Castles In the Sand

An editorial
by Chris Hibbard
(originally published on

Castles in the Sand

Castles in the Sand

Remember when you were two years old and going to the beach was a brand new, overwhelming, intense experience? Me neither. Recently I saw it happen a number of times – and I wish I had managed to somehow retain those memories.

These little kids, camping for the first time with their parents and siblings, their eyes filled with wonder as they stared down their first waves. Tiny waves. A gentle lake in the middle of the prairies, lapping at their toes on a day completely free of wind.

One little guy, who belonged to my camping neighbours, was so flabbergasted that he simply refused to enter the water. His mother encouraged him to wade in just a little bit, just up to his knees, just like in the bathtub at home. This was Ethan, a blonde-haired boy in Spidey trunks. Ethan saw this perfectly serene lake as a terrifying, insurmountable threat. This was not the case for camping neighbour #2, a little one named Morgan.

When staring down Alberta’s Lake Newell from the same plot of sand, Morgan’s parents literally had to hold him back long enough to strap his lifejacket on. Now ‘safe’, Morgan proceed to run out as fast and as far as his two foot long legs would carry him; only to splash down and float around, laughing hysterically with excitement and pure, unbridled joy – something that I think only children can do. His parents, momentarily stunned by their baby boy’s enthusiastic approach and high-speed, hesitated for a moment before giving chase – only to be shocked in their pursuit by the first touch of the lake’s cool water against those more sensitive body regions. This kid, Morgan – I tell ya, he’s gonna be a handful to raise – but he’ll be an excellent swimmer.

And then there was Morgan’s cousin – Mason. Obviously a few years older, he approached the fresh water as though it were thin ice – fun; but inherently dangerous.

“Are there weeds?” he asked me, as I pleasantly bobbed along, floating on my back in three feet of water. “A few,” I responded, “but you can see them right there on the bottom, and even if you touch them, they’re kind of slimy.”
“Are there fish?” he asked, with fear and trepidation in his eyes, as I stood up tall in the water to show him that it wasn’t all that deep. “I’ve seen some minnows,” I replied, “but no real fish, at least nothing with sharp teeth or fins or anything like that.”

Tackled shortly after by his over-excited cousin, Mason found himself swimming whether he wanted to or not, only to inquire ten minutes later, “So now what happens? Now what do we do?”, as though the acts of swimming and playing in the water were just the introduction to something more. I presume this may have something to do with X-Box related ADHD, but maybe the kid just really didn’t find water to be very interesting.

Either way, my recent week of camping by a beautiful hidden Alberta gem – Lake Newell (by Brooks off Highway 36) transported be back to my youth – or at least to a point where I was trying to look back, to remember my first experiences with a lake.

I love to swim. I love to float. I love to dive, to splash and to explore the bottom of a lake; rewarded by finding old tin cans, a lost flipper, some cheap sunglasses and one huge crayfish – like they would devour in New Orleans.
My mother told me once that I took to the water instantly as a child; and that my zodiac sign of Aquarius seemed appropriate. (Even though I now know all about water-bearers and Aquarius actually being an air sign, but I digress.)

She told me on this recent camping trip over a glass of wine that she has always wondered if she should have pushed me harder when it came to swim classes; swimming being one of the only activities I truly enjoyed as a kid, never taking kindly to organized group sports. I told her that after repeating the Maroon badge program (now called Level 4 I think) four times over and subsequently making it through to Blue (level 5), what really stopped me was the simple fact that I don’t like putting my face in the water without a snorkel, or at least a mask. I recall all the annoying emotional pain and nuisance resulting from having bad vision, thus not being able to see underwater like all the other kids in the early swim classes. At five years old, I didn’t wear contacts and nobody supplied a Bubble Blower student with prescription swim goggles. Ten years later, the front crawl and the butterfly strokes were just not doin’ it for me.

I have memories of visiting a family cottage in central Ontario when I was small; with sand so hot that it burned the bottoms of my feet. I remember looking out at a lake that seemed to stretch on forever. I remember seeing an eel or a water snake in that lake, and an uncle who put an end to it with a shovel. I remember just sitting in the shallowest part of the lake, making elaborate sand castles only to surround them with protective moats; moats that would erode all nearby sand and bring the entire structure crumbling down. However, these memories have been reinforced by old family photos and tales told over dinner tables, and are likely warped and embellished somewhat.

All I know is, after seeing these little humans out there tackling the water for the first time last week; it sure took me back. And you know what? It’s never too late to learn to swim, and it’s never too late to improve. Maybe I’ll take another course and earn that Green swimming badge after all. Provided I can get this sand castle just right first.

Author’s note: Thanks to three little kids and their parents for the inspiration; all of them from Brooks and Medicine Hat.

~ by Chris Hibbard on August 9, 2010.

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