Sand Castle I

April 27, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Sand Castles

I sometimes feel that what I do best is create sand castles.  Having developed a specific style over 40 years, I use no tools, work exclusively in fine shell sand and specialize in unique towers, some four feet tall.  Whereas while developing evolutionary theory I often experience a lack of connection with an audience that expresses appreciation for my productions, when creating sand castles I am able to experience the approbation of an approving gallery of casual walkers, almost without cessation.

A number of specifics come to mind when I consider what is involved when creating sand castles.

Fine shell sand is essential.  Pensacola offers perhaps the best I’ve ever found.  Florida’s west coast, St. Petersburg Beach and points farther south, have consistently excellent sand for sand castle building.  The east coast of Florida, not so much.  For example, stretches of sand around Ft. Lauderdale are terrible.

Almost fifteen years ago, I discovered almost perfect sand in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Returning there this summer, I found it had totally changed.  Far coarser now, it was not useable for my purposes.

Sand can change over time and over the course of a few yards up or down a beach.  There are sections of Negrille in Jamaica that are excellent not a hundred yards from stretches that are not useable.  The quality and coarseness of fine shell sand can change radically over space and time.

Sun, temperature and wind are vital variables even when your sand is perfect.

Clear days are by far the best.  Even partly cloudy days can mean the sand won’t bake hard and fast enough for an intricate construction.  Sometimes on a partly cloudy day, I dig when the sun is covered and build towers, bridges, arches, balconies and balustrades when the sun is out.

Hot days are essential.  Below 85 and the water evaporates too slowly from clumps of sand lifted from the water cisterns where sits the slurry.  The faster the water leaves the sand, the higher the towers can go, the more intricate the drip style filigree illuminations.

The difference between making sand castles in the Gulf of Mexico or farther south in January or February vs. March or April is immense, like the difference between McDonald’s and home cooking.  Cloudy, cooler, windy weather depresses creativity and capabilities.

Wind accelerates the decades.  Whereas windless days can see a flying buttress, balcony or arch last perhaps eight hours, details intact, a little wind can half the time a construction can weather eons.  On one trip, I created castles that lasted six days while the wind stayed low, and children respectfully let the towers stand and local beach security received special dispensation not to raze the structures in the middle of the night (someone could fall in one of the excavated holes).  Each 24 hours was almost 500 years.  After two or three days there would hardly be an older edifice still standing

When I begin on a sunny beach in Florida or the Caribbean, I often pick a shady spot that will be sunny when the shadows move.  My first two hours are often spent just digging, quickly drilling down to water to make it easier to lift out sand by keeping my horizontal excavations mostly below the waterline.  By making almost all my digging in the cool wet sand, my fingers can keep their strength while suffering fewer pricks from the sharp shells and stones that linger near the surface.  Also, as cave-ins keep loosening upper layers, the speed that I can root, break up and excavate makes for lightning fast moving of the sand.

Often mornings are too cool, the sun not high enough in the sky, the light too indirect.  This is a perfect time for digging.  I start around 9:00 in the morning, gouging channels for several hours.  The deeper the penetration, the longer the channel, the larger the circle or moat, the more dramatic the final work.  A deep depression surrounded by high mountains of sand forms the perfect foundation for the intricate productions that will follow.

But a sand castle is not a sand castle without children.  While burrowing through the morning, I’ll make a tower tease.  A single tower will draw interested kids.  I invite them to make some of their own.  While I continue to dig, helpers gather.  Sometimes by the time I am ready to begin construction, several children are planted in my watery depressions making little towers and tunnels.  Walkersby are delighted by the sight of a gaggle of little ones working away.  And I haven’t even begun!

Around noon, I start work on the first cluster of towers.  I pick a spot at the top of a high hill of sand, plant my feet in the wet depression and begin.


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