I just got back from our annual family vacation on the coast of Maine. There is something about the quantity and the quality of all the blue and green — the ocean and the forests — that keeps calling us back. And so does our hideaway — a little cottage that sits on a wooded bluff about fifty feet above a bay; it takes a hike down a series of wooden steps and ladders to actually get to the water’s edge.
Since we love to swim in salt water (even when the water is really, really cold) and since we love to walk on the rocky beach, keeping track of the tides tends to dominate our days. When the tide is high, the bay fills to its edges, pushing the water up over the bottom steps of the ladder. There is no place to walk. We swim. When the tide is out, a vast landscape opens up, acres and acres of it, studded with the smoothed stones that reveal the underlying geology. We walk.
You know how tides work — two high tides and two low tides every day. That’s not the point of going into all this detail. The back-and-forth cycle just gets me thinking about the rhythms of nature; not just the daily rhythm of the water, but also of sunrise and sunset, of day and night. There is moonrise and the setting of the moon.
Perched at the water’s edge, it occurs to me that this in-out pulse of the tides is mirrored in our own bodies. There’s the rhythm of our breathing: inhaling then exhaling, over and over. There’s the pulse of our heartbeat: contracting then resting, over and over. We wake, we sleep, we wake again.
The rhythms of breathing and heartbeat help place me in the natural world. I am reminded that the earth and humans evolved together — of course we would share the same rhythms. Half the day is bathed in darkness and humans can’t see without light — of course we sleep while it’s dark.
Survival in nature is often about niches. While some creatures sleep during the night, others come to life after the sun sets, for example raccoons, opossums, foxes, owls, crickets, fireflies, and cats. Certain plants open their flowers at night to be pollinated by bats and moths, for example night-blooming cereus (flowering cacti) and night-blooming jasmine.
None of this is news, but I like this once-a-year opportunity to spend time on a rocky coast where it’s impossible not to notice a twelve-foot tidal rise and fall. It reminds me of, connects me to the elemental rhythms of the earth, water, and sky. And maybe one of the reasons I love being on vacation is that I can relax into these ancient rhythms, the sun calling me awake and the dark inviting me to sleep.
Technology tends to mask the fact, but we are creatures of the earth, tied into its pulse, beating to those same rhythms, no matter how many lights we turn on or what time the alarm goes off.
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Join the conversation at “Chester County Roots,” a Facebook page for gardeners in the Delaware Valley. Go to Facebook, search for Chester County Roots, and “like” the page. To receive notice of updates, click or hover on “Liked” to set your preferences.