This is a work in progress, but I thought I’d store it here so I don’t lose it!
I remember Dad driving us to Moncton for the week of Great Grandma Rose’s funeral. I was ten years old and hadn’t been to Dad’s mother’s house in many years. Nana Lise lived on the river in a large, beautiful home. The night of the visitation, Dad and Mom stayed after to speak to the funeral home director, and Nana Lise offered to take me and my cranky little brother, Brian, back to her house so we could get some sleep. As she was putting Brian down for the night, she told me to “make myself at home.” I wandered down the stairs listening to her trying to sing him to sleep. She had a beautiful voice, but I knew Brian, so I knew this would take a while.
I walked through the kitchen and lingered over the smell of the soup on the stove, but I wasn’t hungry because I had eaten more than my share of cookies at the funeral home. I had discovered the hospitality room while wandering through the hallways. I had enjoyed sneaking away from the adults while my parents were distracted talking to old friends and chasing my brother. The far end of Nana’s kitchen had a swinging door, and I couldn’t remember what was behind it. I swung it open to find a short set of carpeted stairs. They seemed to go down into a side entrance to the house. The entry room was darkly illuminated by what looked like a street lamp, attached to the newel post at the bottom of the steps. The room was paneled in mahogany wood. A few feet from the bottom of the steps was a set of tall, dark, wooden doors.
The far end of Nana’s kitchen had a swinging door, and I couldn’t remember what was behind it. I swung it open to find a short set of carpeted stairs. They seemed to go down into a side entrance to the house. The entry room was darkly illuminated by what looked like a street lamp, attached to the newel post at the bottom of the steps. The room was paneled in mahogany wood. A few feet from the bottom of the steps was a set of tall, dark, wooden doors.
I put my hands on the enormous door pulls and leaned back. Both doors opened slowly to reveal a study or library. In front of me were two white couches, facing each other. The wall on the left had a large bay window with velvet seat cushions. There was a massive desk on the right and a fireplace on the wall facing me. The room was decorated with a tapestry depicting medieval people riding horses. There were a few framed paintings of angels, and tall bookshelves filled with leather-bound books on either side of the hearth. The books were well worn and had names like Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Robinson Crusoe.
“Well, that’s that!” I thought. I am stuck here with Nana for a week, so I will spend my time in this room, reading! I walked over to choose my first book and noticed several framed photos on a shelf. One had a young couple at their wedding. It looked like a rather old photo, and it had a card that read “J. + R. Smith. This must have been my Great Grandpa Jack and Great Grandma Rose. Another one had four people in it. One looked like my father as a younger man. He was holding a baby. Sitting on his left was a woman who might have been Nana, and there was an elderly man behind him. I picked up the picture frame and turned it over. It had a card that read, “Four generations: Jacques, Lise, Jack, and Lisa”.
“I don’t suppose you remember having that picture taken?!” I jumped, quite startled to hear Nana speak. I hadn’t heard her come in the room.
“Oh,” I giggled nervously, blushing and turning toward her. “No, I sure don’t!” I was a bit ashamed that I was caught holding the picture. Nana’s house seemed to be a place where children should not be touching things!
Then it occurs to me… “Nana, who spelled Great Grandpa Jack’s name wrong? They put Jacques!”
She laughed, “There are some things you don’t know about Great Grandpa Jacques! His grandparents on his mother’s side were French, you know. His mother, your great-great grandmother, used to tell people ‘I named him Jacques so people would call him Jacques!’ But, to her dismay, she and Great Grandma Rose were the only people who didn’t call him Jack, at least in my memory. My mother used to tell us kids that he followed the old French traditions a lot more before he married her, moved to the city, and decided to act in a more English way. His clients didn’t trust the Acadians very much, so he tried to hide his accent and changed how he pronounced his name. He never changed the spelling, but signed his name just with a J.”
“That’s too bad,” I mused. “I always heard we had some French blood, but with a last name like Smith, I didn’t realize Great Grandpa Jack, er, Jacques was where that started.”
“Yes,” she said, “his mother was still alive when I was born, so I was given a French name to appease her, but she died shortly after my birth, and that’s why my younger siblings all have English names. I always thought it would be nice to know more about our voyageur roots, but I think I’m a little too old to follow all those footsteps.”
The grandfather clock near the door chimed and Nana said, “It’s probably time I get you in bed, too. Your parents will be here soon, and I don’t need them to know I let you stay up past your bedtime!”
As we walked toward the wooden double doors, I was wondering what Nana meant by “voyageurs” and “following those footsteps.”
“Oh!” Nana exclaimed. Then she snapped around and shuffled back to the bookshelf. She grabbed a little black book with a small scrap of paper sticking out of the pages, tucked it in her housecoat pocket, and quietly opened the door for me. We walked through the kitchen and she muttered, “I hope your parents will eat some soup,” as we walked to the stairs to the second-floor bedroom.
Nana showed me where she had put my things and where I could brush my teeth. “Get ready for bed and I’ll be back to tuck you in soon,” she said, and headed back down to the kitchen.
I listened to her cleaning up in the kitchen as I thought about what I had just learned. “Great Grandpa ‘Jacques’?!”, I thought. “Interesting.” And more importantly, “What book was she hiding from me?”
Mom and Dad had still not returned when she came to tuck me in.
“I’m glad you’re here, Lisa,” she said. “My mother died an old woman, but it still makes me very sad to lose her. She and I lived together since Great Grandpa Jack died, and you know I lost your grandfather shortly after that. It was just the two of us old ladies in this house for five years, you know.”
“Yes, I’m sad that she’s gone, too,” I said, trying to comfort her, but not quite knowing how.
“You know, in her last years, she was often confused, but I have to tell you a story. About two years ago, I was helping her get dressed and she sat down, looked me squarely in the eyes and said, ‘You will find a book for Lisa one day. It’s not for you, Lise. It’s for Lisa. An “e” is not an “a”. Will you remember that?’”
“What on earth does that mean, Nana?” I said, wondering if Nana was having the same memory trouble that Great Grandma Rose had been troubled with in her final years.
“Well, I didn’t know, so I just chalked it up to her bad memory. But yesterday, I was looking for old pictures for the visitation today, and I came across a book with a tag sticking out that said ‘Lisa,’ not ‘Lise’.”
“Really?! I love books!”
“I know,” she said, kissing me on the forehead “but maybe we should wait until morning. I love you! Good night!”
“Oh Nana! Please!”
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll put it in the drawer here, and if you can’t sleep, you can read a little bit.”
“OK”, I said, “goodnight!”
Not a second after she closed the bedroom door, I jumped out of bed and ran to the dresser in the dark. Upon opening the drawer and feeling around in it, my hand first landed on a flashlight, then the book. I started to get the feeling that Nana wasn’t too worried about me getting to sleep on time at all!
I opened the book…
In pretty writing, it said “My Dear Lisa, You are so much like my Jacques, a curious adventurer. I wish you could have known him. Maybe this will help you understand. Love, GGM Rose”
Tuesday morning, 12 June, 1898
The sun is just coming up. I’ve made my coffee and eaten a biscuit. I’ll grab some blueberries on the way. I’m preparing to make my way south from here. I have my map and compass, but I’ve “perdu le nord (lost the north),” as they say around here, or lost my bearings. I should be somewhere south of Petitcodiac, I think. I’ve decided to get back to the Great Trail by marching straight through the woods. I’ll point myself south and try to follow the muddy streambeds where I can. I should eventually run into the Atlantic Ocean, and the trail will be obvious then. This part of the country is inhabited by black bears and moose. While the sun is up, they are active, so I better be, too!
Late morning, 12 June, 1898
Finally! Four hours later, and I’ve found the ocean! I can’t be more than a half mile from the beach. What a beautiful place! Red rock cliffs, towering pines, and clear sparkling water as far as the eye can see. Best of all, I’m pretty sure I’ve found the Great Trail! There’s a little town a couple of miles down the shoreline. Once I get there, I’ll know where I am, get some supplies and continue the journey east. I can see the town from here, but I’m so tired and honestly feeling relieved, so I think I’ll get to the beach and take a short nap on the grass at the shore. The salty breeze is soothing, the sky is overcast, and the sound of the gentle waves against the rocks only a few yards away is magical. Seems like a perfect place to relax a while.
Afternoon, 12 June 1898
Whoa! This is weird. Am I dreaming? I’m suddenly not sure where I am. When I went to sleep, I thought I had finally found my way, but now I’ve “perdu le nord” all over again! I don’t even want to write this down. It doesn’t make any sense; people will think I’m crazy. But I said I would document this journey, so I will. The sun is in the west now, which means I must have slept four hours or more, but that’s not the strange part. The ocean… it’s… gone! The spruce and firs on the ruddy cliffs look familiar, but the water has gone missing. The beach is covered with damp rocks, but they’ve multiplied, or been stretched out in front of me, or I’ve been moved to another beach..? I’ll have to go look around.
I stand up and reach for the sky, thinking this may clear my head. I do see some water in the distance. At least, I think it is water. It’s so far, almost all the way on the horizon. Like a mirage. I walk out over the stones, each one moving a little under my feet, each one wet and green with moss or white with barnacles… no, not moss, it’s algae! There are patches of sand and occasionally I see a little crab scurrying to avoid my attention. The water is silent and still near the horizon, it seems. I keep walking toward the sea and a light breeze brings the smell of salt and fish, and convinces me I am still near the ocean. The clumps of algae are brown or green. Some have swollen stems that look like balloons. They don’t belong on dry land; these appear to be marine species. They need to be under water to live, but they still look alive, only slightly deflated. I am careful to avoid stepping on them, since they are very slippery. There are some shallow pools of water here and there, but not enough to support these aquatic plants, and certainly not enough for barnacles! How strange!
I keep walking with my back to the beach, trying to get closer to the water, when I come to a large patch of sand. A thin stream of water is flowing across it, leaving ripples. It looks like water has been making ripples here for some time. But the ripples are symmetrical. Ripples in a streambed are always asymmetrical with one side longer and flatter than the other, indicating the direction the water was flowing. Judging by these ripples, the water must move in two directions equally, but that’s not possible, is it? Looking back at where I napped, I must have walked a mile toward the water by now, but it’s at least another mile out to the waves. This feels like someone pulled the drain plug on the ocean, but there are no confused fish flopping around. Apart from a few shy crabs, no one seems to be the least bit concerned!
A gull flies nonchalantly overhead and drops a mussel on the exposed rock to crack open her lunch. She eyes me distrustfully and gives a little squawk, warning me to keep away. I watch the gull with her prize for a few minutes, or maybe it was longer. As I turn to walk ever further toward the water, it suddenly doesn’t look so far away. Finally I arrive at the water’s edge! My feet are tired, so I drop my pack on the stony surface and take off my boots, carrying them with me toward the cool muddy brine. Aahh! Suddenly, I look back and realize my pack is sitting in a little puddle of water. I thought that spot had been merely damp a moment ago. Hmm… I grab my pack and realize the water is flowing uphill, over the cobbles, and toward the shore. “That’s not possible,” I mutter to myself while gingerly picking my path toward the grassy hillside so far away. I shuffle over to a patch of sand to try to gain some ground on the water, which appears to be returning toward the shore. I pause long enough to throw on my boots, and realize the water is definitely rising.
I finally begin to consider what is going on. While the sun and moon conspire to pull water toward and away from the land over a few feet on all the beaches I’ve encountered before, this place seems to have an extreme version of this tidal phenomenon. In this place, the water is pulled not over feet or yards, but miles!
I’m getting closer to shore now, and I notice a rocky outcrop along the coast. Not the red cliffs, but green rocks covered by algae. They reach at least fifteen feet above my head! If the tide was all the way in, I’d be under water for sure! I’m a capable swimmer, but the thought frightens me enough to quicken my pace and my heartbeat! After a while, I start to get winded and look back to see that the water is indeed pursuing me, but I’m outpacing it just fine. I can afford a minute’s rest. It occurs to me that I’m still not exactly sure where I am, but I can see the village and I know the townspeople can tell me when I get there.
Another half mile of walking at a nice, relaxed pace, and I find myself crossing the grass and strolling along the road toward the town. They tell me this is Alma, New Brunswick. But they jokingly ask me where I just came from. I told my story, and they said “you were in the Bay of Fundy”.
“In? Like on the bottom of the sea floor!?” I laugh. But as I look back at the ocean gently, slowly, relentlessly returning to the cliffs, I realize that I was indeed walking on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s largest tidal fluctuations. Here, the moon and sun pull the water 53 vertical feet, and over three horizontal miles from shore, twice a day! There are two reasons that the moon’s (and sun’s) gravitational pull affects this location differently than other locations. One is that the Bay of Fundy is funnel-shaped, so as the water is pulled into the space between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, it gets squeezed into ever-narrower areas horizontally, which means it is pulled to greater depth, vertically. (The same volume of water pushed against a long shoreline will spread out, but pushed into a narrow space, it will become taller.) The other is trickier to explain without some understanding of physics, and I’m a biologist. This will be a bit of an oversimplification.
Resonance is a concept in physics that happens when an external force acts on an oscillating system. Sounds difficult, but you’ve definitely experienced it. Let’s say you’re pushing a child on a swing. If you lift them and let go and they don’t “pump their legs”, they will slow down due to the friction in the chain and air resistance. On the other hand, if you push them every time they get to where you are standing, you will be adding “external force” that will keep the “system” (child on swing) “oscillating” (going back and forth). If you add the force at the wrong time, you can slow them down, but by doing it at just the right time, you can keep them oscillating and overcome the resistance forces that would stop them eventually. This system has a “period of oscillation” or time that is just right for adding that helpful force. If the swing’s chain is longer or shorter, the time period will be different.
In a similar way, water in a bowl could be sloshed back and forth rhythmically in such a way as to allow it to reach the rim of the bowl on each side, if you moved the bowl just right. If you wanted to keep that sloshing going, you would have to keep adding force at the right time. The larger the bowl, the longer the period of oscillation. The shape of the Bay of Fundy means that the period of oscillation for the sloshing water happens to be a little over 12 hours. And of course, the moon goes around the earth every 24 hours. So the moon pulls the water into the bay, then away from the bay every 12 hours!