Master Builders In a Race With the Tide

THE crews stop at the top of the path. They've been here before, maybe a hundred times. But this morning they stop and stare down at the beach.

"Perfect conditions," says Wizard.

The others, Teresa, Isabelle, and Digger, agree.

The sand looks like a white-gold half moon below them. It stretches from the base of the cliff on which they stand to the rocks on the other side. Only a soft breeze whispers past, and the blue waves slide quietly in and out, in and out. The day is perfect for a sandcastle. Perfect for a great battle ... a race with the high tide, then ocean against castle ... perfect.

Wizard heads off first. The others tumble and slide down after him. The smell of seaweed and salt air makes their stomachs jump with excitement as they reach the sand.

David the Digger chooses the sites. "Not too close to the waves," he shouts. "Not so far from the sea that the water carriers get tired."

The crew has built castles in many locations: near the rocks, on top of the rocks, next to the cliff, far from the water, next to the waves. Some spots are better than others. Digger picks the best ones. This time he chooses a place toward the center of the half moon, closer to the rocks than the cliffs.

First the moat. Digger bends forward and burrows like a dog with both hands. The rest of the crew take shovels and buckets from their bags and spread out in a wide circle. A good deep moat is a lot of work.

The crew digs until Teresa can walk the whole way round, her small feet fitting easily into the bottom of the trench. The sides come almost to her knees. Digger tells Isabelle and Wizard, the tallest kids on the crew, to measure the island of sand they have created.

The two position themselves on opposite sides of the circle. Lying flat on their stomachs, toes hanging into the moat and arms stretching out as far as they can towards each other, Isabelle and Wizard can't touch fingers. This will be the biggest castle of the summer.

Next comes the "keep," the main part of the castle, and the "bailey," the flat yard in front of it. Isabelle, the master builder, takes charge. The bailey is flattened with shovels, and then the heap of sand behind it is worked into a square base for the keep. Water carriers are kept busy, running back and forth to the waves with their buckets. If the base is too dry, it will never support a tall building.

When it's thick and solid and done to Isabelle's satisfaction, they begin to build upward. Higher and higher, and higher still.

Finally, members of the the crew can no longer ignore their stomachs. They stop and sit around the moat with their sandwiches.

The wind lifts the visor of Wizard's hat. He peers at the sky and sees the sun has moved high overhead. The waves splash, "slap, swoosh, slap, swoosh," closer than before. They reach up onto the dry sand.

"We better get back to work," he says.

The keep stands as tall as Wizard's waist. It's time for Teresa, a master at bridges and fortifications, to search for materials. Rocks, shells, and bits of sea glass will be needed, along with a piece of flat driftwood for the drawbridge.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew begin the watchtowers. "Build slowly," Wizard directs. "Taper as you go." They stack one handful of moist sand on top of another. "Don't work too fast, they'll fall over."

Four capped towers soar above the keep by the time Teresa returns. A gatehouse and two thick towers protect the moat. All of them stop what they're doing to sort through Teresa's bag. Bigger stones will be used last, for the wall. Sea glass and shells are embedded into the towers.

Teresa flops down on her stomach to scoop a tunnel through the gatehouse. Her spoon digs clearly through the packed sand. The others begin the final structure, the wall. It must be thick and hard. It'll be the first line of defense.

Digger picks up a bucket, and turns to the ocean. "Tide's coming," he shouts. Waves sweep toward the castle in big curves. "Thump, swisssh, thump, swisssh."

Everyone mixes and piles and smooths, building around the inside perimeter of the moat. Isabelle lays the largest rocks around the base of the wall. Teresa lays a long piece of wood between the wall and the gatehouse just as a wave crashes with a "thud!" behind her.

"Swooooooosh," it sucks back out. "Thud, swooooooosh."

"In time!" Digger jumps up and gallops to the rear of the castle. "It's done!" shouts Wizard. The crew stands, looking from castle to ocean and back again.

For a moment the waves grow calm, as though the ocean has changed its mind. There will be no high tide. Then with a crashing "Thud!" a wave attacks. Water fills the moat and reaches up toward the wall.

Digger shouts, "It's full!"

Teresa sits down on one side of the castle and wriggles her toes into the sand. She stares at the sea as it attacks and retreats, sucking at the beach as it goes.

Digger and Wizard stand, legs apart, facing the waves. "A big one coming," calls Wizard. "Yes!" Digger shoots an arm into the air. Isabelle trots back to stand next to him.

"Thump, swisssssh," in one broad movement a wave takes out most of the front wall. "The gatehouse is cracked!" calls Wizard. Water splashes his legs up to his knees.

"Thump, swisssssh." When the next wave pulls back, there is only a mound where the gatehouse once stood.

An afternoon wind ripples past. Sand taps at the crew's necks.

"We better clean up," Wizard shouts.

Everyone grabs his bag and searches the sand around the castle for shovels, sandwich papers, anything. "Leave the beach clean," Teresa repeats to herself. It's the crew's motto.

"We better go up," Digger heads for the cliff first. The others follow slowly. Teresa is the last to leave. She watches a wave rush toward the keep. The left front tower cracks, then crumbles. She turns and starts for the path.

Standing at the top of the cliff the crew takes one last look. Waves have washed over the keep. There is only a broad, soft lump where the square base once stood.

"It always makes me a little sad," Teresa sighs.

"Not me," says Isabelle.

"Naw," says Wizard. "If castles were hard like sidewalks or statues, they'd be boring."

"Tomorrow," Digger shouts at the beach, "we'll be back."

The crew laughs and heads for home.

`Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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