The Natural Angle of Repose


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My parents recently had some landscaping done. An area to the side of the house that butted right up against the dune was being unsuccessfully held back with a tier of railroad ties; sand always dribbled onto the walkway, except when it rained, when there would be serious erosion.

So their landscape guy recommended that they get rid of the railroad ties and find the natural angle of repose.

Which is my new favorite phrase.

The natural angle of repose is the gradient at which the material naturally settles and becomes stable. How do you find said angle? You send people to the top of the dune to pour sand down the hill until it stops sliding onto the walkway. Then they added some plantings and mulched it. My parents have had a number of good rains since then, and there has been zero erosion, despite how steep that angle of repose is.

The thing I love about that phrase isn’t so much its landscaping use, but its personal one.

Aren’t we all trying to find our natural angle of repose? To find the arrangement of our lives that will be stable enough to allow us to thrive without depleting our resources, no matter what conditions are thrown at us.

And there’s no way for that other than to live and try things out. Just as different materials become stable at different angles, someone else’s angle of repose won’t be the same as yours, so you can’t just copy what others do.

I feel like I’ve been holding back my personal dune with railroad ties for so long that it’s taking me ages to dribble that sand and find my natural angle. But I’m trying.

This is a bit of a funny post for me: I’ve got no words of wisdom, just a really cool phrase with lots of scope for imagination. And a wish for you that you find your natural angle of repose.


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