tsunami tweets

I have a long-ignored Twitter account. Between July of 2011 and August of 2013 I made 121 tweets; that’s an average of about five tweets a month, which suggests I basically ignored Twitter even before I ignored Twitter.

But with the election of Comrade Trump, I find I’m checking Twitter on a semi-regular basis, just to confirm that Trump actually made the tweets I see reported in the news. They’re often so juvenile, so bone-ignorant, so chaotically destructive that it seems unlikely they’d be the work of the President of These United States. I’d call it ‘inconceivable’ but Vizzini ruined that term for everybody. Still, time after time, the tweets are actually there. They’re actually real.

Okay, bear with me a moment. I’m about to go on a bit of a tangent. Or maybe more than a bit. But I promise, I’ll come back to Trump and Twitter.

On the 9th of July in the year 869 (or, to use the Nipponese calendar, the 26th day of 5th month, 11th year of Jōgan) a massive earthquake took place off the coast of Honshu, followed by a devastating tsunami. A history of Japan written about three decades later describes the event:

[A] large earthquake occurred in Mutsu province with some strange light in the sky. People shouted and cried, lay down and could not stand up. Some were killed by the collapsed houses, others by the landslides. Horses and cattle got surprised, madly rushed around and injured the others. Enormous buildings, warehouses, gates and walls were destroyed. Then the sea began roaring like a big thunderstorm. The sea surface suddenly rose up and the huge waves attacked the land. They raged like nightmares.

In the aftermath of the destruction, coastal communities began to erect ‘tsunami stones’ marking the furthest extent of the inundation. The stones served three purposes; they were historical markers, they were memorials to the dead, and they were a warning to future generations. The stones often included messages or advice:

Do not build your homes below this point.

Earthquake is an omen of tsunami. Watch out for at least one hour. When it comes, rush away to higher places. Never reside on submerged land again.

Hundreds of these stones were carved and set up along the coast; a lot of them still remain. But over time people grew accustomed to the stones and ignored the warnings. By 2011 a lot of communities could be found below the 869 inundation line. And as you know, in 2011 an earthquake of a similar magnitude struck off the same coast of Japan, creating an equally devastating tsunami. Nearly 16,000 people were killed, and another 2500 remain unaccounted for.

Not surprisingly, the towns and villages that heeded the old tsunami stones remained largely intact. In fact, the tsunami actually stopped around 300 feet below the tsunami stone in the village of Aneyoshi.

Right, this is where we return to Trump and Twitter. I think we can view Comrade Trump’s tweets as a form of tsunami stone. They comprise a historical record of his thoughts and behavior. In the future I hope they’ll serve as a memorial to the social and environmental policies the Trump administration are in the process of destroying. And I hope they serve as a warning, both to us in the next election and to future generations of voters.

This administration is an unfolding, ongoing disaster. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Even though he’s already a weakened president, he’s still capable of — and intent on creating — a great deal of destruction. Civil liberties, race relations, the economy, foreign policy, the environment, the sweep of destruction caused by the Trump administration is deep and wide.

We need to establish our own tsunami stones, which include Trump’s tweets. We need to establish the inundation line.This is how bad it got. This is how much of our society was damaged or destroyed. People shouted and cried, lay down and could not stand up. Huge waves attacked the land. They raged like nightmares. Do not build your houses below this point. Never reside on submerged land again.

 

 

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no effect at all

Last night Comrade Trump once again inflicted himself on the public. He read a speech (and damn, it’s physically painful to watch that guy struggle with the written word — and it’s pathetic how often the written word exceeds his ability to read it) in which he gave a vague outline of an approach to the colossal ongoing fuck-up in Afghanistan.

But let’s ignore the excruciating delivery of last night’s speech. Let’s also ignore the lies and bullshit peppered throughout the speech (though the lies and bullshit are deserving of attention). Let’s just look at Trump’s central point:

We will break their will, dry up their recruitment, keep them from crossing our borders, and yes, we will defeat them, and we will defeat them handily.

Yeah, no, none of that is going to happen. We won’t break their will. The British didn’t; they fought three wars against various Afghan factions over a period of 80 years — from 1839 to 1919 — and never broke their will. The Russians didn’t; they fought a really brutal war against the Afghans for almost a decade — from 1979 to 1989 — and never broke their will. The U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 — nearly sixteen years — and we haven’t broken their will yet. It just ain’t gonna happen. We need to accept that reality.

And no, we won’t dry up their recruitment. An ongoing war that’s often depicted as a war against Islam is, by its very nature, a self-sustaining recruitment campaign. The fact that Comrade Trump his ownself reinforces the notion that it’s a war against Islam only bolsters their recruitment. We need to accept that reality too.

And no, we won’t keep them (whoever they are) from crossing our borders. Even if we enact some truly abhorrent and draconian immigration laws, it’s impossible to fully protect the borders of the U.S. The border with Mexico is about two thousand miles long; the border with Canada is about twice that. And those are just the land borders. Getting into the U.S. is even easier from the sea. One more reality we need to accept.

Acceptance doesn’t mean we should give up. It just means we need to set realistic goals. It’s stupid to make public statements that we’re going to absolutely do something we absolutely can’t do. So no, we won’t keep them from crossing out borders, we won’t dry up their recruitment, and we won’t break their will. All of which is to say no, we won’t defeat them either, no matter what Trump might say.

There are a LOT of reasons why the U.S. can’t win a war in Afghanistan, but there’s one overarching reason — and it’s actually something Comrade Trump alluded to in his speech (well, the speech somebody wrote for him). He said the U.S. cannot allow our Afghan enemies to:

…believe they can wait us out.

But they already believe they can wait us out. And they’re right. They can wait us out. The same way they’ve waited out every attempt to invade and conquer the region over the last couple of thousand years. There’s a reason Afghanistan is known by historians as the ‘graveyard of empires’.

Alexander the Great invaded it some three hundred years before the Common Era and managed to hold parts of it…for a while. Genghis Khan did the same in the 13th Century and managed to rule parts of it…for a while. Tamerlane did the same a century later, and the Mogul emperors after that, and the Sikhs after that. They all held various bits and chunks of the territory…for a while. Then the British noodled in, and we know what happened to them. Then the Russians. Now the U.S. is there.

Same shit, different invader. In almost every invasion, the Afghan tribes have been outgunned, out-technologied, out-resourced, and often out-fought. But they’ve never been out-waited. Never.

Why? Because they’re operating on a radically different understanding of time and place than the invaders. They live there. They know the invaders, regardless of who they are or where they’re from, will eventually want to leave. The simple fact is the Afghans don’t need to win; they only need to persist. If it takes a generation or two of low intensity guerrilla warfare until their enemies get fed up and find a reason to go home, they’re okay with that. They’ve done it before.

“Afghans will secure and build their own nation, and define their own future.”

That’s from Trump’s speech, and it’s a classic case of stupidity fed by willful blindness. The Afghans have been securing and building their own nation for a couple thousand years. They are defining their future. Right now that definition includes killing U.S. and NATO troops and booting us out of their country. There’s yet another reality we need to accept.

Trump read a speech — he read it very badly, not that it matters — and that speech will have as much effect on the outcome of the Afghanistan conflict as his troop increase. No effect at all, except to extend the pain a bit farther into the future.

The world has changed, of course. The U.S. isn’t going to suffer any apocalyptic Retreat from Kabul, we’re not going to face any Battle of Maiwand. We’re just going to face a slow episodic bleed — and the bleeding will be contained within the small proportion of the citizenry that volunteers to serve in the military. Which means most folks won’t care.

So there it is. No effect at all.

statues & memorials

I really wish things were simple and obvious. I sometimes really wish there was no need for a nuanced understanding of…well, of anything. At times I really wish the world wasn’t complex and complicated.

Except, of course, I don’t really wish that at all. The world is messy and irrational and down at the bone, I like it that way. But lawdy, it does confuse things.

So then, let’s go ahead and talk about war and statues of Confederate generals and war memorials and what should be done with them. Let’s start with this: when it comes to war, there are essentially three groups of people involved. There are the politicians who declare war, who develop the policies of war, who determine the political goals of war. There are the officer classes, who are in charge of actually prosecuting the war based on the politician’s policies and goals, who determine the strategies used by the armies and the broad range of tactics to fight the battles. And then there are the poor bastards who fight the war — the ordinary people who have nothing to do with strategies, who have little or no voice in the politics, but who do the fighting and the killing and the dying. This is true of all wars in all the nations of the world over the entire scope of history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee — this must go.

Why is that important? Because it’s important to distinguish between statues and memorials. Statues are built to honor the specific politicians and the senior officers who start the wars and prosecute them. Memorials, on the other hand, are generally built to honor the nameless mass of soldiers who get mutilated or killed fighting those wars.

For the last several years there’s been a movement to remove and/or destroy statues honoring Confederate politicians and military officers. Over the last few days we’ve seen that notion expand to include essentially all symbols of the Confederacy. Statues, memorials, flags — get rid of them all.

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, War Criminal and Indian Killer — should this go?

I totally understand that feeling. I just disagree with it. Well, I disagree with chunks of it. I have no problem with removing the statues of Confederate leaders. I don’t want to see them destroyed, but I think it’s a fine idea to remove them from public land and place them either in storage or in museums. Destroying statues of people we dislike or whose beliefs we disagree with — that’s what ISIS does. It’s vengeful, it’s small-minded, and at heart it’s an attempt to color over the past. Remove them, and if they must be displayed, display them with context.

The problem, of course, is where you draw the line once you decide to remove the offensive statues. Which statues do we keep; which ones do we remove? Clearly, the statue of William Tecumseh Sherman in Manhattan would have to go. Even if we ignore his scorched earth actions during the Civil War (which would make him a war criminal by modern standards), his actions against native Americans after the Civil War were horrific. And what about the statues of John Brown, the abolitionist who believe a violent armed insurrection was the only way to insure the end of slavery? His cause may have been just, but should we ignore his extra-judicial murders? Should we remove his statues? I don’t know.

Civil War memorial — do we remove this? Is it Confederate or Union? How much does the answer matter?

In any event, I’m adamantly opposed to removing/destroying Confederate war memorials. Or any war memorial, for that matter. Soldiers enlist for any number of reasons, but they don’t necessarily fight for the reasons cited by politicians to start the war. The U.S. fought a war in Vietnam to stop the spread of communism; how many of the troops on either side really cared about communism? Both of my older brothers fought in Vietnam, both came back damaged; neither of them really had any notion of communism as a political system. They enlisted for the same reason I did: it’s what the men in my family have always done. We were raised to believe we have an obligation to serve — the nation, the state, the city, the community.

Civil War memorial — do we remove this? Is this Confederate or Union? How much does the answer matter?

I mention Vietnam for a couple of reasons. One, obviously, is because there are Vietnam war memorials all over the U.S. They’re not there to celebrate a war against the expansion of communism into Asia; they’re just there to honor the fact that people fought and died — even if the cause was wrong, even if the cause was pointless. I also mention it because I used to live in D.C. and I’ve visited the Vietnam memorial dozens of times. I always tried to visit in on the day my oldest brother was wounded, the day some of his buddies were killed. But I also visited it once with a fellow graduate student, a Vietnamese-American woman. I knew she’d been born in Vietnam, but I knew nothing about her history. I just assumed she and her parents had immigrated to the U.S. during the war. In fact, she’d immigrated as a child with her aunt and uncle; her parents had both died, killed by U.S. troops. She didn’t tell me how or why they were killed; maybe it didn’t matter if they were collateral damage in a bombing or whether they’d been involved in the actual fighting. The thing is, she blamed the death of her parents on the war itself, not on the troops.

Civil War memorial — do we remove this? Is it Confederate or Union? How much does the answer matter?

The statues of Confederate politicians and generals were (and still are) political statements, honoring the men (they’re all of men) and the cause they fought for. Their removal is justified and warranted. The memorials to the soldiers who fought, on the other hand, are an acknowledgement that ordinary people die in wars. I see them as a reminder that war — even a just war fought for valid reasons — is wasteful.

Does it matter if they cause they died for was just or unjust?

I know a lot of folks will disagree with me on this. I’m okay with that. This is just my opinion, and I recognize that other folks will have different and equally valid opinions. Like I said at the beginning, the world is messy and irrational. I like it that way.

I only wish there were memorials dedicated to all the civilians, the true innocents who die and suffer in war.

 

enter promo code to honor george washington

Today is Presidents’ Day in These United States. Well, sorta kinda. In some of These United States, it’s President’s Day. It’s an apostrophe thing. But there are some states that do away with the apostrophe altogether, in which case it’s Presidents Day.

But a lot of These United States don’t hold with lumping all those presidents together; they’re more exclusive. In a lot of places, the day is all about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both of who were born in February. So those states call this holiday Washington-Lincoln’s Birthday. Or, in some places, Washington and Lincoln Day. In Alabama, they dump Lincoln and substitute Jefferson, so they’re celebrating George Washington/Thomas Jefferson Birthday. And in Arkansas it’s both George Washington’s Birthday AND Daisy Gatson Bates Day (and if you don’t know who Daisy Gatson Bates is, I recommend Wikipedia).

george-washington

Originally, of course, this was just George Washington’s Birthday — and there are still four states (including the one where I’m currently parked) that have stuck with the original version. And that’s why in Iowa today, we’re celebrating the birthday of the First President of…fuck, wait.

Okay, it’s not actually his birthday. George was born on February 22, 1732. A century and a half later, in 1879, Congress decided we needed to honor the first president, so they decided to make his birthday a federal holiday. Folks working in the federal government could take the day off to — well, it’s not exactly clear what they were expected to do on George’s birthday, but not going to work was a big part of it. Also, to honor our first president, many shops closed their doors and conducted no commercial business.

At any rate, that’s why we’re celebrating George Washington’s birthday…fuck, wait.

washington-birthday

Okay, turns out George Washington was officially born on February 11, 1731 — not on February 22, 1732. The problem was George was born in Virginia, and Virginia was part of the British Empire, and the British Empire was still using the Julian calendar because the British Empire wasn’t a Catholic empire and even though the Catholic countries of the world had switched to the better Gregorian calendar in 1582, the British Empire wasn’t about to give in to calendar fashion because, dammit, it was the British Empire, don’t you know. Then in 1752 they decided there wasn’t anything terribly wrong with the Gregorian calendar, so they adopted it and George Washington’s birthday went from February 11, 1731 to February 22, 1732.

And that’s why every February 22nd, we celebrate…fuck, wait.

Okay. In 1951 this guy named Harold Stonebridge Fischer formed something he called the President’s Day National Committee. His plan was to create a holiday to celebrate ALL the presidents, not just one. He wanted the holiday to be celebrated on March 4, because that was the traditional date on which new presidents were inaugurated (not George Washington, of course, because he was the very first president and we were basically just faking everything back then, hoping it would all work out somehow). Fischer pimped that proposal for something like twenty years with absolutely no success whatsoever. But some Congressional folks liked the notion of fucking around with federal holidays, and in 1971 they passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act essentially said ‘Hey America, we don’t really care what day Washington was born on, or when World War One ended, or what day y’all have been celebrating Memorial Day, and does anybody even know why we’ve been doing Columbus Day on the 12th day of October, seriously? So we’re just moving those holidays to a Monday, so we can all have a long weekend. You can thank us later.’ Granted, some of those holidays have been re-shifted back to their original dates, because we’re still just basically faking it, hoping it will all work out somehow.

georgewashiong-sale-02-21-2013

Anyway, that is why we celebrate the first president — or some of the presidents — or all of the presidents — or some of the presidents and maybe some folks who weren’t president at all — on the third Monday of February. And that’s why all the mattress stores and shoe emporiums are slashing prices. At least that’s what we’re doing now. Who the hell knows what’s going to happen now that Comrade Trump has parked his ass in the Oval Office, and Republicans run both houses of Congress.

That business of faking it and hoping? It still applies. But hey, at least some folks get a three-day weekend. So there’s that.

the logan act (with optional pirate stuff)

Right, there goes Michael T. Flynn, out the back door of the Trump White House. Now that we’re finished applauding his resignation, folks are wondering about a couple of things. First, can he be prosecuted under the Logan Act? And second, should he be prosecuted.

There are, of course, problems. At least three problems. The first is the Logan Act is of questionable constitutionality. It’s never been really tested in court; nobody has ever been prosecuted for violating the Logan Act. Not even George Logan, after whom the law was named. The second problem is more political. The recently appointed Attorney General of These United States is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who is undoubtedly tickled pink that the Logan Act is of questionable constitutionality. It gives Sessions the perfect opportunity to practice looking severe without having to actually do anything. The third problem is this: just what the fuck IS the Logan Act, and what was it intended to do?

The Logan Act is a perfect example of how history, which can be singularly cool, has a reputation for being mind-numbingly dull. I mean, we’re talking revolutions and piracy on the high seas — and that’s some seriously exciting shit, right there. But reading the Logan Act — well, it’s not long enough to actually put you to sleep, but it’ll make your mind wander. Anyway, here’s the history.

Not actually a French ship attacking a US merchant, but c'mon -- it's pirate stuff.

Not actually a French ship attacking a U.S. merchant vessel, but c’mon — it’s pirate stuff.

We (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘These United States’) had us a revolution. I’m assuming you already know this. A few years later, France had its own revolution. France had been pretty helpful to our revolution and they quite understandably expected the new U.S. to give them a reach-around. We didn’t — at least not to their satisfaction. So France got pissy and authorized French ships to plunder American merchant ships. President John Adams sent some envoys to France to straighten out the mess. The French listened to their arguments, then politely told the envoys “S’il vous plaît, uriner une corde.” Or words to that effect. The envoys returned to the U.S., reported they’d failed miserably, then went to a bar and made rude remarks about the French (I’m not entirely sure about that last bit with the bar and rude remarks, but it’s what I would have done if the French had told me to go piss up a rope).

Enter Dr. George Logan, a Philadelphia Quaker. Logan decided he couldn’t screw things up any worse, so he sailed to France, chatted with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and the good folks of the French Directory — and hey, bingo, the French changed their minds and stopped the plundering. Yay, sounding of trumpets, release of doves, everybody wins, right?

Dr. George Logan, Quaker and Freelance Diplomat.

Dr. George Logan, Quaker and Freelance Diplomat.

Right. Except for the politicians back in the U.S. who weren’t happy with civilians conducting unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments. Which is perfectly understandable. I mean, George Logan might have done a fine job, but the next guy might get us in a war. So they passed the Logan Act to prevent that sort of thing from happening again.

It’s easy to see why nobody has been prosecuted under the Logan Act. Back in the late 1700s, civilians could get away with pulling shit like that. Today, that’s not going to happen. Ain’t no Quaker going to show up on Pakistan’s doorstep (even if Pakistan had a doorstep, which it doesn’t) and negotiate a nuclear arms deal. And if General Michael Flynn had been an ordinary citizen, nobody in the Russian embassy would have paid any attention to him when he discussed the sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama.

But that’s exactly why the Logan Act could be used in this case — because General Michael Flynn was NOT an ordinary citizen. He was an advisor to the President-Elect. He was expected to become President Trump’s National Security Advisor. He had influence and power, and even though he had no authority from the sitting POTUS, he had presumptive authority from the President-Elect.

Assuming Flynn actually did discuss lifting Obama’s sanctions on Russia (and since the transcripts of Flynn’s calls haven’t been made public, we can’t know that for certain), then he was a nominal civilian with enough influence to effectively undermine an action taken by the President of These United States. That’s a big fucking deal, and it’s exactly the sort of thing the Logan Act should be used to deter.

It’s absolutely worth testing the constitutionality of the Logan Act in this case. But somehow, I doubt the pixie-eared Attorney General will do that.

pissing on the constitution

How’d that happen? How the hell did that happen? How could those flannel-wearing meshback motherfuckers be acquitted of crimes they so obviously committed?

Simple. It’s called jury nullification. Basically, that means a jury decides to acquit the defendants even though they’re factually guilty of violating the law because the jurors believe the law itself is wrong or that it’s been wrongly applied.

It’s infuriating sometimes — and this time in particular — but in the long run, jury nullification is mostly a good thing. The most famous case on American soil was that of Peter Zenger, a journalist for the New York Weekly Journal back in 1734. That’s right, 1734, when this country was still a British colony. Zenger published some snarky shit about the Royal Governor of colonial New York, for which the governor had him arrested and charged with seditious libel. This was a pretty heavy crime back then. Seditious libel is when somebody prints snarky shit about the Queen or her officials.

Remember, Zenger had very clearly published snarky shit about a royal governor. He’d committed the crime. That boy was dead guilty. But the jury acquitted him after about (and I’m not making this up) ten minutes of deliberation. This was the case that set the precedent on which the First Amendment rests — which is that publishing snarky shit isn’t a crime if the snarky shit is true.

Jury nullification in defense of free speech

Jury nullification in defense of free speech

Before the U.S. Civil War, jury nullification was used to acquit defendants charged with harboring slaves in violation of the Fugitive Slave Laws. People were clearly guilty of hiding fugitive slaves, but juries found them not guilty anyway. The same thing happened during Prohibition in the 1930s — juries acquitted defendants who were obviously guilty of breaking both Federal and State alcohol control laws.We also see jury nullification used in some ‘mercy killing’ cases. And, of course, we’ve seen the practice at its worst in cases where all-white juries in the South acquitted white defendants of lynching black men.

So what happened in Oregon yesterday is part of an American tradition. It still makes me completely fucking furious to see these yahoos skate, of course. I’m fairly certain this verdict will encourage more of this sort of shit. It especially saddens and disgusts me that a group of armed fuckwits who seized a government facility will mostly walk while Native Americans peacefully attempting to prevent the physical (and, to them, the spiritual) desecration of their land by a goddamn oil company are being arrested. And we know with mathematical certainly what would have happened if folks associated with Black Lives Matter had pulled the same idiotic shit that the Bundyistas pulled.

Jury nullification in defense of armed seizure of federal property

Jury nullification in defense of armed seizure of federal property

But there it is. The Bundy lawyers were able to convince a sympathetic jury that their clients should be acquitted even though they were factually guilty. It’s true, the Bundys are still in jail and will be tried for other crimes committed in another state — but that doesn’t change the fact that yesterday they successfully pissed all over the Constitution.

The only good news to be found in this is that the Constitution is strong enough that it permits people to occasionally piss all over it.

thoughts on sand

I was walking along the lake shore, not thinking about anything in particular. Just casually looking at the birds, watching the dragonflies that hunt the small ponds along the lake, listening to the gulls arguing, enjoying the way the sand shifted under my feet. Here’s an interesting thing about sand: it behaves more like a liquid when it’s dry, and more like a solid when it’s wet.

I was just walking in the sand by the lake, idly scanning the ground for interesting chunks of driftwood or colorful stones. And I saw this:

sand3

Somebody had lost a beach shoe. Nothing really out of the ordinary. And a dog had padded by. Also pretty common; lots of people take their dogs to the lake. At some point, a raccoon had wandered along the same bit of sand; the woods around the lake are a haven for raccoon. And now I was standing there. That layering of temporal events pleased me for some reason — four creatures had crossed that same little patch of sand, separated only by a period of time.

This sort of thing happens to me all the time. I see something, and neurons start firing in my brain. I saw that lost beach shoe and the dog’s paw print and the raccoon track, and thoughts start turning over in my mind. Because it wasn’t just us that had crossed that bit of sand. Dozens of creatures had walked, slithered, or hopped across that same spot. Thousands of dozens. Millions of thousands of dozens. I mean, some three hundred million years ago, this entire area was under water; it was the sandy bottom of a great inland sea — a sea that dried up, only to be replaced by another inland sea a couple hundred million years later. Then that sea dried up as well. Now there’s just sand.

sand1

 

Well, not just sand. There’s also a lake. Six thousand acres of water. Almost ten square miles. Not a natural lake, though. Technically, it’s a reservoir — a man-made lake; an intentional containment of the Des Moines River. The lake was created about 50 years ago to try to control the periodic flooding that plagued the city of Des Moines for over a century. The flooding also troubled the native people who’d settled at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers seven thousand years earlier.

We know people lived here seven thousand years ago because we’ve found their bodies. A woman and a child, well-preserved skeletons sealed in a layer of sandy clay deposited by a sudden flood. It’s only relatively recently that humans developed the technology (and the audacity and arrogance) to dam up the river and create a lake. The dam and the lake hasn’t put an end to the flooding, but it’s certainly reduced the damage.

sand5

A lost beach shoe and a raccoon print in the sand, and my mind went caroming off of disappearing Paleozoic seas and banging into ancient human settlements and human high-handedness toward nature. But even while a chunk of my brain was knocking around notions of time and human presumption, I couldn’t help being drawn by how gracefully the water and wind have shaped the lake shore.

I found myself paying attention to how the moisture content of the sand shifted its color along with its consistency — how the farther I got from the water, the more pale the sand became. I started to notice how the granularity of the sand changed — how some was more coarse and some was incredibly fine. I paid more attention to how the wind revealed layers of different color in the sand, how driftwood bleached into various subtle shades.

sand4

There was something wonderful and beautiful about how dried leaves gathered gracefully in fluid self-organized, breeze-driven groups. There was something fascinating about how different waterlines arranged themselves; you could gauge the strength of various storms by the arrangements of the detritus and the driftwood and how far they’d been driven from the waterline by the wind and the waves.

None of this is stable. It’s changing all the time. The change is sometimes radical and quick and violent, but mostly it’s slow. I know I can return to this same spot in a couple of weeks and find that same driftwood log and those same weeds; I know I can return in six months and find that same log, though it will likely be surrounded by different detritus. There is continuity. Continuity, but not sameness.

sand6

There’s a good chance that the next time I return to the lake, that lost beach shoe will still be there. The dog’s paw print and the raccoon track probably won’t. The sand, though, it’ll still be there. Long after I’m dead and gone, long after that shoe disintegrates, long after the driftwood deteriorates into nothing, the sand will still be there.

There are people who collect sand as a hobby. They’re called arenophiles. The word comes from the Latin term for sand: harena. That’s also the root of the word arena. What does sand have to do with an arena? The Romans understood that the best and easiest way to soak up the blood spilled from their arena spectacles — the gladiator fights, the chariot races, the beast contests — was to lay down a layer of sand. Before there was a Coliseum, there was sand.

There’s always sand.