Trying to Make a Mark

Although I love building castles in the sand, I had nothing to do with the construction of this particular piece. I just walked by it at the end of a long, lazy summer day, snapped a picture, and now, a couple months later, I’m still thinking of it.

Sand art is about the pleasure of making in its purest form: it is engrossing, it is beautiful, and it is futile. A maker will happily spend hours of patient planning, digging, patting, carving and, on a crowded beach, defending his territory, all for a result which he knows will succumb to a couple of waves or a toddler bent on destruction. Yet we build these castles, along every beach in the world, even though the pain of our sunburns will long outlast our creations. The drive to make is stronger than any rational thought about time management, efficiency and results.

This particular piece has stayed with me because by infusing the sand with a political message, its makers reminded me how absurd and ephemeral political fashions can be. High tide, powered by the freak storms of climate change, will soon wash away this message and along with it this new fad, this tea party. The sculpture itself is wonderfully ambivalent; though I’m fairly certain its makers meant it to deliver a straightforward “don’t tread on me” message, the truth is this snake is being trampled, and it is leaving the toe-ringed foot unharmed. “Go ahead and step on me,” he smiles, “nothing matters. In a few hours you’ll be gone — I’ll be gone — washed away. And tomorrow someone else will build something else.” 

Sure enough, the very next day, the rattlesnake sculpture was replaced by a beautiful castle with tall dripped sand towers. Other makers had left their mark on the beach — till the next wave.


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