalgia. Growing up, I only had molasses on summer mornings when staying at my grandparent’s house on Cape Cod, just as I only ever enjoyed After Eight dinner mints during Thanksgivings at my aunt and uncle’s. As a result, I developed a strong attraction to both that would never have formed had they been more readily available.

I see a close connection between this tidal swirl and my molasses breakfast. Do you?

After reluctantly leaving the breakfast table, we headed out to Reversing Falls, one of Saint John’s premier attractions. Constrained by rocks on either side (and an enormous bridge), the river flows vigorously in one direction for a few hours, and then nearly as vigorously in the other, leaving only about a 20-minute slack tide window during which boats can pass through. It’s an awesome sight.

Reversing Falls during a rare minute spent slacking off.
A more vigorous time, clearly for the birds.

After that we headed to St. Martins to glimpse the famous caves there as the tide dropped, then headed to the marvelous Fundy Trail Parkway (https://fundytrailparkway.com) for the true tidal experience. We went to our favorite spot, the aptly named Long Beach, and caught Low Tide just after 4pm amid the spray and swirling mist. I’ll let the pictures tell that tale, but let me just say that if you’d like a place to feel both very small and ten-feet tall, Long Beach at low tide is hard to top.

A real mist-see (sorry).

We waited until the turning of the tide, and then drove back to St. Martins for some more amazing views and bowls of the deservedly famous seafood chowder and biscuits at the Caves Restaurant (http://www.cavesrestaurant.com).

Walk there at low tide, kayak just a few hours later.

The next morning we strolled around Saint John, checking out an art gallery, the great City Market, and wondering at all the customer-less barber shops we saw. (seriously, Saint John seems to have more unoccupied barbershops per capita than any other place I’ve been.).

Saint John Street Scene

Then it was time to drive north to Moncton and into the more French-speaking part of NB, which is a centerpiece of Acadian culture. Just as Hurricane Henri was beginning to menace the East Coast several hundred miles south, we enjoyed temperatures in the high 80s on Parlee Beach, which boasts the warmest water north of Virginia. It was all slightly surreal, but I can’t say I minded.

No woman is an island.
What is he saying? I’ll never tell.

After walking and sunning ourselves, we headed to Shediac, which rather un-Canadianly dubs itself the “Lobster Capital of the World.” However, after enjoying lobster rolls in the shadow of these fine fellows, we chose not to argue the point.

At Christmas, does this become Santa Claws? (Sorry, not sorry).

The next day brought more tidal adventures. First we watched a local dude surf the Tidal Bore in Downtown Moncton, formed when the rising tide pushes water from the Bay of Fundy miles up the Peticodiac River.

Willy Wonka would be jealous.

Then, after a horrifying reminder that though people can’t control the ocean, they don’t mind trashing it. . .

Ugh

. . .we next headed to the Fundy National Park (https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nb/fundy), first stopping for a mind-blowing lobster burger and blueberry salad at the Tides Restaurant in nearby Alma. (https://www.parklandvillageinn.com/dining-choices/tides-restaurant/)

There are no words.

The park had wonderful views both of beaches and boats patiently waiting for higher tides. . .

Have a seat.
We’re not going anywhere.

. . .but we had to keep moving towards the famous Hopewell Rocks, which again we managed to catch right at low tide.

Can you find my family?

Walking on the ocean floor is like walking on the moon, but a lot easier.

There they are!

Walking through the mud flats, however, is not recommended.

And the next morning, it was time to head south and home, stopping at one more amazing beach along the way.

New River Beach

In our absence, Henri arrived, but the impact thankfully turned out to be less than feared (I witnessed the last time a hurricane made landfall in New England, and I have no wish for a repeat.). So we returned home full of good times and tides and many happy memories (though very few sightings of other Americans — we saw just three other US license plates the whole time we were in NB). So I close this post by encouraging everyone to visit New Brunswick when you get a chance. Though maybe not all at once.

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