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All Life Is A Grain Of Sand

Kelly Kent |
May 23, 2009 | 6:30 p.m. PDT

Sand at the beach. (Creative Commons licensed)
I recently spent an evening watching the sunset at the beach with my 18-month-old baby and marveled, as one always does, at the busy universe revealed in Blake's proverbial grains of sand: so much for the eye to see; so much for the mind to ponder.
Two figures walked along the shore toward the waves. Between the tall one, always within arm's reach, and the small one, putting on her hat, there was a generation missing. They appeared slender as the low sun played with my perceptions. When they turned to face me, I couldn't discern their features. The light was behind them, and with so much loss of detail, they looked like paper dolls.
A reflective puddle of sun appeared on the ocean's surface.
On the wet sand just at the water's edge a pre-teen girl cart-wheeled her way past two younger girls who were digging as if to China. Watching these silly children playing in the froth, I couldn't help but let out a deep belly laugh at the comedy of this ocean, so tolerant and benevolent, allowing us to tickle its edges.
I lay down on my side, and discovered that the earth is round. I could sense that what was beneath me was full and bulbous almost as if I could lay flat and bend my back over it like a giant exercise ball. For that moment, I was inside of a snow globe where the sky was curving up and over me.  
At sand level now, my eye caught reflective flakes and breathing holes. Who lives down there?
Baby was on the sand next to me. She couldn't seem to decide if the sand was scratchy or soft as she plunged into soothing coolness for a handful and rubbed its graininess into her hands. That sand used to be so many things: shells and glass and life and death and eternities of abandonment where creatures left their homes for bigger things. That afternoon though, baby could make the sand be anything she wanted it to be. She mashed it through her fingers. It was underneath her, on her and between her all at once.
Looking back towards the ocean, I could see that another sun puddle had formed there.
In any direction I turned my head, the landscape was dynamic. I watched the flashy and irregular, reflective surface of a wave transform into a shading, cylindrical haven. I imagined it being cool and peaceful inside that corridor where surfers seem almost to take a moment to rest. But the idea that waves harbor a place of serenity became ludicrous as the rising swell abruptly crashed into shore. The pattern of forming into shape, towering and then breaking is progressive and redundant. Shine, shine, shine, shine, shade, shade, crash, foam.  
Like waves, humans transform. People too, progress by repeating. With each subsequent pursuit - perhaps at learning to cook over a lifetime or even at so grand a task as answering the questions of the cosmos over the course of humanity - we hope to get better. Similarly, within the shallows and depths of the ocean, strange and abundant life carries on, grows and multiplies. Yet, there is nothing inherently different about today's sea than about yesterday's.  Tomorrow, this ocean will tumble forward upon the sand and draw backward again at a moment only slightly later than it did today in an identical way. The day after, this one will look exactly the same, seemingly without any trajectory. The ocean supports immense life and death but does not die itself. It is the ultimate renewal.
A third pond of light arrived.
Turning away from the sun, I ruminated about the cycles of life written in the shapes of the distant hills. More obviously than the ocean, they show their age. I thought of those crevices caused by erosion, those rivets of wind and water as their wrinkles. But really, they are scars of battles with brothers. In a head to head, a winner is never called. Rains challenge mountains, which bring forests whose only enemy is fire.  
Ideas of elemental combat and calamity are intimidating. Yet, these bluffs do not look so menacing to me. The mountains are a course in the history of dynamics on earth. Fossils in the rock tell the story of life's evolution - and the planet's as well; carved canyons map the rivers' travels. Looking at these story-tellers is looking at millennia past. They move and show us different faces over the ages, but they too, in harmony with the ocean, do not die.
I focused my attention on the magnificent transitions illuminated by the setting sun: the changing ocean, mountains and even the sand, which became increasingly hard to see. I caught the resonance of the day as it transformed into the night.
The sun puddles were melting. They had merged and mellowed into a soft and lovely pool of gold. The universe in a puddle of light.



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