An elderly Breton couple come out of their seaside home dressed in coats and boots, carrying rakes and baskets. They turn toward the shoreline, into the wind and sun, their shadows attached to their heels as they plod down to the beach. I wonder if they see the beauty of the scene after all these years – the wide, sand flats reflecting the morning sun, little boats dotted about, marooned on the mud, seabirds standing still, intently watching the rivulets and channels for any sign of breakfast.
It is an archetypal panorama, up-river the trees and local town, down-river the widening estuary of the ‘rivière sans nom’ that flows from Pont l’Abbe to the sea. It’s mouth is full of moorings for the larger boats, turning twice daily to face the incoming tides; in the distance I can see the small quay on each bank, with its ferry boat across avoiding the long journey round from Ile Tudy to Loctudy – for foot passengers and cyclists at least. On the end of the peninsula sit picturesque village houses from the century before last and in the middle of the tidal embouchure large tree-covered islands hide grand chateaux. On the beach, the population are out in force, bent over on the low tideline collecting moules, palourdes and bigorneaux; they will be doing the same all round this coast as their ancestors have for hundreds of years. After all this is the wildest and most westerly point of this huge country and was an independent region until the 18th century – this area is called Finistère, the ‘end of the earth’ – remote and poor, they have had to eat fruits de mer to survive.
In the very beginning a British monk called Tudy travelled across Le Manche, from Grand Bretagne to Bretgane and settled this island. We British have always been close family with Brittany – I am actually standing on the Cote du Cornuaille – and there is a flag of the Celtic nations flown all around this region – Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Ireland – with music festivals every summer in Quimper (pronounced Camp-air!). Bretons identify more with that heritage than with France! Tudy’s church and shrine is now at Loctudy and the island is a presque-ile, but it isn’t difficult to imagine things in his time when the Atlantic winds are blowing across the rocky headland or you take a walk into the dark woods along the riverside. Places like this are timeless…
This village grew up round the sardine industry: fishing is in it’s DNA. Perhaps that’s another reason the old couples – and young couples and even whole families – don boots and wade out to pick their harvest of shellfish from the rocks and mudflats with such determination and discipline. Meanwhile I just smile, admire the scene and take photographs, knowing I can buy my moules frites at the restaurant this evening along with the other tourists.
But this low tide has me thinking… about all that is exposed when the water recedes. It seems there are rich pickings for those who know where to look. There is a different perspective on things: you can explore further out and further in. What was drowned is dry, what was hidden is open to view, what was plentiful is scarce… and what was scarce is plentiful.
My life is at low tide. The wind has died and all is still – the essentials are exposed, the bed and banks, the channels and boulders. All my boats are beached, abandoned, immovable. In the quiet, all I can do is wait for the tide to return – trusting that there is a harvest to be found even at a time like this – in fact, that would not have been found without a time like this – nourishment from the sea of love, fruit in the desert, reward for the search and grace gifts from the season.