By Tim Porteus

WE WATCHED as the walls so carefully built began to crumble.

Desperate attempts to shore up its defences were thwarted as the edge of the sea began to lap and lick away the foundations.

There came a moment when it was clear the sea had won, and we stood back for a moment as it poured over what had been a sea wall and tower built to resist the oncoming tide.

Then the tide swept over the remains, smoothing it so almost no trace of what was once there remained.

As the tide withdrew, my daughter Skye took the opportunity to advance.

She stood looking at what had been her sea resistant wall and tower.

A small mould shape in the wet sand was all that remained of her work.

Then, as the sea advanced once more, she herself destroyed what was left of her work, denying the sea its final claim.

Skye is three years old, soon to be four.

We were at a favoured spot at Longniddry Bents on a gloriously warm day last weekend and it was her idea to build a wall that would resist the tide.

She believed it was possible, especially if I helped her, so we quickly began our engineering project.

It was built of solid sand with a watch tower.

She really believed it was invincible, that it would survive the surge of the tide.

But soon there was no sign of it at all.

It completely vanished, except for the shell, which had graced the summit of the tower.

She reclaimed that from the sea, and gave it to me.

“Here” she said, “keep it for the next one”.

All this had happened just on the edge of the high tide mark, and for some time afterwards Skye busied herself taking spade loads of sand and walking back to the sea.

She would then ceremoniously throw the sand into the sea.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“I’m making the sea go back,” was her reply.

It worked eventually, and so a new tower and wall could be built as the sea now retreated.

The day was ending when we had completed the second one and we had to leave.

We placed the shell on top of the tower, an inheritance from the previous tower.

The sea was well away from it, and it was much bigger and better built than the previous one.

As we left, Skye was confident this one would hold back the tide.

We all learn sooner or later that we can’t hold back the tide, but, as we drove home with a sleepy Skye, I reflected on the fact we often don’t learn the real lesson of it.

The tide will come in, just as time will pass. We can’t stop it or hold it back.

How many great cities are now empty deserts? How many Empires are now pages in history books? How many buildings and towers are gone, when once they seemed forever?

The tide of time is unstoppable, and eventually we are all engulfed by it.

But the lesson is not that it is pointless to make something that will one day be swept away by the tide.

The real lesson is in the joy of the moment of its creation.

As we built the sand wall and tower together, I knew that while the wall wouldn’t last, the memory of it, and the fun we had making it, would.

I suspect the memory for me will last forever now; that day at the beach with my wee daughter, who believed she could hold back the tide with her dad’s help.

I could have said there was no point, but of course there was.

The point was not in its lasting but in its making.

Skye called the wet sand “water glue” as we built together.

She engineered the walls and designed the tower. We were together in this moment.

Even as the sea swirled around our work, making it crumble before our eyes, we shared the emotion as we watched.

The sea bubbled and fussed around it, as if it was deliberately taking its time.

We were silent witnesses of the end of our own work, until Skye assertively reclaimed the last vestiges, like a captain scuttling his ship rather than surrendering it.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,”American author Annie Dillard once said.

We forget that too often.

If our days were money I suspect we’d be more careful how we spend them.

Even though we know we cannot hold back the tide of time, how many days do we waste, how many hours within a day do we squander by not being present in them?

I know we must work, pay the bills and do the shopping. I know it isn’t all fun and easy.

But our days are all we have, and they are potentially filled with wonder if we take notice and engage in the joy of simple moments: the scent of the sea when shopping; the smile on a friend’s face when meeting; the laughter of our children as they play; the sun as it sets; the birds that grace our street with song; the moon which shines.

We cannot stop the tide, but we can make the most of our moments before it reaches us, and if they are shared memories, then they can truly beat the tide.