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Barnacle Songs, by Jo Leath

Some joys of Down to Earth Farm rest in its geography and geology. We are cupped in a micro-climate, nestled on the side of a south-facing mountain, with a lush agricultural valley spreading out before us. If we climb north, we reach a place where we an see the valley farms spread out like playthings; the right-angles of coloured fields; the strips of TonkaToy roads and vehicles. If we turn our backs on that perspective, we are gifted with the grey and blue vitality of the tidal waters of the Bay of Fundy.

Fundy boasts the highest tide differential of any coast on the planet. At low tide, there are beaches where we can walk on the sea floor, on sand and rock that is regularly flooded to vast depths. In other places, delighted passengers revel in raft rides on the tidal bore. The compressed and pressured water of the boundless Atlantic is forced into a too-narrow space, and it blasts up the mouths of the feeding rivers, cleaving new gulfs and heaving mud flats out of potential fields. Roiling water rears high and white, lunging into the land, and then, as though defeated, retreating again.

The shore of Fundy is long and varied. My household has an often accessed favourite spot of shoreline. It is a diminutive locale near a negligible village, where the waters of the bay have cast aside tons of boulders and rocks. When the tide is at its lowest, there are several promontories; outcrops you would never suspect at other times.

The northern rocks are white with barnacles that I can hear singing when the waters turn. It is a challenge to define whether these millions of blind living creatures are mouths or faces or bodies. They issue sounds as they remain rooted, opening and closing themselves in ways that I see as their need to believe. I imagine them dreaming that the dry is their night; that they are praying to Neptuna or Poseidon. I consider the possibility that barnacles hold revival meetings. I wonder whether they can feel the moon, sense the light bright night. Can they know, or conjecture, or predict? Is there Barnacle Philosophy? Could it be anything other than "The Universe is Cyclical"? I see expansion and entropy on the beaches of Fundy.

A few steps landward from the snowy northern rocks, the waters have carved rock beaches into crevices and crevasses. The rock table has been rounded and eroded into curves, revealing bellies, breasts and pelvises. The ocean has created the natural beauty of life in inorganic rock.

When the tide is at its lowest point, I feel the need to scale the offshore islet. It is usually invisible, looming large only at the nadir of the tide. I have snapshots of people and dogs on top of it. It is nearly impossible to imagine that so huge a feature could be drowned within hours. There are drapes of seaweed around the sides. It resembles pubic hair, protecting something normally out of sight. Alive and growing, and as attached as a limb, sheets of the dark sea-plant wait out the low-tide as limp, drying strands. Reaching behind them reveals life and moistness, but few would care to reach thus. In mere minutes the ocean can erode this mark and we will conspire to forget it exists.

When the tide is at its lowest ebb, I also walk at the high water places. The pools are like the short stories I keep meaning to write; they are individual episodes and anecdotes. Among the sunwarmed rocks, pools of life detached from other realities are trapped by the limits of tide and time. There are fissures and grooves where the story pools connect at high tide into a novel or three-act play.

Twenty miles east of here, the scallop fleet rests between seasonal tides and moons and crops. Families paint the boats bright greens, blues and yellows, to be visible in fogs and storms, cheating angry waters. Their houses are the same vivid tax-deductible colours.

From the shore homes where the fishers live, the mood of the water can be read in the mists and fogs. Galloping white horses approach, spitting flying spumes of salty foam. On clear days, the bulky hulk of New Brunswick's shore looks as close as the opposite side of a recreational pool. On crisp blue winter mornings, emissions from dirty industries decorate the horizon with coloured vapours and drifting emissions.

Gypsum barges cleave quickly and brightly into the bay. They leave laden, hugging the water, their decks almost obliterated from view by the constant undulations of the waves. Barges remain distant from the shore, avoiding the drowned outcrops. Their voyage is planned along the depths of the middle of the bay; risking collisions with one of the last few Right Whales. Injured whales wash onto the rocks, dead or dying, and news-casters accuse them of swimming in the shipping-lanes. When harpooners needed to know their targets; these were the Right Whales to spear; today they are too often in the wrong place.

A mile to the west, the lighthouse sits squatly, blinking at the dusks. It hugs the rocky roadside; filling the space between pavement and tide. Caveat Sailor. It is painted red and white, pretty enough for the village to be proud. They sell postcards with pictures of it, newly tinted and in full sunlight; hardly its best side. There are people who live close to it, and I wonder about the thickness of their bedroom drapes. I don't think I could sleep there; the rhythm of the safety light reminding me constantly of danger in the night. It must be as intrusive as the sirens that issue caveats in distant concrete cities.

When the sun sets over the Bay of Fundy, it sinks into invisible Maine. I turn my back on the orange and purple veils of the spectacle, and hurry down the mountain and home. When the tide rushes in, it displaces miles of air. Sweeping rushes of cold saltiness crest the hills and rush to me, rustling leaves and bending trees; the marine cycle is a permanent part of my day, no matter how rarely I visit with my body. The ocean renews me; the very presence of the sea strengthens and supports my connection with the land where I make my home.


Jo Leath is a writer, activist and counsellor, living at Down To Earth Farm on the south side of North Mountain, which encloses the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her household includes her life partner of eight years, one Border Collie, and 26 laying hens. She hopes to be able to earn her living without leaving the property.

E-mail Jo at: branjo@auracom.COM


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