Saturday, May 09, 2009

The shape of sand

I think I could recognize at least three of our local beaches blindfolded. I'd just need to run a hand over the sand.

I remember, as a kid, how I ran over the White Rock beach barefooted, feeling the firm, regular ridges bite into my feet. Good sand for digging, for making sand castles, it holds the shape of the wavelets as they push and tug on their way out. Even at high tide, those ridges remain underwater, roughly parallel to water's edge.

Rippled sand. White Rock.

From the far eastern end of the beach, with a break in the pier area (flat muddy sand, a bit sticky), then on west until the rocks begin, this pattern holds.

On Boundary Bay beach, there are spots like this, but the ridges aren't as firm. To the north, the sand is muddy, flat, and covered with lugworm castings. Towards the south end, the sand takes on a curious rolling shape, like a freshly-plowed field after a heavy rain.

Contour "plowing". Boundary Bay beach, off Maple Beach.

On Crescent Beach, on the Blackie Spit end, the sand is looser, full of shell fragments, so that any ridges are transitory. The beach here slopes sharply, and little streamlets wend their way down to the retreating river.

Around the corner, facing west, the sand is still loose, but the beach is flatter. At high tide level, the sand forms irregular ripples. A slab of white-painted plywood cast up there, and washed over by several tides, highlights the pattern:

Wave pattern on plywood. Crescent Beach.

Farther down the beach, the sand is finer, more responsive to the small critters and plants; even a blade of eelgrass, sweeping over the surface with the last wave, will leave a track. I noticed, in a photo of a gaper clam, how the tiny sand grains curve in towards the intake valve.

The beach is bumpy, without a discernible pattern to it.

Black and white sediments in tiny depressions in the sand.

And far down the beach, at the low tide level, the sand lies in sharply-defined overlapping layers, deeply pitted as if by a troop of pogo-sticking kids.

Layered leaves.

The edge is tattered like the hem of old jeans.

The sand is more liquid here, and it shows how the water currents swirl around obstructions; for example, in this little valley ...

... each shell lies in its own little hollow.

This may explain the "pogo stick" holes; there is probably a shell at the bottom of each. Next time, I'll look. I've got a shovel in my beach bag, finally.



  1. Amazing observations and great descriptions. I'll never look at sandy beaches the same way again!

  2. That's the joy of blogging; we learn from each other. As I have learned from you.

  3. wow, these are great pictures and your descriptions are equally poetic.
    i love taking photos of sand & water but have never noticed how a special pattern belongs to one beach rather than the other... very interesting.

  4. I love all of your sand shots. We have very few sand beaches here in Powell River, rocks and steep cliffs are the norm. But I love to find a sandy beach to walk barefoot and wiggle my toes in the sand. Next time I'll take some pictures before I destroy nature's art. - Margy

  5. I showed your post to my partner and watched as his eyes crinkled at the corners and lit up. I had long told him that my feet knew the feel of each and every beach I have ever walked. He laughed at this and said impossible. Now I see his smile slowly spreading

  6. Stella and Margy; I'm looking forward to seeing your sand pics.

    Indigo; Beautiful!


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