Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sand Castle

Thursday, Aug 3

Today was a sandcastle day!  I went out to the beach around 9:30 with my compass, yardstick, and small bag of supplies.  Low tide wouldn't be for a couple of hours, and nary an umbrella could be seen on the wide, flat shore stretching away north and south.  The day stretched forward like the smooth sands around me.

First I made a net of circles--a tessellation of six circles around a seventh in the center.   It's a relaxing pattern that let me get a feel for how the compass would respond in the sand.  I continued the net out and then highlighted various circle sections to add some visual variety.

Then I made a simple spiral labyrinth; next a bird constructed of repeated circles on a line.  The bird came out vaguely flamingo-like, so I added a small hedgehog next to it.  By this time I noticed that I needed to hold the apex of the compass in my palm if I wanted to avoid having the rubber bands in the hinge flex and make different shaped circles.

The occasional jogger and one beach comber with a metal detector came by.  A woman asked me if it would be OK for her to photograph my labyrinth.  Later, a woman and her child stopped by; we tried to interest the child in walking the labyrinth, but she only wanted to watch adults walk the spirals.

A group of four teen boys set up the first umbrella; they had some musical device with them which was slightly annoying, but easy to ignore.   Mostly they sat in beach chairs looking out over the waves.

It was time to design the sand castle.  I wanted it to be more historical than random.  I drew a very large circle, then two interlocking squares for placement of eight outer curtain wall towers.  Then a smaller circle and square arrangement within for the inner curtain and central keep.  I suppose that historically, this would make my castle a late fourteenth century castle, with towers in corners supporting outlying towers from cannon fire.

A retired engineer came up to see what I was doing, and we had a talk about castles and Oregon -- it turned out he had done some consulting on structures' abilities to withstand waves at various points along the Oregon coast and sort of knew Corvallis (where OSU has a wave lab).

I returned to construction.  One of the supplies was a simple tower sand-mold, so I placed some of the towers.  The resulting towers were simple, but towering enough.  Sand from the excavated moat was piled into the center for the keep.  Occasionally I would pour water onto the pile and pound it to consolidate the sand into a mass I would be able to carve.  In the back of my head, I recalled that sand sculptors said they started at the top of the sculpture and worked their way down.  The tower-mold helped a lot, and by happy coincidence, seven in a row was the length of the inner curtain square.

At some point, my legs were cramping from all of the crouching, digging, and inscribing in the sand.  The beach started to fill up.  I wondered where the Dwyers were.  More people joined the four teens, and I saw that they were Canadians.  Sure enough, Marc appeared, said hello, and then a bunch of them walked toward the ocean with snorkels.

Later, the Canadians, spurred on by Marc, broke out shovels and pails and in no time had two large mounds built.  A few towers dotted the mounds, built from the deep trenches.  Another family on the other side of me also had shovels, which they used to make a kind of sea wall between the now incoming tide and their encampment of beach umbrellas, towels, and chairs.

On the other side of the seawall folks, I saw the Dwyer camp.  I saw Mark and The Child and walked over to him and sang a re-worked song from Avenue Q, "Oh, I wish you could meet my boyfriend / but you can't, 'cause he lives in Canada!"

"Oh," said Mark when he saw Marc.  "I spoke with him the other day; he's just friendly -- I don't know what my family is talking about."  Mark then went on to point out to me that my back was beginning to sunburn.  Twice.

I gave Mark and The Child a tour of the sand-works so far. The Child seemed nonplussed, and was more interested in swimming.  They added a few towers to the outer curtain and then left.

Finally, the castle was finished, or at least as finished as I wanted it to be.  I worked on another design, which started out like a racetrack and then started to look vaguely sexual, so I added more half-arcs to make it less like a yoni-lingam and more like interlocked arcs, which then threatened to turn into a swastika, so I stopped and took all my tools to the Dwyer encampment.

The tide would be splashing over the sand soon, and I was tired from all of the construction.   I'd noticed a small boy running back and forth and he finally built up enough courage to ask me if I had done all the drawings, and how (at first I thought he was one of those monsters who stomps on unattended castles).

"Hold, on," I said.  "Wait right there; I'll be right back."

He rooted himself to the spot, and I returned with the compass and ruler.  I explained how the compass opened and closed and let him have a go at it.

"Hold it and walk backward," I said when he jammed the compass into the sand and couldn't move it farther.  He made a circle and handed the compass back.

A woman, presumably his mother, hovered on the edge of our conversation, nodded her head and made a calculated grimace which I interpreted to mean "OK, this middle-aged, bearded Oregonian appears to be not summoning demons" and then wandered away when all we were talking about was geometry.

"Circles like to make triangles and hexagons," I said.  "What's your favorite shape?"

This seemed to confuse him and he said he pretty much liked all shapes, but that squares were cool.  So I used the compass and ruler to make a square in a circle, then extended the diagonals to draw a second square around the circle, and went on to reconstruct the plan of the castle.

He watched, enraptured.  I was glad to show it to him, and wished that The Child shared the interest - but he doesn't, and I suppose he makes up for it by enjoying Monty Python with me.

Later on, the tide came in.  At first the lapping waves cascaded into the moat, and I thought the castle would stand for a while.  But, I'd left an opening in the walls for the gate and the water poured through it much more vigorously than I'd imagined, and the castle fell to the waves within minutes.

That evening, with some amusement, we realized the Canadians were renting a house directly across the street from ours.  This of course prompted more renditions of "I wish you could meet my boyfriend."

Dinner was casual.  Afterward the kids went to the boardwalk, and The Child had fun smacking into mirrors in a mirror maze.

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