Helen Heath

Strandbeests

1. Creation

In the beginning was the Maker. Sand, sea, the Maker and his wife Wind. The maker was lonely, for although he had a wife she was hard to keep hold of and was never truly his.

Although she surrounded him and he could breathe her in, she was very restless and always leaving him. One day the Maker said “I will create some children to ease my loneliness”. He selected our bones so we would have form, and many strong legs to carry us over the sand but we could not move so he gave us bike pumps and lemonade bottle stomachs and said you shall be wind eaters so that every day your mother will move you and he took us to the Strand.

The Maker stood on the sand, facing the sea he called to his wife - “Wind! Come and breathe life into our children”. Wind came and danced all around him, she touched his face and ran her fingers through his hair (for she did love him despite her flightiness).

Delighted with her new children, she embraced us and we gobbled her up, as all children do. Each mouthful of mother became a step on the strand and mother laughed in and out of us and called us her little Strandbeests and the Maker smiled.

We learned not to walk into brother sea or where sister sand is too soft. So every day we run up and down the Strand, eating our mother, to and from our Maker. We have inherited mother’s fickle nature. To and from, to and from.


2. Theory of evolution according to Theo Jansen

The herd is built according
to genetic codes, every animal is different
and the winning code will multiply. This new
generation beest, is able to store the wind.
The wings pump up air in lemonade bottles,
placed along its spine. If the wind falls away
and the tide is coming up
they need a little stored energy to reach
the dunes and save their lives because they
drown very easily. Its many legs are set
on a central crankshaft like a troop
of jaunty soldiers.
This one has a feeler that can feel
obstacles and trigger a turning action
they have to survive all
the dangers of the beach and one
of the big dangers is the sea. It must feel
the water of the sea, this
water feeler, is a very important tube,
it sucks in air normally, but when it swallows
water it feels the resistance of it.
Then you hear the sound of running air, yes,
if it doesn’t feel, it will drown. The brain
of the animal, is in fact a step counter
it counts the steps, in binary. Once
it has stepped to the sea it changes the pattern
of zeros and ones here to locate itself. It is a very simple
brain , it says “There is the sea, there are the dunes
and I am here.” In another couple of years
these animals will survive on their own, I still
have to help them a lot.
The wind will move feathers on their backs,
which will drive their feet with a rustle. The beests walk
sideways on the wet sand with their noses
pointed into the wind. Evolution has generated
many species
The proportion of the tubes are crucial for the walking,
11 Holy numbers make distances between tubes
and enable movement. New ideas are on the fence, old fossils
left on the grass outside the hut for Mr Murphy.


3. Taxonomy

Animaris Currens Vulgaris was the first beach animal to walk. Animaris Currens Ventosa had a long undulating fan sail along its back.

Animaris Percipiere Rectus was the first reasonably obedient beach animal, who lived for two years.

Animaris Arena Malleus rolled out a trunk and hammered a pin into the ground to prevent itself blowing away in a storm.

Animaris Umerus was wide and thin with a sail along its back and bottles at one end like spikes. Animaris Excelsus had a beak-like nose.

Animaris Ordis was squat.

Animaris Rhinoceros Transport weighs 3.2 tons, with a cockpit and enough room for several people to comfortably sit inside.

Animaris Geneticus Ondularis is very small - you can hold it in your hands.


4. Encounter

The film crew and I are hoping to catch sight of the elusive Strandbeest, here on the sands of Strandslag, Den Haag. As we make our way down the strand I catch a glimpse of a sail above a tuft of dune grass in the distance.

Sure enough, as we approach the beest is revealed, larger than the entire crew. The day is still, so the beest stands, waiting to restore its energy source, like a snake warming in the sun, but instead awaiting the wind.

Along its back a sail waits to catch, not like the sail of a ship, rather an elongated rectangular sail, held erect by a dozen spaced out pvc spines running the length of its skeletal body. Instead of walking lengthways, like a centipede, the beest walks widthways, its many legs kicking up like a herd of wild ponies galloping down the strand.

No flesh or blood makes up this strange beest, it is all about air and spaces between hollow pipes, like air lifts the wing of a gull by both lift of feather sail and hollow wing bone. So air takes the strandbeest's backsail and hollow leg pipes.

Some cite the strandbeest as evidence of intelligent design – the mathematics that drive the beest are too beautiful. Yet others point out these beests illustrate perfectly the theory of evolution. Either way their beauty cannot be denied.

We spend a day following the herd as they move in fits and bursts with measured steps. They exist in a narrow strip between too soft sand and too wet sea, their senses waiting to detect danger, a trailing windpipe splutters when submerged alerting the beest to turn from sure death.

The sight of the beests on the strand is so mesmerising we find ourselves staying until the light is too poor to film but as long as there is wind the beests move. There is no day or night for the beests, just wind and calm. Happy but tired the crew regretfully must leave the beach and return to the hotel to review the footage from the day.

We are not to know that high winds in the night will wipe out the herd, leaving a deserted beach the next morning. And so the fragile balance of nature tips and we are left with rare footage of an extinct race. These majestic creatures that filled a unique place in the ecosystem are lost forever. We pack to return home feeling a deep sense of sorrow and loss.

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