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The Bay of Fundy tides make it a contender for the Seven Natural Wonders contest. (J.Pleau/Parks Canada/J.Pleau/Parks Canada)
The Bay of Fundy tides make it a contender for the Seven Natural Wonders contest. (J.Pleau/Parks Canada/J.Pleau/Parks Canada)

Discover a 'wilderness for everyone' at Fundy National Park Add to ...

Instead of fishing, I signed up for an intertidal interpretative talk, given by Karen Hine. Karen Hine is to the intertidal interpretive interchange what James Joyce is to modernist fiction. The woman is brilliant. We traipsed through the multiple greens of the New Brunswick woods down a flight of handy stairs (stairs! in the woods! lovely!) to the humped stone beach of Herring Cove.

The Bay of Fundy, you may remember from third-grade geography, has the highest tides in the world. They range from 3.5 metres at their lowest to 16 metres and more. A normal, non-Fundian tide rises and falls one measly metre. As tides go, Fundy is the big boy. Fundy's high waters can travel eight kilometres inland and five storeys vertically - a force of 25 million horsepower that in places has worn the surrounding sedimentary topography down to 300-million-year-old rock.

Why are Fundy's tides so roomy? At the risk of becoming a tidal bore myself, I tell you sincerely: There are many fascinating parts to the answer to that question. Some of them are the pull of the moon and the sun on the Earth (the highest tides occur when all three are in line); the distance of the moon in its orbit from the Earth; the spin of the Earth and the even the wobble of its axis. All these forces are enhanced by the fact that the Bay of Fundy is essentially a 270-kilometre-long loaf pan, closed at one end, into which 100 billion tonnes of sea water sluice and ebb every six and a quarter hours, building and bouncing as they go - the famous Fundy seiche.

To see the ebbing tide leave the wide red-mud flats bare, only to make them completely disappear six hours and 15 minutes later, is to watch the world get undressed for bed at night, and dressed again for work in the morning. The bed of the Earth is made, and stripped, and made, and stripped: The maid herself is tireless. People walk across the damp flats like figures in a Currier & Ives print engraved long ago, back when man was enthralled by the natural world and not just ashamed of what he had done to it. The tides of the Bay of Fundy are the timekeeper of the planet, its nag, its reminder of birth and death and birth and death and birth and death again. Environmentalist Rachel Carson thought that watching the to and fro of tides and all the life they contained was "to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be." This is why the New Brunswick shore feels so ordinary and remarkable at the same time.

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Karen moved closer to the water. The tide was coming in, "about an inch a minute," she said. She had red hair that stood out nicely against the forest green of her Parks Canada jacket, rain pants and Wellingtons. We were examining knotted wrack, the long strands of dark brown bubbled seaweed that beards the rocks at low tide. Each pod represents a year of growth. "When the water comes in," Karen said, "photosynthesis is ON. Factory's open! And when it goes out, factory's OFF!" That was the way she talked. She was surprisingly suspenseful.

Karen stooped, and pointed to some barnacles. Between the larger ones, the rock was plastered with tiny ones as well.

The barnacles start out as free-swimming crab-like things, Karen said. "And then at one stage they get the urge to settle down. And they look for a nice stretch of rock, preferably one that isn't going to turn over, and they glue the top of their heads to the rock, never to move again." (Dentists use barnacle glue to secure crowns.) "Then they build that six-sided volcano-like shape. And then they build a door, like a little elevator door."

If you've ever noticed a snip-snap sound at the seashore on a hot day when the tide is out, it was likely barnacles, menopausally opening and closing their doors as they try to ventilate their microthermal interiors without drying out.

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