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. 



Helen Heath’s debut collection of poetry, Graft, was published in May 2012 by VUP to critical acclaim. Graft won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry award in 2013 and was the first book of fiction or poetry to be shortlisted for the Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize, also in 2013. Her poetry and essays have been published in many journals in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the USA including Best New Zealand Poems and the NZ Listener. Helen is currently working towards her PhD in Creative Writing at the IIML.