Even Castles made of sand, fall into the sea, eventually.
- Jimi Hendrix
At its simplest, this is a collection of stories about sand. At its most complex, this a book about the earth itself, spread across billions of years of existence. An existence that has seen the earth form, and then wear away and rebuild its basic compositional structure in an inconceivably complex cycle.
Such is the story of sand. In this anthology we'll examine simple grains of sand — and the complex stories that they each have to tell. For every grain of sand has a story. Massive megaliths of stone, the size of continents, are not reduced to minuscule particles without benefit of an interesting story. These storyline plots are varied. Sometimes involving billions of years of quiet existence interrupted by a few moments of final rendering, sometimes encompassing very active timelines with multiple plot turns. But the one constant is that the epic journey of broken rock is the ultimate storyteller.
Take a moment to consider where you live. And by this, I mean consider your location on a large scale. A very large scale. Not your house, not your street, not your neighborhood, not your city, nor your state, region, or country. But, instead, expand your view to a planetary level. So think of the fact that you live on the Earth. Of course, that’s assuming you read these words around the early part of the 21st century; and of course, assuming that you are human, then it can be fairly safe to assume that you live on Earth. The planet Earth, to be exact. Think about that for a minute. All of us - all humanity for the many thousands of years that we have existed as an intelligent and unique life form, has always lived on a physical place called The Earth. For at least the last couple of hundred thousand years this has been our story, and our legacy.
Though Earth is a relatively small word, honored by its frequent capitalization, it represents a fairly unique body of matter in the Solar System. And even more importantly than that, it represents the abode of the human species; or at least the natal homeland of the species, again dependent on what point in time you are reading these words; for we have already proven that we can leave the earth so it’s inevitable that we should someday, as a species, live elsewhere also.
Aside from that bit of philosophical pondering, consider the physical characteristics of the Earth. The Earth is a sphere of rock spinning about its axis at a rate of 1,037 miles per hour. And even as it spins at this dizzying speed, it is also orbiting around a star in a galaxy, in space at an astonishing rate of 66,627 miles per hour. And consider this:, that star, which we lovingly call The Sun, is itself hurtling through the vastness of open space, caught up in the swirling vortex of a galaxy, our own Milky Way, at a rate of 525,000 miles per hour. All mind-boggling facts, yet indisputable statistics about this great ball of rock that we live on.
You may not have really ever thought of The Earth as a rock; but it is. Let's face it, the earth really is just a rock. But, you might ask, what about all the soil, all the vegetation, all the water? So I'll give you that; The Earth is a rock, with water on it. But everything else is really just rock; or a byproduct of rock. All of the soil we stand on, all of the vegetation that grows from that soil (ok, with a bit of water thrown into the mix). But think beyond that, expand this line of deep insight to include all the myriad other things that we experience that are a byproduct of this great blob of rock; things such as our buildings, roads, machines, and all the other billions of other parts of our existence here on Earth. It all started from rock. And now…it is all broken rock…and someday that will be all that is left.
And but for the fact that the Earth has a rather unique and powerful combination of circumstances that slowly but persistently break down that rock into smaller and smaller pieces, the Earth would be a barren smooth sphere of cold rock, forever. Fortunately, for us, that unique and powerful combination of circumstances is dominated by a single primary force, gravity, which creates a cascading chain of events that ultimately makes our planet of stone a habitat that we thrive on.
In addition to a physical matrix of rock, the Earth has an abundant supply of water. Gravity coerces that water to flow. Likewise, gravity acts on the turbulent atmosphere, that is heated by the Sun, and thus flows with great persistent force across the surface of the Earth. Those two forces, wind and flowing water, along with a few other natural phenomena act together to slowly destroy and re-form the very bedrock of the Earth over great expanses of time.
This constant metamorphosis of rock into new forms is a fascinating story, and that is really what this book is about.
Let’s talk about sand. We all know sand. We all know what sand is. It would be a safe bet to say that every person who has ever lived on earth has experienced sand; some of us more so than others. It’s true now, and it has always been true.
Looking far back in time we can surmise that our ancestors lived in very close contact with sand throughout their lives and on a daily basis. They walked, slept, lived, loved, and died on sand. Sand would have been a persistent part of their everyday lives. Part of their housing, one of their tools - and most probably often unintentionally ingested with their food. Sand and people are so very closely linked. And as our societies have advanced from the stone age, through the bronze age, and on into the iron age one might think we have distanced ourselves from the dirty world of living in sand. But, have we really?
We may see ourselves as having risen to a loftier perch than our sand-treading ancestors. But we must acknowledge a couple of clear exceptions to that thought. Undoubtedly, many modern-day populations still live an existence with a close daily connection to sand. Also, many others of us work in professions where sand is experienced either as a direct part of that work or as an unwelcome, but intrinsic, nuisance. Nonetheless, with those two innate truths, for the rest of us we must still ask the question; how far are we really removed from a sandy existence?
Even today, in modern urban communities, we are all intimately connected to sand, though not as intrinsically as the daily lives of our forebears, or the noted exceptions above, we all still encounter sand daily. Depending on one’s current habitat, as well as one’s vocation and recreational proclivities, any one of us touches sand often. More often, and in many more ways, than we might be aware.
Much of this sand exposure comes in simple ways, such as when we sweep sand from our floors and toss it in the trash. We brush sand from our clothing after a day at the beach. We walk on sand as we stroll through a garden or a park. We see mechanized street sweepers brushing up loose sand from our roadways. We feel the somewhat pleasing crunch of sand underfoot as we walk along our sidewalks and parking lots.
However, if you take a moment to pause and step back from your accustomed surroundings, you might be a bit surprised by how we still have a continued association, and I’ll venture to say, even a deep-seated dependency on sand.
Sand is the great equalizer; it impacts everyone, regardless of their location, their education level, their class level, their political leanings, their religious convictions. Sand is everywhere, and we all touch sand daily.
Sand is universal; it is ubiquitous. It literally covers the earth. Have you ever wondered how sand is formed? We see the finished product, we hold it in the palm of our hand, a simple grain of sand. But we need to ask ourselves the question; where does sand come from? This bit of knowledge and understanding may turn out to be a humbling experience for the average human being. Knowing the genesis and journey of sand pushes us to marvel and understand the vast time expanse that has built our earth, and that continues to change the earth's structure, and our daily lives. Having a feel for our place in this ever evolving great expanse of time and the changing earth helps us understand, and perhaps be awed by our place in all of this. It is a truly mind-boggling story, and it impacts us all. This impact has spanned the long history of the human species, it affects us all in this current generation daily, and it will forever have an impact, both on us and on the planet long after we have ceased to be denizens of Earth.
Sand doesn’t “come” from anywhere; that is to say, there is no natal source for sand. It is not made. It is not formed. It is not manufactured. It does not grow. And, as pointed out earlier, it is not magic. But sand does have source. And it is often a long and tortuous journey for our simple grain of sand to come to its current stage of its existence. And as we’ll see later, that ‘stage of its existence’ idea is key to understanding that simple grain of sand.
So, where does sand come from? It’s not that sand doesn’t have a genesis, and it’s not that sand is created by magic. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Sand is created, but it is not a beautiful, serene creation; as the very nature of that word implies. The creation of sand is a long, tortuous process. And it is not a singular creation. It is more of a combination of destructive forces resulting in a breakdown of pre-existing natural substances. Again, let’s make it clear, the creation of sand is a long, tortuous process.
Depending on the circumstances, the length of time can be unfathomably long, stretching billions of years into the past. Likewise, the process can be violent and savage, as can be many things in nature.
Sand comes from nowhere, but it is constantly on the move - traveling.
At its simplest level of definition, sand is merely broken down rock. As such, we need to understand and accept that rock itself starts out huge, often as massive solid objects, blobs of matter that more often than not forms into a cohesive unit measuring many hundreds of miles in diameter, or in circumference, or in length and width; objects so massive that it is hard for us on the human scale to imagine or visualize such mammoth entities as being cohesive single structures.
Notice that in the preceding paragraph I said that all rock “forms”. Forms from what, one would logically ask next. To put a twist and a timeline spin on our question, we have to admit that very often rock forms from sand. Such is sandstone. It is important to note that in fact much of the sand in sandstone is actually decomposed rock, that is to say, it is the minute broken down bits of the other two types of rock found on the earth: Igneous and metamorphic.