The Power of the Natural World

Earlier this week I traveled through Eastern Canada. I spent less than 24 hours in the country, in part due to the mosquito infestation where I camped that caused me to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and put 100 miles between me and that wretched pair of trees before 7 o’clock.

But in that brief time, I witnessed a truly odd natural phenomena.

I rode into Saint John, New Brunswick in order to experience the tide changes in the Bay of Fundy. The bay has the most drastic tide changes in the world, with water levels rising and falling 55 feet between high and low tides. Saint John sits nestled around the mouth of the Saint John River, which flows directly into the Bay of Fundy.

I made my way to that particular spot on the bay because it is home to something called the Reversing Falls. Really the only factor that played into my decision to go here, as opposed to any of the other, more iconic parts of the bay, is the fact that Saint John is on the northern coast and I could avoid making a two day trip riding around to the southern coast.

A bridge spans the two steep cliffs that rise from the banks of the Saint John, atop which sits an observation deck and a gift shop/restaurant combo. Looking up the river, you see a paper mill to the left, lapping up the water for industrial use, and small houses dotted to the right.

The water was flowing calmly from river to bay when I first arrived. Nothing particularly exciting. The guide at the gift shop told me to come back in an hour or two though, because then it would be high tide and I would be able to see the falls.

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Water moves slowly from left to right

Not expecting much, I sat and read for an hour, started to feel restless, and figured I should go see whether or not anything had changed. I was not disappointed.

When I returned, it was now high tide. And during high tide, the bay flows up the river. Since the tide change in the Bay of Fundy is so dramatic, the water level in the bay rises over 12 feet higher than the water level in the river. Consequently, water in the bay moves from high to low, in this case up the river.

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Water moves quickly from right to left

It doesn’t just move though. It flows. Rapidly. So rapidly in fact, that it causes significant whitewater just under the bridge. Large whirlpools form in various spots above this whitewater, a by-product of the tumultuous mixture of river and bay. These whirlpools bubble up intermittently and suck viciously for a second or two before losing steam and dissipating into the chop.

Sitting there, watching the bay overpower the river and reverse its direction entirely, was so overwhelmingly odd that it made me question the entire concept of direction itself. Navigating across the country looking at maps all oriented with North at the top and South at the bottom engrains an obviously false understanding that North is ‘up’ and South is ‘down’. And yet the only reason for that orientation is that we have decided it as such. Nothing but our European cartographic history serves to define the directions we use to explain our world. But sometimes that orientation doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make sense that a bay should flow up into a river. It doesn’t make sense that water could flow in a direction that only hours before appeared to be ‘up’.

But it does. It happens at the Reversing Falls in New Brunswick, Canada every 12 hours, like clockwork.

Sometimes things happen that don’t make sense. Sure, we can explain scientifically exactly why the Reversing Falls act as they do. The gravitational pull of the moon and sun create tides that move around the world with the rotation of these solar bodies. Those tides cause the water in the bay to rise up higher than the water level in the river, which obviously leads that water to flow from high to low. But standing there, watching it happen, you don’t think about any of that. You can’t rationalize what’s happening. You can only sit in awe as your world seems to be turned completely upside down in a way that makes no sense. Because sometimes, nature will do things that just don’t make sense, no matter how well we can explain them.