These days, I fall into bed depleted, though I seldom make it to 9:45pm. My daughter, seeing my fatigue, asks if I’m alright. I assure her that I am, though I don’t have a tidy explanation for my exhaustion. I’m getting adequate rest. I would say it might even border on abundant rest. I look at her, stymied for an accurate description.
Then an image envelops my mind: the towering sand dunes we summited a few months ago.
“I guess,” I say, “it feels a little like, emotionally, we’re living on a traveling sand dune right now.”
Consistency is an illusion, of course. We all know this. But, it’s a serviceable illusion. From its mirage the seeds of routine emerge.
Watch out the window for the school bus.
Walk the dog.
It all smacks of certainty. One can be excused for confusing stasis for permanence. Some paths are trod so frequently, with such unerring repetition, they acquire the semblance of constancy.
Perhaps that’s what makes the idea of a traveling sand dune so intriguing and so disturbing at the same moment. Sands, not contained in sedate borosilicate globes, wander as an unyielding force along the Baltic coast, engulfing whole villages. They don’t obliterate, exactly. Somewhere, deep in their bowels, there are still intact houses, inundated with sand. But, “re-sculpting the landscape” feels a bit benign to describe their impact.
At the moment the Łacka dune is relentlessly devouring the alder forest on its eastern edge. The humans have learned their lesson and migrated out of the dunes’ paths. But, the trees stay vigilant until the end. The sands will compile, first at their roots, then move up their trunks. They will pile unremittingly until the trees’ choked crowns will jut, lifeless, from the dunes’ crests, as though skeletal bushes.
I don’t mean to make it sound as dire as all of that. It is acutally a lovely place to spend an afternoon. But, there is no denying that the world felt a bit more comfortable before I realized that roving specks of earth could move in unison to consume an entire village.
We visit the dunes in the spring, when the winds are gentler. The dunes move slowly in these months, piling up on themselves, creating more of the visage one would expect from their moniker, White Mountains. In the winter, with stronger winds, the dunes spread, unfurling themselves across the landscape in their indefatigable Eastern march. Their consumptive pace in these colder months becomes feverish (for a sand dune).
Our epochs of change aren’t as predictable as the ones that dictate the dunes’ progress. But, they are cyclical in their own way. There are long expanses of time when changes happen so subtly, so stealthily I don’t see them coming. Children grow up. Relationships morph. Bodies age. And suddenly, I find myself 100 meters down the shore, perched atop a transitory mountain where once there was placid beach.
There are other moments when the storms roll in. Winds pick up and the landscape of my life is altered abruptly. Wind and sand careen in, preforming their orchestrated dance of destruction, oblivious to my protestations. In these moments of upheaval, there are so many details I could obsess over. Sometimes I lose whole days to the counting of individual grains of sands.
But that day in May was calm. Discarded shoes dangle from our fingertips. Toes find their way, unhindered, into the depths of the sands. They investigate through the warmed upper echelons down into the cool sand hidden below.
Young bodies test themselves against the yielding earth. They toss off cartwheels and yoga poses into the terra non-firma. There is no foundation. There are only places of temporary rest, before the nomadic march continues.
There is some comfort in remembering our descent from the dunes that day. We slip our way down the edge of the dune, the youngest among us running back up, to brave the unruly ride down again. On hitting the compressed earth, our feet lodge their complaints. They are spent from the constant act of adjusting. Unexplored muscles have been called into service as our feet bend and conform to the shifting sands.
And that, really, is what has been sending me to my pillow each night, drained. I am bone-tired from the constant machinations of inhabiting unstable terrain. I take some solace from recognizing that navigating on shifting sand is exhausting.