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Sand castles and endless, carefree summers at the beach
Heat waves stretching across large parts of the globe are straining power grids and shutting businesses that can’t keep their workers cool. Some of the hardest-hit areas will face hotter temperatures in the coming days, forecasters say, adding to risks that infrastructure will fail.
From a news story, July 12, 2023
Summer ain’t what it used to be!
I shudder m at all that’s going on in the world now. The mind can’t begin to fully comprehend the weather events that are so rapidly unfolding. I need to leave the news behind because the mind reels in disbelief. Turn it off. But I can’t. Get away to the ocean, a quiet park bench, a front porch with a ceiling fan and a glass of lemonade. It’s summertime, the season that’s supposed to be carefree, a time for vacations and freedom from school and the usual responsbilities, at least for a while. But it seems especially difficult to find glimmers of hope and peace this summer. But I have to, wherever I can, for sanity’s sake.
A lot of that hope and optimism returns with good memories I have of summers past.
Even now, hot as it is this summer, I can still dream of and recall country back roads overhung with trees, general stores with Coke machines out front on the porch, running barefoot in the back yard as children, spraying each other with the hose, eating crinkle-cut French fries, deep fried at the snack bar and dunked in ketchup after an afternoon in the swimming pool.
I still listen intently, as I did early last evening at sunset, to the soothing song of the cicadas, knowing the day is winding down and I did what I could to make the world a better place, in some small, but significant way.
And then there are sand castles.
When I see a sand castle on the beach in summer, it reminds me of childhood vacations, and how building them nourished my creativity and imagination. And then they would always crumble and disappear with the incoming tide
I happily chanced on a rather elaborate sand castle yesterday while walking on the beach. The group of kids and adults who made this one obviously expended a good bit of time lovingly creating it. It was multi-faceted, which you don’t see often, and was an original design, not made with cookie-cutter plastic molds. I like that, although I like the molds, too. The industrious builders used wet, dripping sand to construct the various parts of this sand castle complex. That’s something else you don’t see much of anymore.
I loved to do the same thing on summer vacations in the 1960s, but produced nothing as elaborate as the one I saw the other day. I guess I was simply too impatient. Building good sand castles is an art form. It takes time.
I’m glad I spotted it before the tide came in and washed it away, as happens to all sand castles.
I have a long history, going back decades, of writing about sand castles in my online journals.
For instance, there’s this from July 2, 1999:
“As I observed [a sand castle] up close the other day, I noticed that the builder’s name, “Jared,” was inscribed on one of the walls. I wondered how much fun he had had constructing that castle out of his imagination, and I remembered how I would sit for what seemed like hours at the water’s edge letting wet sand drip from my fingers to ornament my own youthful sand castles, watching closely the approach of the waves and building up my fortress ceaselessly as the water washed parts of it away. Then, finally, a big enough wave would come and inundate the whole thing, and I’d have to take my plastic bucket and shovel and go to another spot and start all over again. As children we didn’t seem to mind starting over. It was all play and not serious business as when older kids and adults built them.”
Two weeks later on July 12, 1999, I wrote this ode to summer vacations at the beach when I was a teenager, inspired by happy memories of sand castles.
“I’m on the beach in the middle of the day, in the middle of July, and midway through the summer of 1999. It’s low tide, and a very different beach from the one I visited yesterday evening when the tide was high and there was barely enough room to set up a chair between the sea oats and the water.
“The ocean is now quite a ways off from the dunes. People are out sunning, watching seagulls and shore birds, reading, baking under a hot sun. A small child is building a sand castle with elaborate turrets of wet sand dripped from his hands. A teenager has just dashed into the waves, cooling off quickly, exuberantly.
“This whole tableaux is timeless. It’s like the days stand still, motionless in the wind-tempered heat. My niece and nephew, here from the perpetually cool Pacific Northwest, are reveling in the wind and surf, and water they can actually swim in that isn’t 56 degrees in the middle of summer.
“I remember when we’d come to this beach in the 1960s for summer vacation, leaving New Orleans behind for a week or 10 days. What a different world it was here! We’d arrive, unpack a few things, and then race out to the beach. That first day of vacaton seemed to promise an unbroken expanse of carefree days stretching to the horizon. The days passed, and we hungrily clung to each one, filling as much of it as we could out on the beach — taking walks, swimming, body surfing, lying in the sun, listening to the radio, observing the passing scene as the hours went by.
“At about 1 pm, we’d struggle in for lunch, sun-ripened, hot, a bit flushed, and ready for some air conditioning. My favorite lunch was a cheese sandwich with fresh summer tomatoes and mayonnaise on soft white bread, the kind of sandwich that was so delicious on a beach day, and which invariably clung to the roof of your mouth. This would be washed down with an ice-cold Fresca, my favorite beach soft drink. It was so refreshing, and still is.
“Toward the end of the week, as the glorious vacation drew to a close, the pain of impending separation became more intense. Our steps were heavier. We did things a bit more slowly. We savored each hour on the beach more than ever.
“I realized that summer was fleeting, school beckoned once again in a few weeks, and a part of my youth was slipping away, although I didn’t think in those terms at the time, of course. The “endless summers” never lasted long enough those many years ago, and they were gone before we knew it.”
And finally, a year later on June 3, 2000, I wrote this:
“I couldn’t help but watch a man flat on his stomach in the sand, diligently, and somewhat urgently, hollowing out a hole for what looked like the beginning of a sand castle. I didn’t pay too much attention at first, but the man was so involved in this transient engineering feat, that it was of more than passing interest. I kept looking up to see what was happening.
“The next thing I knew, there’s this veritable sand castle or fortification about eight feet in circumference, and a small boy, about 3 years old, who I took to be his son, had joined him in this little pit, both of them industriously scooping up double fistfulls of sand and building up the walls. Already the water was lapping at the edges. Time was in short supply.
“Soon enough, incoming waves had knocked into the main wall and sent part of of crumbling into the water. Another wave. More frantic digging and sand hauling. I’ve never seen anything like it. This 40-something man was like an extremely energized adolescent, lost in his determination to stave off the waves. Here was puny, insignificant man against the sea. A blatant symbolic struggle. More sand, more sand. My arms ached in sympathy for the Herculean task. There’s something primal about wanting to beat the odds, to stand firm against the superior force of Nature.
“I don’t know whether the fortification stood up against the relentless advance of the ocean. It may have, for the man had shrewdly constructed his castle just high up enough on the beach to give himself a real chance.
They were still busily at work when I left.”
All those summer days at the beach now seem so long ago and lost to time, part of the eternal summers of my youth.
Today, a 72-year-old retiree walks reflectively along the sand path to that same stretch of beach where he spent his summer vacations 55 years ago. He comes across a sand castle, forlorn and quietly standing firm as the tide creeps closer. Soon it will disappear into the sands of time, as all the others he’s seen and built over the years have.. But what fun it was!
I photographed this sand castle on July 12, 2023, preserving it for posterity, for me, anyway.