Chewing Words

noun. verb. adjective. adverb…they're all tasty in my book

The Angle of Repose

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Angle of Repose: the maximum slope at which sand grains are stable

n. the maximum angle of slope at which sand, loose rock, etc. will remain in place without sliding, as on a hillside; the maximum angle at which a pile of unconsolidated material can remain stable.

From Michael Welland’s blog, Through the Sandglass: Anywhere that granular materials are stored, whether it be in silos or in piles of aggregates, mining products, or cereals, the angle of repose – and its sensitivity to changing conditions – is something that needs to be carefully managed. Failure of the slope of a sand pile is a regular cause of tragedies on the beach and gold mining in placer deposits…

I finished reading Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose last week. Though this is a third read-through, I felt as stunned as I finished it as I have every time I have read it. It’s as though I erase the ending from my memory every time. I suppose, too, that each stage I have inhabited in my own life during each reading of that book has colored what I take from it. This time, 3/4 of the way through the novel, it was like reading my own life and the description of the demise of my own marriage.

“What bothers me most is to watch the slow corrosion of the affection and loyalty that held (them) together. I am ashamed that he hits the bottle when he gets low, I hate the picture of (her) sitting in the canyon house, a sulky, sullen dame, worrying half spitefully that he may fall off the bridge coming home, or show himself sodden and sottish before the children. And feeling, too, the profoundest, most hopeless pity, wanting to help and having no notion how. She knew that drink must be an almost irresistible temptation, even while she expected him, if he was a man, to resist it.

Less and less a companion, more and more a grind, she was bolted to her desk by her desperate sense that the family depended entirely on her; and the more she drove herself to work, the more she resented the separation that her work enforced between her and her children and husband. I can visualize her coming in the still early morning and looking down across the lonely desolation where she lived, and shuddering for what had happened to her; and if she caught sight of her own face in the water bucket’s dark pane, she was appalled…

…Miserable, both of them, everything hopeful in them run down, everything joyous smothered under poverty and failure.” (p. 431-432)

I was shaken reading those few paragraphs; I had to read the words, stop, reread and consider, and then read again to grasp the brilliance of how Stegner fashioned a history for the characters of this tale. Brilliant because the keen sense of loss I felt recognizing myself and my life in fictional characters was nearly overwhelming, especially when one considers that the history with these characters begins 150 years back from today. A lifetime and a half ago, there should be a generational gap that yawns, with no bridges, across a gorge of difference between then and now. Yet Stegner has captured, in 7 sentences, the very essence of the burdens that weighed down a marriage in 2010, and eventually ended it.

And what are we all but loose sand? Our slope remains stabilized only until…well, only until it’s not. An earthquake, a storm, a dynamite blast – a surge and suddenly the slippage of sand on sand avalanches until the slope re-establishes it’s angle of repose. The angle of repose, especially when man is involved, must be carefully managed, Michael Welland tells us (Welland is a professional geologist who knows his stuff. He’s made a practice of studying how piles of sand will react to changing conditions).

Conditions change. Sand shifts. And you mitigate your loss when the avalanche tumbles.

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Written by cr8df8

December 28, 2010 at 2:41 am

Posted in book, divorce, emotions

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