I love the columns of Verlyn Klinkenborg and now here he is writing about my favorite place in the whole world, Point Reyes. Enjoy the tides!!
Time and Tide at Point Reyes
The last time I stayed at the house up the hill and around the corner from Point Reyes Station, Calif., there were Holsteins grazing on the tidal flats below. Now the tidal flats have been restored, the cows are gone, and all day long the equilibrium shifts before my eyes. On one tide Tomales Bay runs up into Lagunitas Creek. On the next tide, Lagunitas Creek runs out into Tomales Bay. No matter what time of day it is, the wind tends to confuse the appearance of the tides, depending on how it’s blowing.
I suppose those old Holsteins were tidal creatures in some sense — eating salt grass, their udders filling and emptying like the flats themselves. But now the creek channel spills out across the mud and the grass twice a day, and birds rise and settle without ceasing. Now, it’s possible to feel the bay respiring. The water is constantly catching me by surprise. I look, and there’s a bright, wind-tugged sheet of it from here to Inverness. I look again, and the light adheres strictly to the creek channel, eeling its way across the darkness.
Vultures flare just above my head, and quail start across the lawn. An osprey dangles in the stiff wind, then folds and drops on its prey. Great egrets practice their stillness, and above them, looking out across the flats, I find myself thinking of all the chronologies in which I live, all the ways a life gets measured out. The least familiar of them is the one right before me — the coming and going of the tides. I find a suspense in it, a constant sense of expectation. I consult a tide chart and note that the tide is ebbing, but I’m not experienced enough to feel it. The best I can do is see where the water is now, and then where it is an hour from now. It’s like having to look repeatedly at the sun to guess its direction across the sky.
I always tell my writing students to avoid chronology, because we live utterly in the thick of it. We need no reminding how it works. But that’s what I love about watching these flats. They undermine my landlocked sense of chronology. The day comes to an end, but the tide may be ebbing or flooding. Morning breaks, but the tide may be ebbing or flooding. The perfectly cyclical nature of the tides feels, somehow, counter-cyclical to my understanding of the flow of time. If time were like the tides, we would surge into the future and rush back to the past, twice daily, while the narrow balance point we call the present worked its way steadily forward.Surely the egrets and the ospreys and the plovers understand all of this intuitively. So do the flocks of waterfowl that beat their way out over the bay. I suspect those long-gone Holsteins also would think of the tides as a wonderment in this otherwise sensible world.