For a time, a life attuned to the tides

A return visit to a familiar beach house prompts some thoughts on time and the ebb and flow of the ocean.

Kathy Willens/AP
A beachgoer walks on Coopers Beach in Southampton, N.Y.

My new favorite website is the one that tells us when it will be low tide. We’re at the beach house this week, and our days revolve around our daily walk from our end of Arnold Beach at Manomet to the end of Priscilla Beach and back.

It’s a walk that can be accomplished only at low tide, and even then there is a stream, running perpendicular to the shoreline, to be crossed. That is best done in my sturdy if unlovely beach shoes, whose rubber soles protect my feet from the rocks without depriving me of the complete beach-walk experience (chilly water, sand between toes, etc.).

I’m back for the first time in quite a while. Much about the place has reasserted itself as familiar, as part of memory – the beach roses, the way the road turns and disappears out of sight off to the right of the house, the water views from both windows of the room I think of as “mine.”

Other things are harder to summon up. How did we used to know when low tide would be? 

The last time I was here, we didn’t routinely carry little computers around in our pockets. Was there a phone number we used to call? A newspaper listing to check? How quaint those sound.

Observing the tides was an early method of measuring time, as were Earth’s daily rotation and its annual revolution around the sun, and the phases of the moon. 

Indeed, the word tide started out in English as a temporal reference.

The Old English tid covered a number of senses connected with time: a “point or portion of time, due time, period, season; feast-day, canonical hour.” 

The word has kin in several European languages. A close cousin in German is Zeit, which means “time,” and as a proper noun, Die Zeit is the name of a highly regarded newspaper. The German word for newspaper is Zeitung. This corresponds to our English tidings, meaning “news,” and having nothing intrinsically to do with water levels. 

A quick check online suggests that a number of Scandinavian newspaper names include the local equivalent of tidings, as many English-language papers include “times.”

The Online Etymology Dictionary suggests that tide in the sense of “rise and fall of the sea,” a sense that developed in the middle of the 14th century, “probably is via notion of ‘fixed time,’ specifically ‘time of high water’.... 

“Old English seems to have had no specific word for this, using flod and ebba to refer to the rise and fall,” according to the etymology dictionary. 

The Old English heahtid, which looks as if it should have meant “high tide,” in fact meant “festival, high day.” And Hochzeit, a German word that appears to mean “high time” or “high tide,” in fact means wedding. 

And now the tide is out, and it’s time for my walk. Time and tide wait for no woman.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to For a time, a life attuned to the tides
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today