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The Never-Ending Story


A mile-long section of a single lane of interstate highway requires thirty-eight thousand tons of sand.

A mile-long section of a single lane of interstate highway requires thirty-eight thousand tons of sand.

When my brother and I were little, we spent a lot of time – years, really, if you were to really total it up – playing with sand and water. Sand was in the sandbox and also at the shore of the nearby lake, under the bigger stones, as though hiding from the waves – water was in the squirt gun, the garden hose, the moat around the buildings in the sandbox, and water was what leveled the horizon, when you stood at the edge of the lake and looked across. Water and sand were everywhere – the prodigious, almost infinite, nature of the materials constituting our little world was something I took for granted. Or, not took for granted – I saw it and liked it. Sand and water – the plentitude and power of these natural forces that create form, and then erase it – that worked for me. Sometimes I joke, when people ask about how I got started as a potter, that it was during these formative years in the sandbox that my work began – really it’s kind of true, though. 

So I was interested last week to read the article David Owen wrote called The End of Sand and, taking a little twenty-minute walk at the end of the studio day, I brought my phone along & snapped a few pictures – I made a brief sand and gravel journal. The pictures show these elements as they appear within a quarter-mile of my place – the captions beneath each photo are quotes from the article.


Geologists define sand not by composition but by size, as grains between 0.0625 and two millimetres across. Just below sand on the size scale is silt; just above it is gravel.

Geologists define sand not by composition but by size, as grains between 0.0625 and two millimetres across. Just below sand on the size scale is silt; just above it is gravel.


    Sand is almost always formed through the gradual disintegration of bigger rocks, by the action of ice, water, wind, and time, but...many of those bigger rocks were themselves formed from accumulations of the eroded bits of other rocks...perhaps half of all sand grains have been through six cycles in the mill, liberated, buried, exposed, and liberated again.

 

Sand is almost always formed through the gradual disintegration of bigger rocks, by the action of ice, water, wind, and time, but…many of those bigger rocks were themselves formed from accumulations of the eroded bits of other rocks…perhaps half of all sand grains have been through six cycles in the mill, liberated, buried, exposed, and liberated again.


But sand isn't just sand, it turns out. In the industrial world it's “aggregate”...natural aggregate is the world's second most heavily exploited natural resource, after water.

But sand isn’t just sand, it turns out. In the industrial world it’s “aggregate”…natural aggregate is the world’s second most heavily exploited natural resource, after water.


Sand is also classified by shape, in configurations that range from oblong and sharply angular to nearly spherical and smooth. Desert sand is almost always highly rounded, because strong winds knock the grains together so forcefully that protusions and sharp edges break off. River sand is more angular.

Sand is also classified by shape, in configurations that range from oblong and sharply angular to nearly spherical and smooth. Desert sand is almost always highly rounded, because strong winds knock the grains together so forcefully that protusions and sharp edges break off. River sand is more angular.


   The wind-blown desert grains are so rounded that golf balls sink into them, so the sand in the bunkers on Dubai's many golf courses is imported - much of it has been mined in Ontario, then sifted, kiln-dried, dyed, and loaded onto a ship.

 

The wind-blown desert grains are so rounded that golf balls sink into them, so the sand in the bunkers on Dubai’s many golf courses is imported – much of it has been mined in Ontario, then sifted, kiln-dried, dyed, and loaded onto a ship.

I know, this article is really about how these elements – sand and water – are disappearing. Still though I will keep thinking about them as I always have – symbolically, at least, as the foundation of a potter’s inspiration. When you just walk around and look at the sand and gravel that is there, wherever you are – it still feels prodigious. Imagination – inspiration – these of course are any artist’s raw materials and as long as they remain infinite – they are, aren’t they? – one continues working. It hasn’t been really that far of a move, from the sand box and the lake shore to the clay studio.