“Prior to 1951, the Indian Act defined a ‘person’ as ‘an individual other than an Indian.’ An Indigenous person’s only avenue to being recognized as a ‘person’ was to give up their Indian status, which was known as voluntary enfranchisement. Once they were ‘people’ they assumed all the rights other Canadians enjoyed, but it also meant they gave up associated legal rights, benefits, and restrictions of being a status Indian. A less apparent objective of enfranchisement was to break up reserve land, undermine the collective worldview of the people and promote the adoption of a European worldview of individual rights. It had the potential to be a slow dismemberment of land and culture.”

          — Robert P.C. Joseph, 21 Things You May
        Not Know bout the Indian Act 

Winter offers the promise of escape for those who rely on the steady stream of tourists in the summer months. Different coastal and shoreline communities from Martha’s Vineyard to Maine experience the seasons as an integral part of the economy. Societies interact with the local landscape, in part, through the intensity of different land-uses defined by agricultural, industrial, recreational, and rangelands that hold pockets of settlement in between. According to ecologist Erle Ellis, “when people inhabit a landscape, they use it and shape its ecology and evolutionary processes through the land use practices characteristic of their society’s land use regime.” Through this framework, the biophysical shore of the Gaspésie Peninsula is characterized by a distinct change during this century: from horticultural and agrarian cultivation timed to local sequences to a regime
of alternating patterns between tourism and trade created by a dependency on Route 132. The floodplain is settled, managed, and highly simplified by farmland and towns. At least that is how things seem on the surface. Biotically, the marshes and beaches are migrating landward across the flat terrain, compelling a human migration in turn.

Land topography is measured as elevation, and high accuracy models of elevation are represented by Digital Elevation Models (DEMs). In discussions of sea-level rise (SLR), flooding is typically recorded based on high tides, an estimated exposure to inundation. As a terrestrial species, it might be more useful to turn that record around and consider the elevation instead. Even without precise numbers or lidar accuracy, a section through the area reveals the relative flatness of the settled floodplain, in relation to the generally wooded height of the rocky escarpment. Route 132 is paved along a one to three meter elevation along the floodplain of Big Waterway, varying in width before the elevation rises dramatically between 150 and 200 meters. Considering even the most moderate risk scenario, the villages and towns along the high tide line have options, because they have elevation on their side.

Like the shoreline, the high tide line is not a line at all. Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by gravitational forces exerted by the moon and sun, and the rotation of Earth. Tidal range is the difference in height between a consecutive high and low tide, which varies radically depending on where you are on the planet. So, although tides fundamentally vary, the force that powers tides are universal. We say the moon is “full” when the earth is aligned with the sun and the moon at once. But this alignment also happens during a “new” moon, the only difference is that new moons are unlit, and thus shadowed and invisible. Whether visible or not, full moons and new moons both engender a gravitational pull on the Earth that creates dramatic tides. Along the Atlantic coast, people also refer to this pull as “spring” tides, but the term has nothing to do with the season, and everything to do with how the tide “springs forth.” The confusion is common unless you live with tides.

“What is happening is nothing new. Over the long span of geologic time, the ocean waters have come in over North America many times and have again retreated into their basins. For the boundary between sea and land is the most fleeting and transitory feature of the earth, and the sea is forever repeating its encroachments upon the continents. It rises and falls like a great tide, sometimes engulfing half a continent in its flood, reluctant in its ebb, moving in a rhythm mysterious and infinitely deliberate.”

          — Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

As tides travel, seafloors and shorelines distort them, eliminating predictability and conjuring the mysteries that so many people associate with the sea. In this century, living along the Gaspésie Peninsula links tides with both winter and risk because the tides reach their highest high in December, transforming life along the ice-encrusted shore.