Finistère. The end of the world. It is one of my favorite places, wherever it can be found.
La fin de la terre.
Today’s finistère is the western end of Brittany, at the Pointe du Raz. The rocks dip down to the surf, the ocean rises over them and washes off in a white foam. Off a mile into the water, several large rocks stick up – large enough to call islands, and three lighthouses rise, each further away from the shore; the middle one seems to grow out of the surf itself, with hardly enough rock to form a foundation.
There is a permanent mist in the air, graying the far cliffs and dimming the contrast. The plateau above the rocks is a heath covered with thistle, nettle and teazel. Low grasses blow in the constant wind. Seabirds circle overhead and insects buzz in the undergrowth. Heath flowers, tiny and bright – blue, yellow, white – are so insignificant, you have to be looking for them to find them. But when you do, they burst in your eye like the sweet, acid first bite of a piece of fruit.
I love these places where the earth ends, where the rock weathers, the tideline is speckled white with barnacles and black with kelp. It doesn’t matter much whether it is here in Brittany, Land’s End in Cornwall or the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans clash.
Though they don’t bear the name, the same rocks and tide can be had at Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula or Schoodic Point in Maine.
Cape Hatteras in North Carolina doesn’t have the rocks, but it has the storms, the pounding waves and a similar sense of being where the planet gives out.
That is the main point: That there is some place that the banality gives way to the immensity, that the office cubicles and mowed front lawns are forgotten behind us as we front a broad, tide-swept unknown.
The grayer the better, the masses of swirling whites of seafoam against the black shadows in the water and the gray clouds overhead swifting in the wind.
Here, the elements are butting heads like rutting rams. Some fights reach a conclusion, a winner is named, a peace concluded. But this is perpetual. The fight is the goal, not the means.
You stand, even in summer, with a brisk wind making your face numb with cold and the horizon is nothing by the limit of your own perception.
Finistère. The end of the world, where the old maps say monsters must live. Where fishermen bob in boats while pulling in nets of sardines or mackerel, where the houses are plain except for their blue window shutters, where no trees grow, where the sky is never static, but always blown across with grizzle, mizzle and chapping cold.
When we find ourselves repeating the patterns of suburban living, barely noticing the stars at night, or the sunrise in the morning, it is good to shake ourselves clean where nothing matters as real except the climate, the weather, the rocks, the seawater and the air.