Bones Become Sand


At first look the bay shore upon which she stood was not incredibly unlike the shore of any other bay she had stood upon. Though far from home its form, its smell and its size seemed about the same as what she was used to. These were places of frequent pilgrimage, sacred though unremarkable, raw smelling and populated only by mundane creatures and curious beachcombers. The water was still, agitated by the lightest of winds coming off from the East. Scattered within the water were the remnants of discarded home appliances, decades old and in desperate states of decay, not uncommon for these sad shores. Upon close inspection you could see that this beach, though apparently unremarkable, was quite unlike any other she had thus far visited. The first clue to this came as the waves stretched their watery fingers across the beach. With each, a peculiar sound, like glass wind chimes or the sound of a novelty shop rain stick. It is a beauteous sound, disrupted only by recognition of its source.

She knelt down to observe the rising water. As it washed over the sand the light of the winter sun made it flash, bursts of static energy upon her eyes. Peering through the flashes and through the water and through the sand she could see the source of that beauteous sound. Glass; millions of pieces of small rounded glass beads buried just beneath the surface of the shore. Worn down by decades of erosion she could see that the beads had become, or otherwise were steadily becoming, the very shore upon which she crouched.  

In fact this beach was something of a remarkable spot compared to the countless beaches she had visited. Bluntly referred to as “Deadhorse Bay” the small cove wedged between the Gerritsen and Rockaway inlets was once home to as many as two dozen ‘horse-rendering plants’ and fish oil factories. Here is where the corpses of countless horses were sent to be milled for fertilizer and glue before their remains were dumped into the brackish waters of the bay. In its time the bay and surrounding marshland has also been a popular marina, New York City landfill and National Park. With decade’s worth of garbage buried within its sand the beaches here become a veritable museum for anybody willing to comb their way through it.

This beach, as most others in New York, is steadily wearing away. Storms like Hurricane Sandy and rising seas threaten its form, breaking into its dunes and marshland, steadily tearing it apart wave by wave. Each blow reveals the trash, bottles, appliances, fine china and bones of those past ages, when this shore was more than just a curiosity.

She searched the beach for a short time before her hands were filled with too many bottles and trinkets to carry. It wasn’t long before she came upon the first bone. A horse bone, cut perfectly by some long vanished machine, one of thousands scattered across this shore. Stuffing her pockets with the bottles and trinkets she knelt once again to inspect. It was an odd thing, quite thick and frankly indistinguishable from how she imagined human bones to appear. Plucking it carefully from the sand she brought it closer to her eyes. The cut was smooth and the bone was worn, rounded like the beads of glass within which it was buried, a curious thing. It brought to mind a moment in her memory, vague and buried as these bones, from a time very early on in her childhood.

It might have been her first trip to a beach for all she could recall, but it was at the very least one of the first of such pilgrimages. It wasn’t at all a beach like this, not isolated nor quiet and calm. No artifacts from ages past and combed to the point where you would have been lucky to discover even a clam shell. Coney Island perhaps? Or the Jersey shore; something more developed, bigger and more boring in her eyes. She can remember looking up to an older boy (her brother? her cousin? maybe even her father, though unlikely) and asking.

“Where does the sand come from?” Whoever it was to whom she spoke was either incredibly
impatient or intent to tease a small girl because his answer would carry through the rest of her life and into this very moment of recollection to forever confuse and disturb her.

“Bones.” He said sharply, looking at her with wide ‘crazy eyes’. She could remember his eyes, their intensity, and she could remember his voice, its conviction. He went on to explain, “When people die they burn you and dump you in the ocean. Your bones become sand and mix with other people’s bones until there’s enough to make a beach.”

And forever from then on she could remember thinking, however subconsciously, that to dig through the sand was to dig through the very bones of your ancestors. She knew now that it wasn’t true but sometimes that thought still scared her, often it comforted her, but usually it just made her curious to keep digging.

How funny now to think about digging through this odd beach, where the sand could very well have been bones. Not the bones of her ancestors but the bones of bottles and beasts of burden which once supported them. She dropped the fragment into the sand below, a proverbial grave of garbage and discard more telling of the past than any gravestone.  She stood.

Walking forward she looked out over the calm waters, fiery with the light of the descending sun, and followed an oil slick back towards a distant factory with her eyes. She thought it something like a staircase but wondered where it led. Wondered where all of this led. Beside the incomparable enormity of the sea it is difficult for her to not wonder where any of this leads. These thoughts she was having, this garbage she was collecting, this park upon which she was walking, what function could any of it serve beside something so violent and yet so patient as the sea?

‘Bones become sand becomes shore’. She let the thought wash over her and in quick succession more thoughts came. Where would she find her bones resting one day? On what coast in the presence of what people? She wondered silently to herself where this journey would lead and, though fearful, she resolved to continue before kneeling down again to inspect another bottle.