Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I don't quite know how to write this. This is a typical topic that might be discussed in my household. In fact, the other evening Lucas and I saw a commercial on television for a bank or mortgage company and it showed a person stuck and sinking up to his neck in quicksand.

"Oh my gosh. Quicksand! One of the fears I had as an imaginative little girl," said I to Lucas.

"Me, too. I was scared of quicksand, too," he responded.

"Why in the world were we afraid of quicksand?" I pondered. "What is it about quicksand?"

Our conversation then proceeded to analyze why quicksand is right up there with monsters in the closet and witches under the bed. Every Western I saw as a kid on TV had a bad guy fall into quicksand while his horse, of course, escaped unharmed. If the guy was really really bad, you'd just see his black hat left on top of the quicksand while the white-hatted men looked on, grateful their job was finished for them. Sometimes if the quicksand victim was merely a misguided bank robber, the white hats would gallup up on their horses and watch the criminal struggle until the very last minute. When only the hand was still visible, they'd toss a rope and have the horse back up in order to pull the choking, blithering loser out of the bottomless pit.

Lucas recalls that most every cartoon he ever watched had the same types of scenarios. Certainly Ren and Stimpy had some sort of quicksand episode. I'm not sure about the Ninja Turtles since their jurisdiction was the sewers of New York City.

I am quite certain that my older brother aggravated my fears of quicksand. At my Dad's favorite fishing hole on the Missouri River where his ashes are now scattered, a large natural sand pit exists on the top of a bank near the river. This entire area in Montana had once been a large inland sea. To this day, it doesn't take much effort to find fossil sea shells in the limestone cliffs up above Beaver Creek, the tributary flowing into the Missouri at this spot. The sand pit must have been at the bottom of an ocean millions of years ago. When my brother and I were children, we would play in the sand while my parents fished....and fished....and fished. He probably told me that parts of the sand pit were quicksand and if I wasn't careful, I'd sink into oblivion.

Are we truly at risk for stepping into quicksand never to be seen or heard from again as we take forays along the beach or into the woods? The answer is no. For some reason, movies, cartoons, and television picked up on quicksand in the same way that an anvil seems to always get the bad guy when you throw one over a cliff.

Quicksand is real, however. Usually, it is an area of mud or sand mixed with water near a larger body of water and not deeper than about two feet. You can get stuck, lose your shoes, and become covered in muck but not in a life threatening way. The stories of people being lost in the desert and sucked away forever by an innocent appearing patch of sand are myths. At least, this is what I learned today looking at articles on the internet.

Here is a quote from an article entitled "The Physics of Quicksand" by Alan Bellows:

A deep, naturally occurring area of dry quicksand would be a formidable hazard, because it would cause anyone who stepped on it to sink and become buried very rapidly. No dry quicksand has ever been officially observed outside of the laboratory, but there are reports of travelers, vehicles, and even whole caravans suddenly vanishing into the sandy earth. These reports have always been viewed as mere folklore, but perhaps there is more to the stories than we realize. Science does not completely dismiss the possibility of naturally occurring dry quicksand; in fact, during the planning of the Apollo moon missions, scientists added large plates to the ends of the Lunar Module legs to help support the craft in case the astronauts found dry quicksand on the moon… but the precaution proved unnecessary, since no such soil was encountered. [emphasis mine]

Another article and quote:

PS: So why don't they have quicksand in today's movies? I don't believe it's because existential postmodern malaise has vitiated our inherited cultural notions of natural threats. No, quicksand nowadays is just a hapless, worn-out cliché, and that's all there is to it. Maybe in a few more years a new generation of directors will rediscover its simple joys.

And a couple of others:

This one has a list of movies, television (including Gilligan's Island, one of my favorites), comics and books which include scary quicksand scenes.


I don't know. An hour or so on the internet hasn't quelled a half a century of media cliche in my brain. You won't find me stepping on strange patches of sand in the middle of nowhere. Because it might be..........quicksand!