Tuesday, May 24, 2011

how the bay of fundy tides help an atheist understand life

my first readers digest article is in the new edition - it just dropped into my mailbox this morning. i submitted it ages ago, but things move slowly in the land of national magazines.

it's a profile of dick lemon and his amazing not since moses run - this year's is scheduled for july 3. it's an extraordinary event.

RD ended up shortening and reshaping it, but i've put the original below.

Not Since Moses

When Dick Lemon arrived in Five Islands, Nova Scotia, locals had to show him which island was his. The retired California lawyer had bought the 20-acre property online, more or less on a whim, after his Israeli rabbi called praising the beauty of Canada’s ocean playground. Lemon was raised a Methodist and is an atheist, but he and his rabbi discuss the Torah every Tuesday at 8 a.m.

Walking along the green fields in front of the bed and breakfast, Lemon stopped at the steep cliff of the Parrsboro shore. A deep stretch of the Bay of Fundy separated him from his tree-topped paradise. Hours later, the highest tide in the world reversed and a muddy plain connected the mainland to the island. Lemon strapped on his sneakers. Crabs struggled to make sense of their suddenly waterless world as he squished by.

It looked like a painter had smeared the fossil-studded cliffs orange, brown and red as the retreating tides scrapped back another layer of the 300-million-year-old rain forest that was once Nova Scotia. The air tasted delicious. Lemon circled his island and headed back. The tide was already nudging his shoes.

In 2007, Lemon organized a charity run to share the parting of the seas and called it Not Since Moses. More than 100 runners journeyed to Lemon’s island. There they awaited the rising tide, and the boats that would ferry them home. The course has changed, but the mud-splashed runners and walkers have steadily increased, reaching 1,500 in 2010.

In 2009, a woman signed up with her five best friends, only to be diagnosed with cancer shortly before the race. They ran anyway. Her rapidly failing body needed help to make the crossing and the journey carried the friendships to a deeper place. The woman died two months later. Her friends wrote to thank Lemon for the otherworldly final memory.

“I believe we are re-enacting something important here. Not that Moses really happened, but the idea that the seas can part and you can escape from slavery. That’s a meaningful thing for us, because there are so many ways we are slaves,” Lemon muses.

At a certain point on the course, stragglers must turn back, because 100 million tons of water racing in at four metres a second cannot be stopped. The primordial beauty of running on the ocean floor is a fleeting period of grace. Lemon finds it a potent metaphor for life.

“Time becomes critical,” he says. “There is no afterlife to make up. It’s right now, so I’ve got to do it now. I suffer or I feel joy, but it’s my responsibility.”

Lemon understands that for most, Not Since Moses will be a quirky experience. But some will escape to Israel. 
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