Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Festival

On Sunday, J and I took the T to Revere Beach, where we caught the final day of this year’s National Sand Sculpting Festival. This is the third year we’ve gone to Revere Beach to see the sand sculptures, and every year we marvel at the level of detail master artisans can achieve in a seemingly shapeless medium.

Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Festival

In the aftermath of this year’s Boston Marathon bombings, it was no surprise that the theme of this year’s festival was “Boston Strong.” The festival’s central sculpture—a towering wall featuring the names of the festival’s corporate sponsors—was flanked with American flags and featured images of runners, a tribute to law enforcement (including slain MIT officer Sean Collier), and a nod to the Good Samaritans, first responders, doctors, and nurses who helped victims.

Boston Strong

Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Festival

Collier Strong

Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Festival

The phrase “Boston Strong” represents the way an entire community came together in the aftermath of tragedy, stranger helping stranger, and I suppose sand sculptures are a good metaphor for this kind of community bonding. Individual grains of sand are neither strong nor special; they’re just gritty. En mass, however, grains of sand can either wear down stone or build towering structures. Given the nitty-gritty particulars of fate, what kind of structures might we build, together?

Click here for more photos from this year’s National Sand Sculpting Festival at Revere Beach. Enjoy!

Vigilant - May 5 / Day 125

Yesterday J and I made our more-or-less yearly pilgrimage to Revere Beach, where we followed our established tradition of taking the T to Wonderland, eating seafood in the shady pavilion across the street from Kelly’s Roast Beef, then walking the beach back to the bathhouse, where we catch the T for home. We take this same trip strolling this same stretch of shore every year or so, usually in the off-season, when the beach is empty save for other walkers. Revere Beach has become a place J and I go to stroll rather than swim, counting ourselves among the long-sleeve beachcombers rather than the swimsuit-clad sunbathers.

Cold wading

Yesterday was a bright but brisk day, so there were few waders and even fewer sunbathers at Revere Beach. Instead, there were dog-walkers, seashell-seekers, kite-flyers, cyclists, parents puttering around with kids, guys kicking soccer balls, and guys playing volleyball. It was a shorts-and-sweatshirt kind of day—perfect for walking—and the ubiquitous seagulls seemed resigned to the fact that few folks were picnicking, so they had to forage food from the surf rather than begging handouts from humans. Without the distraction of beach blankets, beach umbrellas, beach balls, and an endless ocean of beach bodies, J and I enjoyed the relative solitude of a low-tide shoreline strewn with seaweed and seashells.


If J and I were tourists visiting from afar, we might have been disappointed by a beach day that was too cold for wading, much less swimming. But since Revere Beach is an easy T-ride away, we don’t have to hope for perfect beach weather to go stroll the shore. Any day, it turns out, is a good day to walk the beach, at least if you remember to bring a sweatshirt. Any day, it turns out, is a good day to take a good long walk on the sun-kissed edge of sea and sky.

Click here for more photos from yesterday’s stroll at Revere Beach. Enjoy!

Enjoying the view

It’s become something of an annual tradition. About once a year, J and I take the T to Revere Beach, where we have lunch then walk, people-watching and taking pictures while gulls and low-flying airplanes soar overhead. We’ve gone to Revere Beach in the off-season, and we’ve gone at the height of summer. This year, we timed our visit to coincide with the annual Sand Sculpting Festival, so there was plenty to look at.


I’m not much of a beach person: although J and I live about 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, I can count on one hand (with fingers to spare) the number of times I’ve gone swimming there. But even if you’re not much of a swimmer or sun-bather, occasionally it’s fun to be near the shore, to watch the tides and hear the crying gulls. This weekend was hot and sunny, but with low humidity, so it was lovely to sit in a shady, open-air pavilion eating seafood–clams for J, scallops for me–within sight of the chairs, umbrellas, and volleyball nets other beach-goers had set up.

Beach bathers

I like beaches because they are probably the only place it’s socially acceptable to read, take a nap, or pretty much do nothing in public. (Perhaps that’s why you’ll occasionally find Buddhas there.) J and I love to walk, and beaches are perfect for that pastime, as you can stroll without worry of getting lost: walking for walking’s sake. Nobody asks you where you’re going or what you’re doing on a beach; you’re just free to soak in the sights, smells, and sounds while the waters of the world ebb and surge at your feet.

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Seashore. Click here for more photos from our outing, including images from this year’s National Sand Sculpting Festival. Enjoy!


It’s been more than a single season since J and I went walking at Revere Beach last October, so this past weekend we took the Blue Line to Wonderland, where we walked up to Kelly’s Roast Beef, watched seagulls beg for bits of our lunch, then walked back toward the heart of Revere Beach, where the remnants of the New England Sand Sculpting Festival are slowly deteriorating.

Ouroborus:  Life, rebirth, and stuff

Although I’m familiar with ice sculptures, I’m new to the sand sculpting scene. When I learned from newspaper coverage that this year’s festival had happened over the weekend of July 16 through 18, I figured J and I would have to wait until next year to check out the local sand artistry. Thanks, however, to a glue-based fixative that protects the sculptures from the drying effect of the sun and the erosive power of wind and rain, these sculptures stay on display, slightly the worse for wear, for several weeks after the festival.

I can’t say I’ve ever made much out of beach sand other than a soggy hole or two, so I can’t imagine how sand-sculptors make such elaborate structures with the stuff. From reading about the festival, I know that this particular sand is trucked in from Hudson, NH: apparently Revere Beach sand isn’t the proper consistency for towering sculptures. I know, too, that none of these sculptures contain any internal structures or supports: they are constructed entirely of sand, water, and a huge dollop of creativity. Even when sprayed with a fixative, sand sculptures are an ephemeral medium: like sand mandalas, these works of artistry don’t last long.

Detail from It's a Small World

Because we headed to Revere Beach a full week after these sculptures were created–and because there had been several nights of drenching rain during that time–J and I weren’t expecting much from whatever leftovers might remain. We were surprised, then, to see so much detail had remained on several of the sculptures, our outing feeling a bit like a trip to Egypt, where the grandeur of a ruined Sphinx or pyramid inspires you to wonder what the structure looked like in its heyday.

It’s interesting to contemplate crumbling sand sculptures on a beach visited by working-class folks whose bodies are seldom look very sculpted themselves. Walking along Revere Beach before or after a belly-bursting lunch at Kelly’s Roast Beef, you see folks who for the most part can’t afford gym memberships, Botox, or liposuction. These are folks whose bodies, like my own, have settled and sagged under gravity’s influence; these are folks who are too tired from full work-weeks to spend much time or energy fighting the Battle of the Bulge. Among the lithe youngsters and tattooed muscle men striding the sand at Revere Beach, you’ll see swim-trunked grandpas with pot bellies and heart surgery scars walking beside wide-middled women whose bikinis reveal stretch-marks and cellulite. These are battle-scars borne by full lives, not flaws to be hidden due to insecurity or shame.

Spheres of Influence

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives…and like sands through the hourglass, so do human bodies give way to gravity, slipping through the wasp-waisted present to land in a rounded heap called “it happens to all of us, eventually.” Sand can’t afford Botex or plastic surgery; sand doesn’t have the willpower for dieting or Pilates. Even a meticulously sculpted body will eventually sag: there is no fixative all the world over that can reliably and permanently fight the pull of time.

“Life’s a beach,” one bumper sticker warns, “and then you die.” The lesson of crumbling sand sculptures and sagging but sun-kissed beach bodies is to enjoy your days while you can, regardless of the shape you’re in.

Click here for a photo-set of images from this weekend’s trip to Revere Beach, including more photos of crumbling sand sculptures. Enjoy!


This weekend, looking for a close-to-home change of scenery, J and I took the T to Revere Beach to stroll, stare at the sand and surf, and collect snapshots of sun-soaked gulls, dog-walkers, and sailboats.

No dogs allowed

Both J and I are native inlanders: J grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, and I hail from Columbus, OH. Because we weren’t raised with the ocean at our doorstep, both J and I tend to forget how close to the edge we currently live. For us, the ocean is somewhere you visit on vacation, either via a ferry to Provincetown or a plane to San Francisco or Santa Monica; we typically forget, blithely, that in Boston, the beach perpetually beckons. I know native New Englanders who insist they could never live further than a short day-trip from the ocean, the smell of salt and sand being essential to their personal happiness and well-being. Although I can appreciate the sentiment, it’s not one I share: as an inlander, the seashore is an interesting but alien place, an exotic location appropriately peopled in my imagination by wild women and wise guys.

Seashell by the seashore

J and I envisioned this weekend’s walk along Revere Beach as a T-cation, a subway-centered, entirely pedestrian version of the staycations made popular by this summer’s high gas prices. While Columbus Day weekend is traditionally a time for Bostonians to go leaf-peeping by car in New Hampshire, this weekend J and I avoided rural traffic jams by heading into rather than out of town, toward an off-season shore where dog-walkers and beach-bums have reclaimed their resident rights. Revere Beach isn’t an upscale resort; instead, it’s a red-meat enclave where you hear the dropped R’s of quintessential working- and middle-class Bostonians, “Revere” pronounced with three syllables: “Re-VEE-aah.”

Since 1951

Revere Beach is a place where “townie” isn’t an epithet but a badge of honor. As we stood in line at Kelly’s Roast Beef–a culinary landmark since 1951–I gestured discreetly toward the people around us, asking J a simple question: “McCain or Obama?” The folks waiting in line at Kelly’s represented a mix, J and I guessed, of red- and blue-state: middle- and working-class white folks with conservative values and Democratic loyalties. During my weekdays in Keene, I work alongside academics who automatically assume everyone’s for Obama; if I want to remind myself how the other half votes, I envision the flatlands of my Midwestern youth, where Joe Six-Pack lives. But even a state as blue as Massachusetts, the quintessential home of northeast liberals, contains political pockets as far removed from the Cambridge intelligentsia as Ohio is from New England. You don’t have to travel far to experience a completely different world and worldview if you’re willing to eat, when in Rome, as the red-meat Romans do.

Revere Beach

Sometimes even a short staycation–a subway ride there and back, capped with an afternoon stroll–is all you need to shake yourself out of your sameness, a subtle change of scenery reminding you that the entire world doesn’t look like your backyard. It takes all kinds, not just my kind, to make a world, and both the ocean and sky are infinitely wider than anyone’s worldview. Beaches are big and afford enough space for all kinds: dog-walkers and sailors, beach bums and bookworms. Beaches, like God’s mind, are wide enough to contain seagulls, surf, and infinite grains of sand, each bespeaking the myriad souls who have strode the edge between this world and beyond.

Click here for a photo-set of images from a sunny Sunday at Revere Beach. Enjoy!