Last summer I traveled down the Brittany coast to do some research for a book. My last stop was a little resort right on the water called Port-des-Barques, a low rent version of my real destination, St Trojan les Bains, which was located across an inlet to the south. I stayed in this featureless little town because I was traveling with a friend who couldn’t pass up a bargain; and because it had been a long drive and I was too tired to argue.
Port-des-Barques was built on an inlet that was subject to the tides. During low tide the bay became a great expanse of exposed seabed, bare except for a few drying clumps of seaweed. I’m not a religious person, but there was something biblical about the glistening mud flats that stretched all the way to the horizon. The parting of the Red Sea came to mind, until I stepped out onto it and sank in up to my ankle.
Down the street from the hotel was a high jetty topped by a dirt road that led out to an island about a mile and half off shore. Late one afternoon, I walked down to the empty kiosk that stood at the beginning of the road. On one side a sign warned travelers that the jetty could be submerged at high tide. On the other side was a copy of the tide schedule, in French, with the hours of the day in military time. I tried to read it, but I’m no good at French or military time. Instead, I simply decided that the warning had to be an exaggeration. No tide could ever cover a jetty that high.
I started out with the intention of enjoying the long afternoon and exploring the island. The road had people on it and I suppose I found this reassuring. Crowds of them were coming back from the island carrying tote bags and blankets, all heading in the same direction, back the way I had come. I noticed one family with a little white dog and too many children. The mother kept scolding them for lagging behind. I couldn’t understand her words, but there was an edge to her voice as she picked up her pace and led the charge back to the mainland.
More families strolled by, groups of teenagers jostling one another, couples holding hands, all heading back to the shore. Eventually, the crowds began to thin to one or two stragglers, and then I was alone. It was nice, quiet, with only the sharp cries of the seabirds to break the silence. I was just settling into the solitude when I spotted an older couple in the distance coming towards me, half-walking, half-jogging down the road. The woman was out of breath and struggling to keep up. At one point she dropped her book and stooped to pick it up, but her husband pulled her along before she could reach it. When they were within earshot he called out to me in rapid French. He was gesturing to the horizon and saying something about visitors or perhaps a visit. I recognized the word, rapides, quick. I shrugged helplessly trying to explain in my atrocious accent that I only spoke a little French, un peu plus. Of course, he was trying to warn me about the tide. These French vacationers seemed obsessed with it.
I was nearly to the island when I found the jelly fish on the road. It was a big surprise finding them there, stretched out on the gravel, baking in the late afternoon sun, ten or twelve in all sizes. There was only one way they could have gotten there. The ocean had carried them in and stranded them when the tide went out. I poked at one with my walking stick and found the body hard and impenetrable, not like jelly at all.
Of course, I had to turn right around. Here was proof that the sign at the kiosk had been right. The tide was high enough to submerge the jetty. I like to think that over the years I had learned a thing or two about admitting my mistakes, cutting my losses and moving on. A long miserable marriage teaches you a lot, but especially about giving up and walking away from a bad situation.
A car zoomed by and crushed a jelly fish. It was heading towards the mainland, going crazy fast. I stood there among the hardening jellies and gazed at the island. I could see the individual leaves on the trees; I was that close. It was only about three hundred yards down the road. Up ahead there was a sign, perhaps a commemorative plaque marking an historic spot. It stood where the road met the island. That spot, that very plaque, was my destination, my goal, the end of my journey. I had set out to reach the island and there it was. I turned and searched the mud flats for a glittery line of water in the distance. Nothing. In three hundred yards I could be at that sign. A five minute walk. In five minutes I could finish what I had set out to do and claim my victory. Now, that would be something.