Hanging unnoticed on a cluttered corner of my bulletin board for years, a photograph I had taken of Mont Saint Michel caught my daughter’s eye one evening. After studying it for a moment she declared simply that it was “a nice shot.” I agreed, surprised, thinking about the little Kodak camera I had used, and reminded her that she and her brother were in the back seat of a rented Volvo station wagon twelve years ago when I asked my husband to stop and pull over as Mont Saint Michel came into view. I remember everyone’s excitement more than I remember the moment. The kids, since through their eyes the gothic mountain of stone was an enormous castle, me, because visiting the abbey had been on my bucket list before the term bucket list existed, and my husband, because his intimidating task of driving his family across a foreign country had momentarily come to an end.
Long ago and far away,
I dreamed a dream one day
And now that dream is here beside me
Long the skies were overcast but now the clouds have passed
You’re here at last.
I first saw the tidal wonders of Mont Saint Michel in my ninth grade French class on a standard high school Super 8 projector. Despite the grainy black and white film, viewing the powerful advance of the tide toward its rocky destination from my desk in the darkened classroom was spellbinding. Due to its site in a pocket of the English Channel, the former island experiences an amazing tidal range and at low tide the sea retreats beyond visibility exposing miles of sand, and comes roaring back again during high tide. The prospect of someday experiencing this spectacle in person was intoxicating, and I quickly placed it on my mental list of life goals.
It is difficult to describe this powerful event, how quickly the tide advances low on the horizon, waves churning in a determined dance until the miles of sand flats disappear, then making a sudden and dramatic crash onto the rocks below. The French describe it as “coming in as fast as a galloping horse.” I was happy to have experienced the sight of the furious race of the waves with my family high on the cliffs above, and remember lingering until dusk. It was dusk outside the window of my study as well, and as I placed the memory back on the bulletin board, I carefully aligned the small puncture hole with the point of the tack and secured it back in its spot in the corner, a sudden standout among the clutter.