By Susan Deefholts I am walking through a mermaid's living room.
We are at the Hopewell Rocks, in New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy. It is low tide, and the rush of the water's ebb and flow is muted by distance. In a few short hours, this whole area will be submerged by the highest tide in the world.But for now, the curves and folds of the cliff face are exposed and the soil is studded with thousands of tiny rocks that glisten and sparkle in the sunlight, like a cave of treasures laid bare. Long fronds of seaweed cover rocks and fringe the bottom edge of the cliff wall, looking like a shag carpet gone wild and overgrown.
I walk over to the thick masses of seaweed, to examine them more closely. "That mermaid's got quite the retro taste in décor," I quip, having shared my living room theory with my husband, Tom. He nods distractedly, his gaze slipping past me."Look," he says. I turn, following the line of his gaze, and beyond the seaweed shag and the sparkling walls is the real attraction: the Hopewell, "Flowerpot" Rocks, as they are called. And it's not about mermaids at all-it's about giants. With narrow stalks of soil and bulbous tops, the rocks form fantastical, asymmetric shapes. They are topped with tufts of trees and greenery. It's as if they've been carved by a giant sculptor with a taste for whimsy. And indeed, there's some truth to the notion: the giant sculptor is the sea itself.
I've been to many sea shores in my time, but never have they boasted rock formations like this one. "I wonder how they end up getting shaped like this?" I murmur."Let's ask," he says. Bob, the parks interpreter, is friendly. Even though he's probably heard the question a hundred times before, he still manages to make the response sound interesting. "The soil has a unique composition-a mix of sediment and sandstone. They're both soft and easily eroded." He indicates the very tops of the formations. "Combine that with a top layer of firm soil and high tides that range between twenty-five and fifty feet, and this is what you get." He squints towards the water, as we all start strolling along the shore. "Tide should be about thirty-five feet today." Tom's brows rise. "Wow. That's almost four storeys high!" Bob adds, "And it can come in faster than people expect. You're going from bare ground to fifty feet of water every six hours." Nothing gentle and leisurely about the ebb and flow of these tides. As we walk, my husband and I are both fascinated by the amazing formations and we pause frequently to click photographs. That erosion can happen surprisingly quickly, I note, as we pass a cordoned off area. Formations can sometimes become dangerously unstable and a cluster of giant, tree-topped boulders, lying carelessly along the shoreline tells it all. Bob says, "That there's what happens when the base of rocks get too small and spindly to support the tops. They just collapse."
Bob points out a formation that has eroded in the shape of an archway. "That one's called Lover's Arch. Couples like to get their photo taken underneath, but, you have to stand so far back, in order to fit the whole rock formation into the frame, that the people are usually hardly more than dots in the final photo."Bob obligingly clicks the camera as we pose as tiny dots under the rock arch. We walk back to find him reaching down to pick up a small, black object from the beach. "What is it?" I ask. He hands me a tiny pouch that's about half the size of my palm. It's made of a tough, dried substance, and the four corners taper off into curls. It looks like a drawstring purse designed by Tim Burton.
"A stingray lays this as part of the protective casing around the egg." He says. I turn it over. "There's an egg in here?" He shakes his head. "When it's dried out like this, it means it's old and empty." He pauses. "It's actually called a Mermaid's Purse." I give my husband a knowing look. I guess my mermaid theory wasn't so far off after all.
IF YOU GO:The shore down by the rocks is accessible from three hours before low tide to three hours after. Be sure to check the tide tables when planning your visit. For tide tables and more information:
http://www.thehopewellrocks.ca/ Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com PHOTOS by Susan Deefholts 1. The "Flowerpot" Rocks from above. (7017.jpg)
2. The Hopewell Rocks at low tide. (7024.jpg)
3. Lover's Arch. (7036.jpg)
4 A Mermaid's Purse. (7075.jpg)
5 Rock formations carved by the highest tides in the world. (7107.jpg)
6 Collapsed flowerpot rocks and the rubble of erosion. (7074.jpg)
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