When life is confusing, I sit and watch the tide come and go

“Time and tide waits for no man,” is a quote by Geoffrey Chaucer which many of us have heard at one time or another. We, as a family, have been coming to Maine for many years, but it was not until arriving Downeast that the essence of this quote became very real.

Having spent many years vacationing in mid-coast Maine, we were aware of the tides, but they seemed far less dramatic than what they are here. Sometimes we would go out to Pemaquid Point at low tide and explore the myriad of tidal pools finding crabs, small fish and sometimes a small lobster waiting for the tide to return. The water was warm to the touch and, with the lighthouse as a backdrop and the sea still very close at hand, we felt protected.

Here Downeast, one cannot drive the coast without noticing the significant impact the tides have on the geography of the place, as well as the navigational challenge it can pose on both land and sea. The tides are an occupational hazard to some, and a thing of beauty to others; it all depends on the time of day, frame of mind and what you are trying to achieve.

We realized the drastic extremes in the tides on our first drive to Cutler. As we drove to where we were going for the day, the water was as close to the road as it could be. On our return trip, the water was gone and the only thing we could see were mud flats drying in the sun. Far out on the horizon was a faint blue line of water waiting for its time to return to shore.

photo courtesy MNR

That same drive to Cutler also brought back vivid memories of time spent in Nova Scotia, where the average tide is 40 vertical feet. While traveling the famed lighthouse route of Cape Breton, we passed through many small villages, which typically were just a few houses and a wharf. Depending on the time of day, we would either be treated to seeing fishing boats of varying size sitting upright in mud while waiting for the sea’s return, or the picture-perfect postcard of those same boats bobbing on a field of blue water.

photo courtesy Shawna Mae

But a changing tide is not only a visual phenomenon; it is also an amazing transformation to hear happen. A great place to do that is Reversing Falls Park in Pembroke. This is where we realized the strength and speed of the tide. Go there an hour or two before high or low tide, and the sheer magnitude of what is happening up and down the coast is front and center. The water here rises an average of 20 feet every 6.4 hours, sending water rushing in and out of Dennys Bay and Whiting Bay. This flow of water travels through the narrow area between Mahar Point and Falls Island to create what appears to be a waterfall that runs opposite the current. And the sound of all of this happening is like that of a freight train barreling into the station, stopping to unload and then starting back up, barreling back out to where it came. The sound of it all is mesmerizing.

Reversing Falls in Pembroke, Maine
courtesy of Tessa Chaffey Ftorek

And there was the incident that literally, for us as a family, embodied Chaucer’s quote, word for word, by almost leaving us on an island for the remainder of the day because of an unusually high tide. There is nothing that will jar the senses quicker than the strength and determination a tide has when you are running across a bar of gravel and rock in a last-ditch attempt to make it to the mainland before the bar is swallowed up by water. We did make it, and in looking back from where we were on the beach that day, and now, again, with this memory, it was a great reminder of the precious commodity we all seem to take for granted: time.

Today, there are not many things that are constants in life. The world seems like it keeps shifting as life hums its way by at lightning speed. This forever constant in- your-face shifting, be it world events, personal relationships, 140 character snippets that try to explain but only annoy, weather warm when it should be cold, technology that should teach rather than blur, is at times very tiring.

It is gratifying to know that, when life seems confusing, a walk down to the water’s edge to spend some quality time listening to and watching the tide might be all that’s needed to make things feel right again. Eventually the tide will turn over and soothe life’s worries, as the ocean’s clockwork never disappoints, waving goodbye to the old and hello to the new, every single day, twice a day.

Yes, it is gravitational forces at work, but it also touches the clock inside each of us. If we allow it some quiet time, it will take us back to our beginnings and will never disappoint. Tides can always be counted on to put things into perspective, making one feel connected, grounded to something and just maybe making the day seem a little bit better.

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.