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23 January 2017

A tribute to an undervalued coastal resource

Sand freaks me out sometimes.

Like, I’ll be walking the dog down to Flat Rock at low tide, surrounded by a trillion trillion grains of sand, and that old school-days learning will come into my head:  There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on Planet Earth

Really? I guess I’ll have to take Science’s word for it. But it’s a dizzying calculation. I mean, even if there were only as many stars out there as, say, grains of sand between Pippi beach and Flatrock, it would still be mindblowing. But all the beaches and deserts and seafloors on earth? How do you get your head around that?

Sand. A great word for something that’s part Sea, part Land

Sand. A great word for something that’s part Sea, part Land. It’s a shape-shifting buffer zone, absorbing the punches thrown at it by the wind and the waves, giving a little territory here, gaining a little ground there. It’s always shifting, always negotiating with the ocean.

Observed with a fisherman or surfer’s trained eye, a beach changes shape amazingly quickly, like it’s a living thing. Wind can blow tonnes of sand from one end to the other in the space of weeks; swells and tides can uncover rocky shelves out of the sand overnight as if by magic. The constant is change. Sand is always on the move.

Here’s something else that freaks me out. Sand is radically different from beach to beach! The sand at one beach will be coarse and gritty, fine and powdery at the next, red-tinged and thick around the headland, and white crystals up the far end of the same bay. It’s one of those things you don’t really see, I mean, sand is sand, right? But if you’re a geek like me and collect a few samples and look at ‘em side by side, the differences are astonishing.

There are other mysteries that lie beyond scientific explanation. Most notably how the hell so much sand ends up in the car, or at home, or in the bed. You can use the beachside shower, you can hose the dog down in the garden when you get home, you can brush the stuff off your ankles. You can do all of the above but at the end of the day, still a few grains will find their way down to the bottom of the bed, and the accusations and counter accusations of who was at the beach last will fly.

And let’s not get started on the car. No matter how careful I am, galaxies of grains will colonise the carpet regardless.

But I’ll never begrudge sand’s presence in the house or car or on my ankles. It forms tasty beachbreak peaks for us to slide along on our surfboards, it cushions our landings taking acrobatic beach cricket catches, it makes fantastic castles and channels and forts. Even just the simple act of walking on the beach. On the sand, we feel connected with something special.

Sand frames the footprints of the best summer days of our lives.

At least until the next high tide grooms it smooth and ready for tomorrow.

Fresh eyes - Gra Murdoch

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