Have you ever been to a white sand beach that seemed a little out of place? Rarely do you see them in the northern part of the United States or in Canada, but there are a few exceptions.
White sand beaches are usually found in tropical areas, and there’s a good reason why: they’re actually created by a very unique fish, called Parrotfish. Few people realize that those paradise-like beaches are the excrements of a creature that eats rocks and coral reefs.
Over millions of years, the parrotfish’s…gastric rejects…wash up on shore to form the scenes you see in travel magazines. Parrotfish, however, only live in warm saltwater and stick to the southern hemisphere. So, how is it that you can find white sand beaches along certain freshwater lakes and coasts in the north? Well, that white sand isn’tsupposed to be there. If you take a handful of it, you’ll notice that there’s something different about it. You won’t know why, but it won’t feel quite like regular sand.
I found out the truth while visiting my grandma.
Grandma Taborri, who was one of the village elders on the reserve, looked as ancient as the trees in the forest. She was the serious type, never cracking a joke or straying from her tight morals. The generational gap between us couldn’t possibly have been wider, which caused a bit of friction between us. Though I had nothing but respect for her, I was going a little stir-crazy being cooped up alone in the cabin with her, so I decided to go to the lake for a relaxing swim. I was delighted to see a white sand beach waiting for me in the sunlight. Large, soft boulders were scattered around, as though forming a trail to the water.
As I was walking along the shore, I felt a rock slip between my foot and sandal. Thankfully, I was able to avoid stepping on it. After pulling my sandal off, I reached inside to retrieve the rock in question. To my surprise, it wasn’t a rock at all: It was a sharp tooth. Huh, wonder what animal it comes from, I remember thinking. A mountain lion? A wolf? A bear, perhaps? I pocketed the peculiar item so I could make a necklace out of it later.
When I returned to the village, I gleefully showed my find to Grandma Taborri, hoping she’d be able to identify the animal it came from. The expression on her face suddenly soured, increasing the depth of the creases on her face.
“Where did you get this?” she asked me in a raspy voice.
I pointed outside.
“By the lake,” I answered.
She grabbed my arm firmly, and pulled me towards a wooden bench by the fireplace. I took a seat next to her, wondering what had gotten her in such a state.
“Do you know how white sandy beaches are made?” she asked me.
“Yeah, actually, there’s this freaky fish with teeth that…” I began, but she cut me off using nothing but a stern look.
“No, child. That is not how they were created here,” she replied, pressing her lips together. “I will tell you the story, but only if you promise to sit still and listen to the end.”
I nodded, fairly certain she was about to tell me a long-winded tale about Nuktuk, the Serpent god who swam in the sky and broke apart into stardust to turn soil into white sand, or some sort of ridiculous mythological tale of the sort. She had a way of drawing out the ancient stories, and I confess, I sometimes found my thoughts wandering midway through. Still, the seriousness in her tone was enough to force my attention on her. I was not expecting what she was about to tell me, nor the conviction with which she told the story. I knew that she believed wholeheartedly what she was saying, which made the tale ring eerily true.
“When the white man came, he held in one hand a gift, and carried the shadow of death in the other. His bloodlust and greed knew no bounds,” she said.
I was a little taken aback, having not expected a history lesson. I knew how it went: Colonials invaded, killed a bunch of Native Americans with infected blankets, and then kept being jerks for a long time. They wanted the land and didn’t mind killing what they considered to be “savages” to get it. Still, I listened patiently as she explained, in dreadfully boring detail, everything I had learned during Thanksgiving week in grade school, though her alleged death toll rang much higher than the history books claimed. By the time American History 101 was over, I had completely forgotten about the original topic, but then, she continued.
“It wasn’t long before the white man learned of the beautiful ivory shores on the lower-continent. His settlements already built, he could do nothing but lament the rocky cliffs and brown beaches outside his window. He yearned for the bleached sand, of which he heard so many rumors,” she continued, pausing to adjust her collar.
“Go on?” I urged, finding myself strangely intrigued.
She seemed distressed, but continued nonetheless, “They turned to the slain bodies of our brothers and sisters. For weeks and months, their bones and teeth were carefully ground into tiny speckles, which were then spread along the shoreline,” she murmured.
My heart stopped. Was she saying what I thought she was saying?
“Pay heed to what I have to say, child. When you walk upon a white sandy beach, where white sand should not exist, you walk upon your ancestors. That is why you will find a path of boulders along the shore, for we do not wish to step on the souls of the departed.”
I looked at the tooth in my trembling hand.
“I’m…going to go put this back where it belongs,” I murmured.
She nodded peacefully, “That would be wise,” she answered dully, letting the sorrow escape her body through a single teardrop.
Twilight had fallen by the time I returned to the lake, covering it in a beautiful orange sheen. I leapt from boulder to boulder until I reached the water’s edge. There, I placed the tooth right where it belonged. As I turned my gaze towards the water, I saw the faded outlines of my ancestors, and offered a simple prayer in the hopes that their souls would one day find peace.
So, dear reader, if you ever find yourself walking along one of those white sandy beaches that shouldn’t exist, I implore you to be careful. You’re standing not on microscopic rocks, but on a burial ground.