Monday, December 7, 2015

Touching Driftwood

Hunting Driftwood
Like so many others, as a child I went through a seaglass collecting phase. I had a little book that showed me all the shapes and colours to look out for. But somehow this tome glossed over the fact that the gemstone-like objects were really shards of discarded bottles, so that finally grasping this fact after summers spent collecting the magical fragments filled me with a deep sense of disillusionment.

Driftwood is another one of those romantic nautical euphemisms. Though the name is evocative and mysterious, it is essentially wooden debris - debris so ravaged with age and salt and sun, as to attain a glamour it likely never enjoyed in its former life.

Hunting Driftwood
I had never before lived in a driftwood-rich area. But the shores of the Lough Foyle are teeming with it. Flung onto the beach by sea waves in its velvety, porous, sun-bleached state, the driftwood is admired with an awe reserved for precious - or mystical - objects. On a sunny day it glistens silver amidst the sand and dune grass and tangles of seaweed. And after a storm, you can see figures along the shoreline, moving amidst the stuff with a special slow-motion excitement.

Hunting Driftwood
In the town one day a friend showed me a snapshot of a giant driftwood tree stump she had found on the beach the previous morning. So silvery and Ansel Adams-like it was, I felt compelled to set off in search for it on the spot. And so I cycled to the beach where she had said she found it, and then along the hard wet sand. But the beach was empty save for some scatterings of unremarkable dried twigs.

As the afternoon waned I gave up, and cycled home - only to spot it (or what I hoped was it) in the far distance, over the dunes, along a different stretch of shoreland. And then it was a race against the sunset.

Driftwood Hunting
The sand along this stretch of beach was softer, but my bicycle resisted me in vain. I could already see the gleam of the giant, twisted timber ahead and wouldn't stop till I touched my hand to it.

The stump stood waist-high and was the width of a small shed. It was wholly bleached, except for streaks of rust, embedded deep in its crevices. I ran my hand along its wrinkled edges and looked at it with the confused affection one feels toward a beautiful animal they can't take home but are worried about leaving behind.

Then I considered phoning Hugh - a man I met last summer, who collects driftwood from both sides of the Foyle and uses it to make furniture.

Most use driftwood purely decoratively, choosing the curviest, prettiest pieces to work with, while making the base of the object out of more reliable stuff. Hugh, however, also uses it structurally.


Collecting both the more attractive remnants of trees and the "ugly" flotsam that might once been part of boats, crates, furniture, he keeps an eye out for the latter as much as for the former, as that is the sturdier stuff, denser, and aglow its own brand of beauty. Marked up with clues of previous uses, and full of ancient nails and screws it tells stories and leaks rust and is lovely to work with.

 
But in the end, I hadn't dialed Hugh about the tree stump. It was as if something in me decided that he must find it himself if he is fated to use it. For a few minutes longer I lingered around the thing, thinking of nothing but its marvelous texture which I might never touch again. And neither might anyone else.

Driftwood Hunting
As I walked around and around the tree stump, in my hands I had gathered up a bundle of bleached silvery twigs and now moved with them toward my pannier as the sun was setting. Then at the last moment, I dropped them onto the sand, picked up my bike and rolled it, pannier empty, over the draggy sand and scratchy seaweed toward the main road.

22 comments:

  1. the beaches out here are often full of driftwood. people tend to make little shelters with them to shield them from the wind we often have on our coastline.

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  2. I just love that bike... ;-)

    Badmother

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  3. Lovely photos - I think it can be nice to leave things where we find them, for others to enjoy or simply to not disrupt that natural artistry.

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  4. This certainly brings back memories. My Granddad made things out of driftwood and as kids my sister and I would walk on the shore with him to collect it. Its been a long time since I have thought of this, brings tears to my eyes.

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    1. seaglass with my grandfather

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    2. This, for all of its four words, is possibly your most evocative post ever. It reminds me (for concision, not thematically) of how Beckett would still have made a permanent contribution to literature if he had written nothing but the title of Malone Dies.

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    3. Seems I should write from my smart phone, in the rain, on the side of the road more often.

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    4. It is formally excellent in addition to being evocative: a fragment of text describing a fragment of a memory about fragments.

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  5. Like so many others? I know exactly zero kids who collect sea glass. Tried to get my eldest interested but no dice!

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    1. Could be a regional thing. But I'm sure it's also generational. No ipad/iphone, no culture of organised playdates, and very limited television programming when I was growing up.

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  6. Amusingly, I have started to collect sea glass. We spend a great deal of time in Nova Scotia, along the Northumberland Strait, in the summer, and it's become kind of a thing. While I know it's essentially prettied-up trash, it also feels a bit like recycling.

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    1. I was over a couple's house where they'd tiled their kitchen in a sort of mosaic made entirely of sea glass they'd collected themselves over the course of several years. The transparent blues, greens and browns caught the light beautifully and gave the kitchen a delicate, foresty colour cast. Not a bad recycling project!

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  7. I tend to collect pebbles from Cape Cod beaches. Some look like eggs or are flat, like big silver dollars. Their placed on a shelf in the 1/2 bath so that they be arranged and stacked by our guests.

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  8. My spouse and I live along the Mississippi. The abundant driftwood here has almost magical qualities. My spouse is a photographer and over the past couple of years has made a series of gorgeous photos, which he calls "River Bones."

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    1. Are the photos online Kendra? I'd love to see.

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    2. Here's the link: http://mmathews.zenfolio.com/p525400449

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  9. The river path by my house has semi-secluded area by a bend of the river that is covered with large rocks and serves as an ideal spot for a mid-ride place to sit and laze-around for awhile and watch the water go by. During a particularly big flooding incident many years ago, a huge trunk (not unlike the one in your first picture) was deposited onto this spot in such a way that fork in it was lodged firmly into the ground and it has not washed away in any subsequent floods. It is generally smooth when running your hand along its length, but there are areas where the effects of time and rushing water had worn bits away like little "steps" between the grain. It's not uncommon for me to find myself sitting against the trunk and absent-mindedly running my fingers along these ridges. I understand your thing with texture.


    As usual, you've painted a picture with your post that made me think of this resting spot that I so enjoy. I haven't ridden there in a little while, so this was a nice thought.

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  10. I have enjoyed your craftsmen portraits series on Tumblr, including Hugh but especially the weavers. Will their stories make an appearance here?

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    1. There is a post about tweed in the works that will incorporate some of that. But the bulk is actually meant to appear elsewhere; I'll keep you posted when it does.

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  11. Seaglass, river stones,rusty cast iron bits off half buried old tractors, I've brought too much of that home thinking I'm going to make something beautiful out of it. Too often once it gets in the shop it's best qualities drain away just like how the colors fade from the scales of a snake hit by a car. I leave most of it be now but that's ok, I don't have to take all the paintings home from the gallery to make it a good experience.

    I did find a tangle of rusty high tensile fence wire a couple of years ago that needed to become a fish. It fills up a whole wall in a small room in my house now and I think it will till they clear everything out when I'm gone.

    Spindizzy

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  12. There's a beach on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park composed of jewel-like green and brown pebbles. I've never seen anything like it before. It's even better than sea glass.

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  13. I collect driftwood to make rustic structures for my garden. I have also seen bike handgrips made from it. Beautiful texture and colours.

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