The Sandbox

Every day, from the time we rise to the moment we close our eyes, we hurry. We rush to get ready, we race out the door. All flustered and in a flurry, we frantically scurry from one task to the next. Day after day, we repeat the cycle. Even in our playtime there seems to be this sense of urgency in our race against Time. Be quick! Pack up your things, get to your destination, hit the trail and squeeze it all in before another workweek begins. And we wonder why Time moves so fast. Perhaps he’s just trying to keep up with us. It’s important every once-in-a-while, to schedule yourself a little time in the sandbox. Go play. Take off your shoes, sift through the sand, watch the clouds, chase rainbows, try to capture the wind. Limit your time to infinity and don’t come home until you’ve satisfied your senses.


Last weekend, E and I enjoyed an entire day of play on the sand dunes in Panamint Valley. It was beautiful. It was great. We felt like two big kids let loose in a giant sandbox and we experienced all the moods of Nature in one day. As we pulled off highway 190 and headed north on the dirt road toward Panimint Dunes, we suddenly noticed a rainbow in the distance. We came to an immediate halt, jumped out of the car, scrambled for the appropriate lens and vantage point to best capture the beautiful site before it faded away. That rainbow did, indeed lead us to a pot of gold. A pile of golden sand dunes, plopped down in the middle of nowhere. Though the valley was filled with storm clouds and there was a certain percent chance of rain in the forecast (and wind, as well), we were feeling lucky. We continued the bumpy ride, roughly 5 miles to our parking spot. From there we could see the golden sand of Panamint Dunes illuminated a few miles in the distance. The sun and the clouds were engaged in a game of hide-and-seek and shadows danced along the valley floor as we made our way toward the dunes.


We did, in fact, get rained on a little bit. However, the temperature was pleasantly warm and it really wasn’t more than a sprinkle, so no big deal. Slightly off the beaten path, Panamint Dunes are one of several impressive sand dune formations in Death Valley National Park. We hadn’t visited these particular dunes since our Desert Dogs were just pups. They are eleven years old now, so it’s been a while. From the parking area, it’s about a 3-mile hike across the valley to the dunes. It was easy-going and yet there was a little pressure in the pace. As we approached the dunes, we questioned, which way to go? The possibilities were endless and we hemmed and hawed about where to find the most perfect vantage point to frame a good photo. Though not the tallest sand dunes in the park, Panamint Dunes are quite impressive with some rather steep slopes in places. We were intrigued by the shapes, the lines, the patterns and textures in the sand and in the sky. The light constantly changed throughout the day, continually altering the colors and the mood of the landscape. I experienced several moments of sensory overload trying to take it all in at once.


It turned out to be a very interesting day of weather, moving through all the moods. Ominous clouds and rain storms off in one direction, blue sky and fluffy white clouds in another, shadows and sunshine, a few sprinkles and sudden, fierce gusts of wind. It was mesmerizing watching sand spray from the crests, carving new lines and patterns in the sandy surface right before our eyes. We were timid in our exploration at first, carefully skirting the most picturesque of the dunes in order to avoid marring the velvety surface of the perfectly formed ridges with our footprints. But watching a gust of wind dance across the sand, erasing any evidence of our presence in a matter of seconds, we realized how insignificant and temporary our markings were in the life of a desert dune. We allowed ourselves to be drawn in by the undulating lines and graceful curves of this set of star-shaped dunes.


Taking a closer look, this seemingly barren landscape, this giant pile of sand, actually harbors all sorts of desert wildlife. I am always amazed by the adaptability of these life forms that call the desert home. I watched in awe as this brave little ladybird tumbled down a sandy slope in the wind, repeatedly getting knocked on her back, flipping over and getting up to try again. Yes, I’d say it takes a certain sort of strength to make a desert dune your home.


We literally wandered, meandered, ambled and rambled along every ridge in that big pile of sand. Aimlessly, leisurely, casually we walked the day away. It felt nice to keep the pace relaxed and unhurried for a change. We sat, soaking in the stillness. As I silently sifted the silky sand through my hands, over and over again, I realized how difficult it can be to allow oneself to truly be in a moment. On the one hand, we lament the passage of time, while on the other we wish the time away. I am certainly guilty of this. I frequently hear myself complain, I can’t believe it’s today already and in the very next breath, is it tomorrow, yet? More than ever, I see this urgency and racing pace, nurtured in the wee-generations and I must admit, it nags at me a bit. The little ones these days…we like to call them “busy”, but I don’t think that’s quite the right word. They are increasingly anxious, impulsive, hyper, so frantic to move they have difficulty engaging in the experience of the moment. The inquiries are urgent and incessant: What are we doing next? Is it lunch time yet? When is recess? Is it time to come inside? Can I be done with this? What can I do now? Are we going home yet? They cannot sit for even a moment, they have difficulty concentrating on a solitary task, interrupting is a communication skill and silence is unheard of. As an adult, it’s hard not to get caught up in the hurried pace of today’s world and I often catch myself unintentionally imposing it on my little students: Hurry up. Finish your work. We need to move on. You’re time is running out. Be quick, it’s time to go! Well, I guess it’s no wonder. If only it were acceptable to schedule a block of “Sandbox Time” into the daily routine. If only it weren’t a “waste of time” to assign the task of sitting in silence, to offer instruction in walking aimlessly and guidance in sifting sand. If only we could direct the little ones to watch the clouds, chase rainbows and try to catch the wind. What if we could attach the time limit of infinity and assess according to standards that require satiating the senses? Well, that would certainly be a change of pace.


After literally playing the day away in our big ‘ole, grown-up sandbox, the light began to fade and we finally began to meander in the direction of the car. Though there wasn’t a spectacular sunset, we enjoyed the evening sky as we hiked quietly along. It was after dark by the time we reached the car. We were silent, still, our senses completely satisfied. Another wonderful playdate with my favorite explorer.


The wee ones are not the only ones to benefit from some playtime in the sandbox. It may not easily fit into your busy schedule or within the imposed constraints of time. You may have to justify making quiet time a priority. It may not seem acceptable to waste your time with such childish pursuits as chasing rainbows and ladybugs in the wind. The older we grow, the faster life goes. But maybe Time is just keeping our pace. Slow down. See what happens.


Off you go, now. It’s time to play in the sandbox ;)

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