One block. That is the distance between Berder Island and the mainland in Brittany. You can cross by foot in five minutes, but you have to come back before the tide rises over the short path. I drove every morning from the house to the Boulangerie in Larmour-Baden through the winding road by the bay, savoring every second of the cobalt blue sea sprinkled by the morning sun, the air smelling a mix of oysters and fresh bread. I always stopped by the path to the island, hoping to make a quick exploratory cross before breakfast, but it was always flooded. “The path is short but no ordinary”, I thought while I walked back to my rented car, and picked another piece of the baguette, already half eaten. I always bought an extra baguette to munch while driving back home.
Tides are a serious issue in the Gulf of Morbihan, the corner of Brittany where we were spending a lazy summer at an exchange house in front of the sea. The locals and the owners of the house were serious about the tides timetable, it seemed as important in Brittany as food and wine are in the rest of France. Sailing and kayaking are the best things to do on this coast with golden sun, fierce winds and all-year-round cold water.
So we were careful: every day before bringing the kayaks out we would check the timetable, calculating the best time to leave and to come back. I sometimes sat at a rock just looking at my two kids getting smaller and smaller in my view as they rowed, twirling around like two little birds on the water, playing in the big mouth of the gulf, careful not to allow themselves to get carried away lured by the wide open sea where a gulf becomes a chasm.
We visited a few charming islands using regular ferries: Île de Moines (Monk’s Island), Île d’Arz, Île Ilur. But the tiny Île de Berder, so close and so unattainable, fascinated me every morning. There’s no boat or bridge to reach it, just nature’s wish. No human could control the tides, except work around them with pathetic pieces of paper with the tides timetable, nailed to a board on the sidewalk that leads to the path. One morning, when I was checking the timetable for the day, I found out that my special path to that magic island was named in a very much human fashion: submersible causeway.
On the following Sunday morning, we drove by after feasting in the town open market and there it was, the causeway not submersed. I looked around and could see the once invisible oyster cages on both sides of the path, weed hanging by their sides like green lace curtains, shading the oysters from the pain of growing under the sun. We parked the car. A lot of people did the same, the narrow country road was packed. The path was greenish grey, wet and a little slippery. In two minutes we walked over it to meet a portico at the island’s main entrance.
We followed the path. Every now and then it led us to smaller trails, ending in deserted beaches facing the open sea still far away. The gulf is shaped like a circle with a small passage towards the great ocean. Along the path there was a boat cemetery and a grey mansion whose owner we never bothered to inquiry about. All the rest was silence, our feet rustling on dead leaves under the shade of ancient trees. In our shopping bag we had our baguettes, a precious bar of beurre salè, peaches the size of small melons and a generous slice of Comte cheese from the market. We missed the wine but who could predict a picnic at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning?
The meal and the scenery were too good, so then came nap time. I don’t know how long we slept but my 11 year-old son woke up with a loud calling whistle, the sound coming from the portico.
“Mom, dad, the tide is up!”
Dazzled by dreams we rushed through the path while we shoveled plastic and food wrapping paper in the shopping bag. We were the last family cross, everyone was already on the other side watching our dishevelment. Some people made videos of the tide (and of us). Water was now over the causeway, running and rising fast. As we walked over it the water reached our mid calves. I had to stop for a brief moment and look both ways. The oyster cages and the muddy rocks we stepped in and hour before had disappeared. Submerged. Sheltered.