Today I’m kicking off a little personal project: Sand Month
Every Sunday for the next month I’m going to be posting a little deep dive into a facet of a subject I think is one of the most fascinating and low-key profound things in the world: sand. I’m starting this project as a way to try out some of my ideas about science storytelling, specifically the idea that everything has both an “endo-story” (the little world contained within them) and an “exo-story” (the role they play in the world around them).
Without further ado-
Chapter 1: the galaxy in your hand
I have always loved playing in the sand- the infinite forms it can take, the sensation of it running through fingers or enveloping feet. When I was younger I mostly loved it physically, as I grew I started to love it conceptually-- slowly gaining an understanding, first visceral, then academic, of the unfathomable intricacy that existed where we seldom thought to look.
Some of my earliest experiences of awe at the natural world came from the unexpected jolt of realizing a humble handful of sand became something dazzling when you looked at it up close-- a handful of sand is a galaxy of little worlds, each grain with its own story of formation that may stretch back months or millennia. Each grain’s history is recorded in its form and composition: what they look like on the outside and inside can be read like a short story, and the accumulated stories in a handful come together like the whorls of a fingerprint-- an emergent snapshot of that exact place and time in earth’s geological history.
Sand, generally speaking, is just tiny rocks: the shattered and worn fragments leftover from the breakdown of the volcanic bedrock that makes up earth’s landmasses. This source material differs somewhat from place to place, but is nowhere near as diverse as the kinds of sand it spawns. What accounts for the leap in diversity is what happens to these rocks along the way: grains are defined by the scars of their formation.
These scars can be pondered, and sometimes deciphered: Is it polished in a swash zone or pockmarked by the stinging airborne impacts in the wind? Is it sorted by size in moving water and laid to rest in layered beds? Has it been gnawed at by acids until only invulnerable quartz remains, or pierced by tunneling fungi and colonized by critters?
Each grain of sand is the vessel for a tiny world, but it also exists as a tiny character within a much larger world: a stage for one cast of characters, and the tiniest actor on a much larger stage.
Over the next month I’m going to try and conjure up some of the stories that exist within those grains, as well as the larger role they play within our world. My hope is that by the end, you’ll be able to see beneath the surface of photos like these and of sand wherever you encounter it. My goal is that you’ll be able to see the galaxy in your hand, too.