I never had a sandbox as a kid. Don’t feel too sorry for me. I had dirt. I got to dig tunnels, create mountains, and build roads for Matchbox cars in my backyard. I tracked plenty of dirt back into the house when I was done.
I never had a sandbox, and maybe that’s why I’ve always enjoyed playing in a sandbox with my children and now with my grandchildren.
The sandbox is magic. In it, you are a god. This is your realm. You create and destroy. You become one with the medium, shoveling, dumping, molding, and smoothing with your hands. It yields as you sweep it aside. It sifts through your fingers. It blows away with your breath.
Mountains are first. The pile rises higher and higher with each shovel full of sand. Some of it runs down the sides, defying your efforts to make something taller. But you have an ally. Water. Just the right amount of water stirred with sand becomes the substance of a “dribble” mountain. As you let the mixture slowly run out the bottom of your fist, spires ascend where there were none before.
Suddenly, this is no longer just a mountain. It is a castle. The dribble forms walls and windows, towers, turrets, and battlements. Inspired by this sight, I fill buckets with moist sand. Turning them upside down, I carefully lift them to create cylinders upon which to dribble more sand.
Roads are next. Roads that pass over the hills. Roads that slice through the mountains. Roads that circle the castle. Roads that are smooth, packed down, and ready for small cars and trucks.
Sometimes the mountain will not have a castle. Instead, a crater will be hollowed out of the top. It will be a volcano. Dormant for now, it may just erupt at any time. Cars or figures that wander too close to the edge may find themselves at the bottom, or worse, buried! Anything buried becomes treasure to dig for or a rescue to engineer, so it’s all good.
Whether topped by a crater or a castle, the side of my mountain is perfect for a cave. A shovel handle is the perfect tool to excavate a passage into the side of the hill. How deeply can I burrow into the sand before it begins to collapse? Can my tunnel reach one started from the other side? There’s only one way to find out.
Most of my efforts are leveled by small feet and loud giggles. Children find it nearly impossible to resist stomping on a mountain, a castle, a road, or a volcano. Our young are by nature bent on destruction. They delight in the power they have in the world of a sandbox.
Just like me.