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sand dollar
two sand dollars

A friend I showed these to said to me, “You made these right?” Another to whom I showed the pictures said to me, “Really? These just get made in nature?” And another, who knew what they were — sand dollars — still was surprised by the fact that they get made by sea urchins, because he associated sea urchins with globular animals, while the particular ones that make these are extremely flattened ones. Interestingly, these are not the shells of the sea urchins — they are the skeletons, also known as tests, of dead sea urchins, that have been bleached by the sunlight.

I know that I can put some pretty random things in the Perfection series. Broken sea shells and walnuts, lychee skins, sprouts and rusted bracelets have all featured before and may seem perfect only to my eyes. But I would argue that this is one of those objects that qualifies in an objective sense — the symmetry is in place, the curves are flowing and pleasant, the details are finely drawn, the proportions are just right and the geometry leaves nothing to be desired. Only the most churlish would disagree with the adjective “perfect” for this one.

Such perfection occurs in nature frequently — flowers, snowflakes, orange segments, maple leaves — but these particular sand dollars are especially appealing to me because they have a radial pattern, but not radial symmetry. It’s as if an object with perfectly circular, or even spherical symmetry got squashed in a particular configuration to get us this. I am not sure that they are formed by such a process, but that is what the geometry looks like.

Whatever the process, nature is profligate in making these. They abound on the beaches of central California, and you can pick up dozens of them in a half hour walk. This bounty only increases my appreciation of these sand dollars.

sand dollar, side view

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