Ah, summer in Cape Breton. Sun and sand and the salty sea. Seaweed and Seagull Dreams. It is a precious season and all the more treasured because it is so vanishingly short. People soak up the sun, bob about in waves, and mess about with sand and stone. At the beach we can all be children again, building sand castles, scooping out moats, building teetering towers of stone.
At the end of each summer’s day, as the sun dips down towards the Highlands, people round up their children and pack up their beach gear and head off for supper, leaving the beach to the gulls and crows and the odd hanger on. (Yes, that would be me.) I like to stroll the beach at the end of the day as the setting sun turns the sea into rippling mother of pearl. On these strolls I see the things left behind by beachgoers.
Some leave nothing but footprints in the sand. Others leave their names or declarations of love in large loopy letters in the wet sand at the water’s edge. A few unenlightened souls leave their garbage behind for someone else to clean up. Some items are left behind by accident, the stray flip flop that fell off a toddler’s foot, the bright blue beach bucket, the misplaced sunglasses.
But some people leave behind beach creations, as delightful and ephemeral as summer itself. Beach art is not meant to last for generations or even days. It is, by its very nature, transient. And that is why it is so special. People at the beach, be they six or sixty, create for the pure joy of creating. It’s fun to shape damp sand with human hands, to pick out the perfect beach stone to add to a tower, to adorn a sandcastle with twigs and scraps of seaweed. The pleasure is in the making, not the keeping. And at the end of the day the makers walk away, leaving their creations to be swept away by wind and tide. Beach art appears and then vanishes. The sand, the rocks, the twigs and seaweed remain, returning to their own random beauty.
These beach creations, from the elaborate to the humble, always make me smile. I’ve given some of them a longer life by capturing them with my camera and putting them in this photo blog. To the anonymous makers, my beach hat is off to you. If you see your own creation featured here, let me know in the comments below.
Just as sand castles are washed away by the cyclic tide, so summer is swept away by the cyclic journey of Earth around the sun. We recently swung from summer to autumn on the Fall Equinox. Now the days are getting shorter, the air and the ocean are cooling, the leaves are beginning to turn. Like sand castles and balanced stone towers, summer is a fleeting thing.
And so castles made of sand fall in the sea eventually - Jimi Hendrix
Life too is a fleeting thing. Every living thing, from mayfly to towering white pine, human to seagull, moose to mollusc to moss, has its moment in the sun and then passes, returning to the elements. And just as with sand castles and summer, it is that very transience of life that makes it so very precious.
Sue McKay Miller
September 30, 2021