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Infinite Spring Beaches

Spring Break. For high schoolers, this weeklong vacation signifies a myriad of educational changes, including new teachers, new grades, and new sports. But the transition associated with Spring Break has more than academic components; outside, the Oregon weather shifts dramatically almost overnight from dreary downpours to sparkling sunshine. Thousands of flowers burst into full bloom, proudly displaying their bold purples, yellows and reds. The transformation seems remarkable to those living in the Willamette Valley, but in some locations, it can barely be noticed at all. I realized this when I visited the Oregon coast during my Spring Break. Many coastal towns recognize spring only by title; the weather stays damp and breezy, and the beaches remain devoid of flora or fauna. But although they appear stagnant to the casual observer, these sandy beaches signify the most remarkable transformation of all: that which changes not with the season, but with the millennia.
Because most people rarely think about sand, they fail to realize the significance behind the substance. Sink your toes into sand, and you’re covering your feet in eons of history. Each individual grain of sand began as part of an enormous boulder, perhaps even a mountain. As the centuries passed, wind and water eroded the stone and broke off pieces. These rocks fragmented further over the next hundred thousand years, eventually becoming almost infinitesimally small. During this process, a grain of sand may travel thousands of miles across the ocean and reach an entirely different continent from its original mother rock, creating a unique blend of sediments on each beach. How can anyone, even Barack “the Change We Need” Obama, feel confident in his or her ability to transform the nation when it took the earth literally millions of years to create a single sandbar? This question soon sparked many more, because sand, as I learned, has many impressive qualities besides its creation. For example, consider how many grains amount to one teaspoon of sand. Thousands? Millions? Now think how many grains compose a cup of sand. Billions? One gallon of sand contains trillions and quadrillions of these minute particles. One sandbar, therefore, contains more grains of sand than top scientific minds could conceivably count. Now consider that Earth alone contains millions of beaches, and our galaxy contains hundreds of sand-covered planets. Neither man nor computer, therefore, can even remotely conceive of the number of sand grains in the universe. Only the concept of infinity comes close to defining this staggering amount of sand, and even that estimate seems a bit low after a day on the beach.
While strolling along the Oregon coastline during my Spring Break, kicking the sand that lay in mounds before me, I couldn’t help but feel insignificant. I imagined myself as one minuscule grain of sand, swept along the beach among billions of other grains almost identical to myself. Sure, I might look different if you put me under a microscope, but nobody takes the time to examine each individual sand grain. After considering how much time it took to create a single beach, or even a single grain of sand, how could I possibly accomplish anything in my small lifetime? And if I did manage to achieve something, would it really matter in the grand scheme of things? In a thousand years, or even a hundred, the beaches would remain largely unchanged, yet I would likely be totally forgotten, one grain lost among trillions of my peers. Why did I matter at all? Defeated, I lay down in the warm sand, letting the salty air cool my face. Immediately I realized the answer I sought: although each individual grain of sand may not be acknowledged, together the sand created something beautiful that spanned not only the beach, but the entire universe. I may not stand out by myself, but with a little cooperation, I could be a part of something as great as Oregon’s magnificent beaches. And perhaps together, our collective beach could change the world for the better.




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