From the Editor

Sand, Wind, and Stars

April 2016

colin_2015Let’s set the perfect mood for the summer ahead by understanding sand.

You may wonder if sand really needs an “update.” But if dazzling, windswept beaches are important to you, if you dare to let your friends know that in your private moments (while dipping your imagination into a great book, while summoning the image of your footprints across countless summers, while re-watching any Nicholas Sparks movie) you may be an arenophile, read on.

The quick answer to “what is sand” is “silicon dioxide in the form of quartz,” according to Live Science. Wind and violent storms across eons grind quartz crystals and mica into sparkling grains of sand. It’s finer, and surely more romantic, than gravel.

Imagine a Studio 54 of geology. A piece of grit shows up; the bouncer looks at his list.

“Are you .0625 mm (or 1⁄16 mm) to 2 mm?”

“Well, I was this morning.”

“That’s good. Because if you were smaller, you’d be silt. If you were larger, you’d be gravel. Are you familiar at all with the Krumbein phi scale? Beyond this, do you have the requisite sparkle?”

Which is not to say that you can’t be sand if you’re a tiny pink fragment of coral, limestone, or shell. You might be a garnet or a gem. Quartz does not make a beach alone. I had no idea there was such a thing as star sand (see photo). Amusing Planet takes us closer to reveal that these stars are really “the exoskeletons of tiny, one-celled organisms barely a millimeter across called Baculogypsina sphaerulata that live among the sea grass.” Their home base is a celebrated “star-sand beach…located on the northern tip of the remote Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture, in Japan.”

Writing for The Economist, Rebecca Willis feels “sand doesn’t just stick to our toes; it has a way of getting inside our heads. People who love sand are called arenophiles, from the Latin harena for sand, which was spread over the floor of the Colosseum in Rome to soak up the blood of combat, and which also gives us the word arena.” Not quite so romantic. “What that leaves arena-lovers to call themselves, I don’t know.” Sand has properties which even the non-arenophile may be able to appreciate. “It is self-sorting: grains of the same size group together, as the different ingredients in a box of muesli do; that is why, when the grains are different colours, you can find exquisite, painterly patterns left by the tide on a beach. When sand is poured into a pile, the slant of the slope made by the edge of the pile is called the angle of repose.”

Lovely. Let this summer be graceful and unhurried. Maine’s timeless beaches can afford to take the long view.

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