By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Sand. Made from mile-high mountains worn down to near-microscopic grains by wind, water and time; made from the fragments of shells and corals, flotsam and jetsam; made from countless other unknown ingredients. Strange, then, to think that this deconstruction of things from mighty and large to tiny and nameless also serves as the ultimate building block.
We use sand to make concrete. There are 2,000-year-old Roman recipes for concrete that we still haven’t been able to reverse engineer. Even today, in the 21st century, across some parts of Europe water flows through concrete aqueducts built by the Romans.
We line our thousands of miles of highways with high-tech reinforced concrete capable of withstanding tens of thousands of pounds of pressure. We corral our prisoners inside walls built with the very same stuff because its strength makes it ‘escape proof.’
But the use of sand isn’t just utilitarian. We use it to make some of our most intricate and fragile works of art and whimsy. From crystal goblets, to simple juice glasses, to blown glass beads imbued with fanciful colors and worked into pieces of jewelry, there is sand.
It’s an abundant resource we hardly think about, but it’s everywhere, all around us, transformed.
Living near the beach, as we do, it’s easy to be reminded of sand. We’re reminded of it when the weather has been dry and the wind becomes so strong that it whips up whirlwinds of sand and sends it dancing across Highway 48. We also remember it after a day spent frolicking in the waves, when we desperately try to rinse ourselves off thoroughly enough so as to not track sand into our cars and homes.
And we remember it every year during a time of celebration of all things sand: Sandcastle Days. As a transformed substance, sand has the power to endure for centuries, but at Sandcastle Days, we are treated to a display much more ephemeral: sand sculptures.
For just one weekend, artists from around the world descend upon the pale beige sands of South Padre Island to work this simultaneously ancient and high-tech medium into larger than life sculptures. They create traditional castles, stunning portraits, surreal scenes, cartoonish landscapes and more.
Some of the sculptures tower taller than an NBA star. Others look so complex it’s a wonder how human hands could create such minute detail in so fragile a surface. But every year for nearly three decades, our Island has celebrated its most abundant resource by creating and displaying these wonderful works of art.
And it’s not just the artists who come from far points on the globe. During Sandcastle Days, thousands of spectators will come to marvel at the sculptures. Last year, a bad case of red tide couldn’t keep the crowds away as they angled for the best selfies. Red tide threatened to rear its head this year, too, but thankfully, it seems to be all but gone now.
It’s a little bittersweet once Sandcastle Days is over. The sculptures are left on the beach, where wind and waves soon transform them again into the shapeless, nameless expanses of nondescript sands they were before. But the flats of beach near the tide line are deceptive. There’s more artwork hiding on our beaches. It’s just waiting for the next sculptor to suss it out.
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