A Course in Nature

Sand Castle Blue Sky

From the deck of our oceanfront rental, I watched my boys play in the sand. “Play” is probably the wrong word. Looked more like work to me. Shovels and elbows moved in unison to pile sand beside widening holes. Feet carried bodies with arms and hands that carried buckets to the low tide line and back, over and over, to bring ocean water that helped shape sand into castles. Nearly every day of our week’s vacation, a new sand castle emerged from the smooth beach right below the high tide line. Each time the boys put great effort into their creations, only to watch the ocean reclaim them, bit by bit, until the sand was flat once more.

You’d think watching nature level something you spent hours building would be difficult, depressing even. But for my boys, it was the highlight. They watched with excitement as the sea marched forward, first filling the moat they’d dug around the castle, then as waves lopped off towers and turrets. Truth is, I enjoyed it also. There is something primal, peaceful even, about watching waves return sculpted sand to its smooth, pristine state. If only we all could simply let the ocean wash over us to get back newer versions of ourselves, flawless and pure.

Over the week, the boys had willingly left the castles, mid-construction, to disappear into the beach house for lunch. But one day they fought the idea. Didn’t take long to discover why.

A small boy in a nearby house had stomped on part of the sand castle when my boys had been bringing water from the ocean. They were concerned the tike would return to finish the job while they ate. If I had the right boy in mind, being mad at him would be hard given his age. Any targeted frustration belonged toward his oblivious parents. But the family wasn’t outside at the moment, and were probably inside eating lunch themselves.

“He’s not out here now,” I said. “Let’s make it a quick lunch and you can come right back out.”

The boys relented. But in the kitchen during lunch, each boy cut sulking glances through the wide window toward the beach. 

“Why is it okay for the ocean to level the sand castle,” I asked, “but not okay for the boy to do it? Seems to me that both are nature at work.”

“Huh?” one son said, his puzzled expression almost comical. The other scrunched his face like I’d said the most idiotic thing ever. “Most little boys like to demolish things,” I continued. “You guys used to have fun stacking building blocks high, but you liked knocking them down even more. I’m just saying it’s nature's way. The ocean is going to cleanse the beach and little boys are going to stomp sand castles.”

“Can we go back out now?” the oldest one said. Both faces were scrunched now at the village idiot.

I sighed. “Sure.”

Off they bolted, shaking the floor as they ran across it then down the stairs three at a time. There was no use shouting for them to slow down. Nature will run its course, no matter what you do.