OCD may be getting the better of me.
For two years since, I have been walking Hunzi most days on the nearby south town beach.
I have bogled before on the subject of our beach, which is endlessly changing and never the same two days’ running. One day it is sandy, the next day pebbly. Sometimes the pebbles are down on the tideline, sometimes they make a long, low hump all along the beach, in the middle. Sometimes they are piled high at the back, or are left at one end of the beach or the other, while the rest of the beach is invitingly sandy.
It’s like a giant kid comes out at night to play with the pebbles, and doesn’t tidy up before sunrise.
Over the two years we have been walking here, I have come to realise that it is the bay that is making the pebbles. The bay is a giant pebble-factory. The soft stone breaks away from the cliffs further down the coast and is rolled by the tides along the harder stony bed of the bay, ever northwards, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces as it goes. The rolling action creates friction, makes the stones round and smooth and forever getting smaller.
So that you walk along the fragile shingle barrier between the beach and the lower-lying land, the drained saltmarsh and the river behind, and you observe that the stones the bay has made come approximately in three sizes, like Starbucks’ skinny lattes: large (12″ or more), medium (about 5″) and regular (1″- 2″). And you can try and count them. A lifetime’s occupation, I reckon there are ten to twenty million stones on the beach, but who knows?
And you notice too that they mostly come in two principal shapes: fully rounded, and oblong with rounded edges. The round-shaped stones, which are the majority, are mostly flattened ovoids: egg-shaped, pointy but flat, like a soft egg got sat on. As you wander about counting the stones, like a lunatic, you can’t help observing that the vast majority are these flattened pointy egg-shapes, with perfectly oval variations, mostly in the medium (5″) size. There are millions of pebbles similar to this specification.
Indeed, so uniform is the product, that the rolling action of the waves and tides and the peculiar conformation of the bay seem to have one conscious purpose in mind, to manufacture these rounded, flattened stones out of the raw material of the soft rocks, that were laid down in layers of petrified silt like filo pastry millions of years ago and then heaved up and twisted by unimaginably huge forces into a kind of croissant formation that keeps on crumbling and flaking into the bay.
‘Croissant’ is of course French for ‘crescent’, which neatly describes the nearly a mile-long curve of this stunning geological water-feature, that took such a painful hammering from the winter storms this year.
So I began to wonder if the bay had managed to roll any stones that were perfectly circular?
Every day, I spend maybe half an hour picking my way through the stones like a lunatic, obsessively looking for perfectly circular, flattened ones. I’m thinking it might be fun to have some perfectly circular stone discs at home, as decorations. (Perfectly spherical would be too much to hope for. It’s a whole other dimension to the problem.)
But in two years of wandering slowly up and down the beach, staring at the ground, while Hunzi casts about for a nice stick or a pack of wet spaniels to play with, obsessively evaluating the shape of every stone, I have not yet found even one perfect circle among all the millions of almost perfect circles piled at my feet.
Every one I find is slightly pointy, or perfectly oval, or has one or more straightened edges to it, making it maybe a bit triangular; or has a chip, or a groove making it heart-shaped. None I have found describes a perfect circle.
You would think, wouldn’t you (well, I would), that a factory set up to manufacture millions of rounded stones about five inches in diameter would by the law of averages manage eventually in a thousand or so years to make at least one perfectly round stone, even if only by accident?
I mean, if Apple or someone could turn out ten million iPads in its huge chinese factory, and not even one of them quite met the technical specifications of the Apple design team back home in Ensonora, even in the simple respect of making the four edges straight and the corners rounded and right-angled, you’d think it would explain why the workers are suicidal. It’d be like civilisation had been put back several thousand years. Even the Greeks knew geometry.
That there might be one or two here, underneath, deep down and buried under this vast, ten-foot-high shingle bank, is too frustrating to contemplate. There are enough stones on the surface, within view, to establish a principle. The restless tide would surely bring them to light, occasionally?
In fairness, I have found some stones, very few, that I thought were perfectly rounded, until I compared them with a man-made geometric circle, and saw how they bulged a little here and shrank a little there, and how irregular their circumference really was, and I had to take them back to the beach (it is unlucky to remove stones from the lithosphere, like gamefish they should always be returned to their natural habitat when you are done with them).
So I thought about the world, and the moon, and such, and concluded that there are no perfect circles in Nature, other than the ripples on calm water when you throw in a pebble, that don’t last long. Nature abhors a circle. The world even is slightly flattened at the poles and bulgy at the equator, it has mountains sticking up and oceans with trenches thousands of metres deep. Even its orbit around the sun is elliptical, and varies through time. Nature isn’t perfect.
Some people of course find beauty in imperfection. Personally, I am becoming offended by it. I’d like things to be perfect, for a change.