“Mama,” she exclaims, “the water’s getting into my castle — it’s ruining it!”
“Well, you should’ve built it farther in,” the mother replies. The daughter pouts, then stares at her creation being invaded by frothy lips. The child’s brother runs up to the sandcastle, stomps on it, cackles, then runs off. The little architect screams and chases him. Two seagulls, in concert, repeat her shriek as they circle the Ammophila breviligulata covered dune. Dark beige remnants of the miniature fortress dissolve and reform into indistinct heaps, combining with the random arrangement of golden quartz crystals. The water laps at them, the wind whirls them across the marshy stretch of Sandwich, Massachusetts. The Second Law of Thermodynamics triumphs again.
I have always thought it interesting that science holds no dictum which prevents these grains from forming into a citadel or a bridge, yet the nature of events always follows the same route. Mountains crumble into boulders, icicles melt into water droplets, and the shoreline erodes into particles. Entropy increases. Against the reality of time’s inexorable arrow, I often wonder about my usefulness. Where do I fit into the cosmic picture? Is it a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” as Macbeth lamented or does the entirety inside everything matter down to the last quark (and beyond)?
Astronomers know that the brightest stars burn for the shortest periods. In a few billion years, our own star will mushroom and life on Earth will cease. In the face of such a future what consequence do a handful more novels or a smattering less essays have? Does a destiny where nothing happens for eternity heed our creativity? Will our endeavors, all evanescent, play a role in that black finality? I envision the minuscule flaxen specks making up this Sandwich beach as countless clocks. What a lot they have witnessed, from the fleeting human history upon this headland to the cavalcade of geology that configured Cape Cod. I leave the sediments to their contemplative countdown and, crossing over the boardwalk, spy a heron engaged in digging through the murky swamp the other side of the seashore. We pay little heed to astronomical scales, the heron and I; We are each involved with the daily task of survival. However, I and the heron are spheres apart: I too expectant of the future, the bird pragmatic in the present.
Speeding away from the waterfront I chance upon a handmade signpost that states, “Glassblower” with an arrow pointing towards a wood-chip strewn track. I pull over and head in, unsure why I am making the detour — the word itself entices me and this is the first I have seen a marquee for it. Hidden inside a pine grove is a broad shingled house with a corrugated barn in the backyard. As I approach the barn hissing and thudding issues forth. Inside a village of furnaces belch and gurgle. Two women flit from oven to oven carrying long metal poles which glow at the far end like fireballs. One of them notices me and says, “Welcome! Be right with you.” I nod and feel comfortable to slink forward into the searing workspace. Gusts suffuse every exposed skin surface like the sun of a thousand deserts. The lady who greeted me rolls her blazing crimson bauble back and forth while the other gently blows into the end of its rod. The sphere expands, radiating tender shades of gold and blue from the carmine mix.
The bulbous shape metamorphoses as the staff is swung pendulum-style. Over and over the mass re-enters the furnace, strengthening in the heat while it transubstantiates into a pitcher. As one glassmaker applies a giant tweezer to the end of the ewer, the other gently rubs the lip with a wooden paddle. Glass moves like silk, smooth and pliant under their touch, drooping at the corners, eager to behave. The mouth of the jug enlarges and folds in to form a curled opening. Watching these masters forge their composition out of molten silica I marvel at how the constituents making up the beach now turn into something else extraordinary. From granules to glass to vessel, for a short time disorder is turned into order. One day this artifact will decay and return to a minute grain of sand upon some distant wilderness, but for a moment it stays the hand of chaos. Low entropy prevails.
Poet Kathleen Raine explores the idea of encountering universes within objects, in her work “Spell of Creation.” “Within the flower lies a seed,” she writes, “within the seed there springs a tree, within the tree there spreads a wood.” She expands upwards discovering the sea, the sky, and the sun. From the sun she finds a fire that matches a burning within her, transforming her heart and eye until finally,
“Within the eye, earth, sea and sky,
Earth, sky and sea within an O
Lie like the seed within the flower.”
Thinking about the poem I remember a capture taken by NASA probe Voyager 1. Six billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) from us, on its way to the furthest reaches of interstellar medium, the spacecraft looked back and took a snapshot of Earth. In the image we are a barely perceptible blue dot of light amidst a black canvas. Staring at this pinpoint of illumination fills me with eerie joy and perhaps in it lies the answer to my uncertainty. While we hurtle towards our dark fate we strive to create worlds of beauty out of that glowing speck so that our inconsequential macrocosms may shine brightly, adding to the twinkling pixel we call home, for however short a duration.
Skilled English and Irish glass artisans arrived in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the mid-nineteenth century to work at the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. Merchandise produced by the firm were noted for their intense color and remain coveted antiques. Pieces can be seen at the Sandwich Glass Museum, which also features modern glassmakers’ products and has glass blowing demonstrations.
What gives you daily inspiration?