First you make a hole and labor along the walls to make sure they are thick and tall,
and only after do you build up the center. The order of steps is not negotiable. Most folks—amateurs mostly, at least in my estimation—lead themselves to believe it can be done any way they darn well please, that if they want to start at the center, then at the center is where they’ll start. I look upon these people with a measure of piteous scorn: Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do. Then what I do is sit back and watch as the entire enterprise comes to its slow and inevitable end.
All of which invariably proves my point: there are rules to building a sandcastle as there are rules to living a life. Ignore both to your own peril.
For as much as I act a grown man, being in sight of the ocean tends to unleash the little boy still pent up inside me. Nothing speaks to this more than standing in the midst of miles of untouched beach with a plastic shovel in my hand and a son more than willing to do his part helping (and, as the years have gone on, taking the lead role) in shaping the environment around us into monuments to ourselves.
And I will not kid myself in thinking otherwise. A sandcastle is nothing more than a monument. They are deeply personal things. The shape and diameter of the walls is shaped by our own personalities as much as they are by the implements we use. The depth of the moat and position of the channels designed to divert water away rather than toward. The detail of the turrets and spires. The choice of shells to decorate the sides. My son and I are doing more than building a mere mound of sand, we are staking a claim. Leaving our mark. We are announcing to the wind and sand that we are here.
Of course we know what will happen eventually. You know.
A person has no need of ever seeing the ocean to understand the way of tides. Sooner or later the surf will roll closer and there is nothing—absolutely nothing—we can do to keep our sandcastle safe. No amount of engineering know-how will prevent the water from overcoming our defenses. We know that going in. We build our monuments in full view of white water and cresting waves. We hear their crashing.
We create even while knowing it will be uncreated.
Take a walk down this beach to the end of the island and you’ll discover it isn’t only the sandcastles that are taken. Giant holes dug by children (and men, plenty of men) are gone, too. Messages carved with sticks of driftwood (FREE YOUR MIND; SHE SAID YES; MICHAEL EATS BOOGERS). Shells neatly stacked like cairns pointing the way to a better paradise. Sandbars walked upon mere hours before. All swept away and washed clean without a trace against the Atlantic’s overwhelming power. Say what you want about the ocean bringing a sense of calm and renewal. What you learn most here is that you are a very tiny thing in a very big world, and the big world is often hungry.
Yet that never stops us. Our monuments are whisked away and our marks are obliterated, but still we create.
We tell the world we are here and the world shrugs us away and we tell the world again. Maybe that’s why I love the ocean as much as I do—because it so encapsulates the the sort of lives we all find ourselves living. On a lonely stretch of beach with a child’s shovel we want to know we count, we matter, and that the world would be a little less brighter without us. The waves and brittle sand always disagree.
It’s up to us, then, to decide which is right.