On Appreciating Natural Sand Art, Where to Find It, and Exploring My Favorite Beach
09/24/2010 58 °F
What I like most about the sculptures that wind and water create, is how temporary they are. Viewing the masterpieces that these simple earth elements produce can be as moving as appreciating any form of beautiful fine art put out by the artistic masters. However, one must have timing, as these treasures rarely last longer than a few hours. Nature allows for a brief gallery show, before it indifferently wipes the slate clean, and relentlessly begins its next piece. It’s as if Leonardo once completing “The Mona Lisa” hung it outside of his workshop for all to see, for an hour, or a day. Then calmly and quite unconcernedly walked out and scraped his canvas clean, dipping it into paint thinner. To follow with immediately beginning “The Last Supper” on the same canvas, and repeating this creation and destruction cycle forever. The wind and water are just as ruthless in their never-ending cycle of creating momentary beauty, only to strip it away back to nothing. Try painting with water on Bhuddic slate, no matter how fast you paint, and how gorgeous the scene, the beauty is only temporary. The water will eventually evaporate leaving you a blank canvas once again. Such is the way of nature.
Sand is perhaps one of the best mediums for wind and water to work with, and definitely one of my favorites to photograph. Sand is a solid, yet when it congregates, it moves as a liquid. It’s so delicate, yet can take the harshest treatment without breaking down. It can easily be formed into a vast variety of shapes. Sand also allows for amazing contrast in the right lighting. It has good textures, and is perhaps felt best with bare feet. Beyond that, it is available in an unlimited supply.
It strikes me that for how ferocious Natures forces treat its medium that the result looks as though the tenderest touch created them. They appear to be treated with such delicacy and fragility that the smallest of tremors from an oafish human can easily destroy them. To see an alternative view of what wind and water can do, check out my post I wrote last winter on Natural Ice Sculpture. The same elements are at play, only instead of sand as their medium, they use water.
As I mentioned, timing is critical to viewing these masterpieces. It is also imperative to go in good lighting. Early morning, or late evening are often best, bringing out the subtle and delicate features of the scene and strongest contrast between shadow and light. The best time to go looking for this fleeting art is just after a strong storm, with strong winds, and rain. Be the first person on the beach in the morning, and keep an eye out. Look down, and walk carefully. If you can, leave the dog at home, as they are indifferent in their footsteps, as most humans are for that matter.
The best places to find natural sand art are usually where large amounts of sand are found. My two favorites are sand dunes (see Northern Utah and Southern Idaho), and on the beach near a large body of water. I prefer the western shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan as my beach area of choice, specifically Eagle River beach. It has the right kind of sand that works well with water being sculpted into shape by the prevailing westerly winds off Lake Superior.
I’ve been coming to this beach all of my life, but it’s been only lately that I started to appreciate the amazing beauty that can be found in just one small section of this beach. Every time I visit, it seems it has changed its landscape once again. It’s in not only the patterns and sculpture of sand that I am entranced. The sunsets, clouds, waves, water, air, and awesome power of the lake have me addicted and inspired. I never know what I’m going to see, from dramatic evening light bursting through the dark gray storm clouds, to the small objects that wash ashore finding that perfect spot to make a compelling composition for a photograph. This beach is in a continual state of change and flow, and a better metaphor for life, I can’t think of.
On many of my jaunts, there is often one scene that stands above all others. It often doesn’t last long, usually as long as the fading sun will allow. I view it as my gift for the day. Not that I am deserving, but as I mentioned, these masterpieces are there for ALL to see-You just have to get out there and look for them. I attempt to absorb these moments in my memory and soul. They give me a strong connection to this place, and make for a pleasant memory while dealing with life’s more mundane requirements. When you catch me staring off into space while waiting in line or answering questions during a job interview, you can guess where I am: Lost among my priceless (and I mean that) collection of natural masterpieces.
All of the photographs you see were collected on the same quarter mile section of beach, though taken on different days at different times. For me to walk this quarter mile section of beach, it often takes a couple of hours.