baby Penny standing and Peter crouching in the sand with the tide washing around their feet

Understanding the Tides

I have struggled with understanding the tides. I’ve looked up scientific explanations. I’ve asked teacher-friends to explain them to me. I’ve memorized the tide charts and known how far the sea will recede. But I haven’t ever understood how they work. 

Then I came across a passage in Katherine May’s lovely and brilliant new book, Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age. May writes:

“…tides are gravity made visible…As the earth rotates, the sea reaches towards the moon, causing a high tide at the closest point. A simultaneous high tide rises at the opposite point on the globe, too, the farthest point from the moon…There are two giant waves travelling endlessly around the earth, and twice a day we see their full volume. We barely sense the scale of what is really happening, because we only ever witness it locally. We rarely stop to think that they join us to the entire planet, and to the space beyond it.” 

For my literary mind, this evocative and beautiful description gave me an image and explanation that helped more than any textbook ever has in understanding the tide. May offered science and wonder all mixed up together. Her description of the natural world pulled me towards meaning-making, towards curiosity about what connects us to one another here on this earth, what connects us to something beyond this earth. 

Gravity made visible. 

Two giant waves traveling endlessly around the earth. 

And an invitation to understand science through the realm of wonder, curiosity, and hope.

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