National Geographic : 1923 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE son of the year. Low water exposes im mense tracts of sand, across which one may walk dryshod-at his peril; for, once the rising tide is well under way, so I have heard Breton farmer-fishermen declare, its sweep across the flats is so rapid that a man on horseback, caught in the midst of a flat, cannot escape. "You're just in time-very little water left!" called a voice, as we sighted the great lock which, at Le Chaitelier, sepa rates ocean from canal. FACING DISASTER IN A LOCK We paddled inside, the massive gates shut, inclosing us in a vault 16 feet deep; then ahead the sluices slid up with a deaf ening roar of inrushing waters! The eclusiers (lock-keepers) had turned on both sluices at once, with full force; and the waters, falling from far above into an almost emptied lock, thundered about us like a tidal wave. We knew well enough that, once broad side on, the canoe would immediately be dashed against the rear gates, and that our party would be over. However, we stuck to the task of holding her straight, while the waters boiled around us, lather ing into a brown foam which crept over our gunwales; and now the frightened lock-keepers yelled directions to us and ran for life-preservers. Happily, however, these were unneces sary. Inch by inch we were upbuoyed from the depths until over the edges of our masonry-lined vault-I had almost said tomb--there peered treetops, then red roofs, and at last the mild windings of a Corotesque stream, out upon whose levels we slid through the slowly opening lock-gates. "How many more of these devil's bath tubs are there between here and Paris?" I called to the head keeper. He consulted his Guide Officiel; then called back cheer ily: "One hundred and thirty-four, M'sieu !" Of course, we thought that he had mis understood us; that he was quoting the death rate among canoeists overset per month in French canal-locks, or some thing of that kind. But the man insisted. Mentally we multiplied our recent experi ence by 134, and we didn't like the prod uct. Then the lock-gates closed behind us, barring out the devouring ocean tides; and for a while we just sat blissfully at rest, drifting along the tranquil Ille-et Rance Canal. THE FRENCH ARE JUSTLY PROUD OF THEIR CANALS Canal? The word is a libelous descrip tion of those idyllic streams which for seven weeks we followed across France. Instead of some inflexibly straight cut, imprisoned between stone embankments and suggestive of sewage, imagine sylvan windings innumerable, water lilies afloat, bank-bordering poplars a-march against the sky, and far ahead the subaqueous ghost of some woodland-embowered bridge dipped in the mirroring vista. Such are the canals of Brittany and Touraine-sheer pieces of nature, pas toral symphonies. Old Izaak Walton would have loved their banks equally with the many sportsmen who come down from Paris for a week-end of fishing. The French are as proud of their canals as the Hollanders are of theirs, and with good reason. Now, you may decoy a fish or dynamite him, or you may, like the canal fishermen of Brittany, employ an intermediate method. Just ahead of us on the Ille-et Rance we espied a skiff whose sole occu pant was pulling so furious a stroke that the water was lashed into foam all about him-this without his craft budging an inch. Presently we saw where the trou ble lay: the idiot's anchor was down. "Is he drunk?" I asked. "Or is it Delsarte, or Swedish move ments?" suggested my companion. A FISH-FRIGIITENER AT WORK Then we rounded the curve and sighted the explanation - an adjacent smack wherein a second man was turning a crank which hoisted out of the canal a big, square scoop-net filled with small fry. Then back went the net, and again the stationary oarsman lashed the water white; for he wasn't an athlete-he was a fish-frightener. After two nights spent amid rocks and mud-flats, the humble waterside inn which we found at Dinan seemed to us to warrant a super-luxury tax at the very least.