We stared at the flat wet sand where the ocean should have been and the little sliver of water far, far in the distance.
We were at the eastern edge of the Bay of Fundy, famed for having the highest tides in the world. 160 billion tons of water flow in and out of the bay twice a day, and that’s cool and awe inspiring and whatever else, but it isn’t the most convenient when you’re trying to show someone a good time at the beach.
It was Em and me and Em’s brother John, who was giving up his only free weekend that whole summer to get a taste of our glamorous, nomadic vanlife.
John had a steady job and a roomy apartment, and we were trying to show him we weren’t insane for giving all that up to live in a 7×10’ tin can on wheels.
He had slept on our couch and peed in our bucket, and now, to show him the freedom and luxury of life on the road, we’d decided to spend the day at the beach.
It was the perfect plan, only it was a little rainy and a lot windy and while the sand went on and on, there wasn’t any water to go with it.
Em and I looked out our bus window at John who had followed behind us in his car, and then we looked at each other.
“Is there a museum or something we could go to instead?” I asked.
“A visitor’s center?”
“To do what?”
I looked at the time on my phone. It was Saturday at 10am. We had a full day to fill with exciting and adventurous activities that made us look like we had our shit together and that shitting in a bucket and eating cold beans from a can for 19% of our meals was worth it.
And then John came around to our bus door.
“We can walk along the beach for a bit,” he said.
“Yes,” Em told him, putting on an enthusiastic face. “Let’s do that.”
There was supposed to be some sort of rock formation a little ways down the beach, but when we looked it up, a little ways was actually 5km, and the farther we walked down the beach, the farther our shoes sank into the sloppy mix of sand and mud that made up the ocean floor.
Our feet were heavy and slow, and then the rain started. It sprinkled at first, but there were ominous clouds in the distance.
“Should we go back?” I asked.
“Let’s just see what’s around this next point,” John said, and so we kept going.
There was a cliff up ahead, and we rounded the corner to find more cliffs, three or four stories high and the line where the tide came up well above our heads.
It was different than the beach we’d come from. There, it seemed as though the sand just extended into infinity. From here though, we could really understand that we were walking on the ocean floor, the seaweed growing up from the sand and the thought of the ocean rising twice a day to erase where we were.
“Holy shit,” I said.
“Holy shit,” Em said.
And John didn’t say anything. He ran forwards, mud splashing the backs of his legs and the sludge of the ocean floor almost tripping him up. He ran and then slid, leaving a line of green slime behind him while his body glided effortlessly.
It was like we’d entered another world, trees clinging onto the edges of the cliffs above our heads and branches burrowed top first into the sand at our feet.
We followed along the cliffs and began to wonder where we were. On Earth yes, and in Nova Scotia yes, but it seemed as though a shift had taken place. The quietness of the ocean without any water in it, and a single set of bare footprints we’d been following for an hour at least.
We hadn’t seen a single person since we left our bus, and it wasn’t hard to imagine that something had happened in that time. We thought maybe were the only ones left on a barren earth in the middle of the emptied-out ocean.
John ran and slid again, and I did, too, landing my right foot in a patch of mud that went well past my ankle, and then we heard voices up ahead.
We rounded one the next point to see another empty cove with figures dotted across it. There were twenty maybe, and it took us another half kilometer of walking to figure out what was happening, only then, we still didn’t really understand.
They were in their pajamas mostly, and barefoot. A lot in their twenties and thirties, some older and some younger. They were calling out to each other, running across the bottom of the ocean brandishing golf clubs and wearing Santa hats at the end of August.
Some were hitting golf balls far across the flat expanse of sand while others were chatting with beers in their hands.
When they came into view and we came into view, we all looked at each other, startled like we had all thought we were the last ones on earth, and we’d already forgotten how to behave in front of strangers.
We nodded and they nodded and moved out of the way for us, revealing a river of sludge we’d have to cross.
“Should we keep going?” I asked, but John said, “Yeah,” and Em said “Yeah,” and I stepped into the sludge first.
The golfers in their Santa hats stood back and watched us for a minute, and no one spoke like something sacred was happening or about to happen.
My feet were mostly covered in ocean sludge by then, and so I embraced the swampy insides of the ocean floor, letting cold water and grey slime slide around my ankles, as I forded the current of fresh water heading out to where the ocean was supposed to be.
John followed after me, then Em, the three of us covered in mud by that point and turning back to the golfers who were still there. The white pompoms on the ends of their Santa hats blew in the wind, and still no one spoke.
We nodded, and the golfers did, too, and then we kept going.
We hadn’t intended for this walk along the ocean floor to be a quest of any kind, but it was now, all three of us needing to see what was beyond the next point and then the next, getting as far as we could before the tide came in and we headed back to safety or we drowned.
It started raining again, but I didn’t bother worrying about whether to turn back or not. It seemed impossible to think that we would do anything but keep going, and so we did, the cliffs coming up beside us and something new in the distance, the rock formations we’d read about, and maybe we’d been aiming for them all along.
They were these enormous arches of red stone, jutting up from the ocean floor, and something shifted in us on seeing them, the long and bizarre trek with our feet wet and the swampy bottom of the ocean all around us.
“There,” we said. “They’re just ahead.”
And at first we were walking, and then we were running. We ran and slid and ran and slid, needing to get there faster now, our destination revealing itself to us and the feeling of wings.
The rocks were almost too far away to see and then they weren’t, coming into focus now, and larger than anything we’d seen before. We raced each other and slipped and raced again, coating ourselves in more and more mud and the desire to make it to these enormous red archways jutting out from the bottom of the ocean.
“It’s worth it,” we’d said to ourselves over and over for the past month and a half. “It’s been challenging and it’s been surprising, but it’s been worth it,” we’d said again and again, only we didn’t need to now.
We were under these huge red arches at the bottom of this emptied out ocean and we were damp and we were cold and we were kind of hungry, but we were filled with the idea that we were doing something huge and real and important.
We put our hands against the rock formations, and felt how they were part of the earth and we were part of the earth, carbon and nitrogen and whatever else bodies are made of and rocks are made of and everything is made of.
We were alive and we were at the bottom of the ocean, Em and I and John and all those golfers in their pajamas and their Santa hats.
We were doing something real, maybe, and we were doing something different to everything we’d ever done before. We were standing at the bottom of the ocean and seeing the world in a way we hadn’t before. Endless stretches of sand, and the tide coming in to hide it all away.