A temporary yet fulfilling childhood pastime can inspire inquiry
DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.
Harken, as the epic poem Beowulf began. Harken allows me to share the legend of a sand castle in the Florida Keys that I built before it was consumed by the ocean. My little principality thrived amongst the beach and between the city, with the black paved highways and the whooshing cars that travailed them, and the ink-blue Gulf of Mexico that would occasionally brush up and inflate my swim-shorts.
The sun beamed and blinded down as I scuttled the sand that sifted and burned between my toes. The sea-gulls that flew in the light blue sky chanted Kree-Kree-Kree-KREE-KREE-KREE. The early morning expanse of muddy sand provided enough material for me to build my castle, making my legacy in the Florida Keys.
It was always a spot for vacations since my earliest name-days. My parents and I came from a lower middle-class stock, with a shrimp wholesaling company to sustain us and our migrations. When my parents weren’t busy with talking with one of their most valuable customers from Chinatown, they sat in elastic, foldable chairs on the burning sand, basking in the sun.
I set out on the muddy sand not consumed by the afternoon tide. The mushy, brown Neptunian limestone drizzled from my somewhat enclosed hand as I made my place all around the pit from which I mined the material. This became my newly made estuary where the seeped seawater mixed with the sand. Within one area, I managed to drizzle a tower, perhaps to keep watch for any hermit crabs, turtles, or barbarous children that threatened its survival. This kingdom was forged from sand, seawater, and a young boy’s hand with no need of any sandcastle molding tools.
The architecture that modeled this castle cannot be replicated in any other part of the Earth, whether it would be the domed Ottoman palaces of Turkey or the spherical kremlins of Russia. This style of the building seemed native to the sands of the Florida Keys, forming a blobby foundation and a roof defined only by tiny droplets of muddy sand. Sticks become flag-poles, as they puncture into the towers baking with a crisp finality under the sun. Any cloth-like seaweed that was washed about were used to declare allegiance.
Beauty can be found in finding and scrapping materials already built within nature and remolding them into your own design. This is not an example of the environment serving Man, but coexisting with Man. I did not set out to create an empire founded on exploitation, but on amusement. I knew that finality would pronounce my little kingdom decayed, as soon as the ocean reclaimed it. I would love to live in a time when we would all make castles constructed from sand. If we no longer needed them, we could just let the ocean waves claim them, just as much as an abandoned house can be claimed by the woods.
Then, there were four brown legs that hovered over the castle. Two, small Hispanic boys commented in Spanish to each other about my castle as they looked down upon it. There was evident awe in their trilly, nasal babblings.
It was unexpectedly tasked to me, with very little knowledge of Spanish and the last lesson en Español from 3rd grade. I wanted to return to the masonry that merfolk would be experts at. That small span of time captured an eternal lack of patience at being interrupted, however, I was not offended by it. It just made me uncomfortable with ANY giant that tumbles up to the castle. Not knowing what they said, I politely asked them in English, “Do you like it?”
Their mother came forward and said with a smile, “Yes, they said they liked it.”
Then they walked away.
What the history books that I sojourned within as a former History major cannot deduce is the joy that comes from actually building the civilizations that are read. I no longer build sand-castles, at least I choose not to go to the beach. Although the cyclical nature of humans fascinates me, I still consider my productive time on the beach to be among my most treasured memories of my childhood. Even as a grown adult, I would rather spend time continuing to plant a stick-hoisted seaweed flag on a plot of sand rather than bask in the sun or soak in the water. At least, when I photograph it, that little kingdom by the sea would rest within my memory and perhaps even provide inspiration for a story.
There was only one time in my adult life when I actually reintroduced my sand-castle masonry inherent in my childhood habit of converting the boredom that came with spending hours in a hot, sweltering beach into a fanciful time. It was around that time that I recently became a History major. My mom, cousin, her son, and I went to a small beach that was open to everyone.
Eventually, as the day grew old, so did the kingdom as the ripples crept up and crashed and battered itself against the gates, consuming it as it returned to the sands. The vhoooosh-ing of the ocean lapped after my creation and I could not stop it. I did not feel sadness or regret at not capturing this pseudo-civilization on a camera while it thrived. I merely went back to the Holiday Inn that my parents and I stayed at, knowing that I would do it again next time we came back to the beach.
My only regret in this instance of my childhood was not writing upon the sand beside it, “In a castle made of sand, there lived a hobbit…” Such spasms of imagination can inspire entire worlds into being, just as I would engage with my amusement for this temporary moment. Within those historical annals of my imagination, I could finger-write upon the particle-jumbling sand how there existed an entire tribe of crustaceous creatures, of hermit crabs, of turtles, perhaps even of fish that could walk on land and the legends of the giants and merfolk that built it.