Friday, October 19, 2012

Beach Exploration: Driftwood

"The three great elemental sounds in nature are
the sound of rain,
the sound of wind in a primeval wood,
and the sound of the outer ocean on a beach."
Henry Beston

After a nearly unprecedented 8 weeks without a drop of rain, the weather has finally turned sodden again in our corner of the world. Trying to finish up gardening chores, I've found the ground in most areas dry as far down as I've dug. Many garden plants and vegetables suffered during this drought and needed to be watered, but native species (although now heaving a collective sigh of relief) will do just fine. They have, after all, lived here for eons and are well-adapted to the soggy winters/summer droughts of the Pacific Northwest. Some of the deciduous trees that are bone dry have given up early, simply dropping their leaves without a lasting show of autumn color.

The huge conifers are drooping and many of the cedars are "flagging" prolifically.

It is perfectly normal for them to do this on occasion, but these stately giants of the tree world require rich, damp soil to thrive and hot, dry weather may stress them enough that some of their needles turn a rich orangish-brown and drop. The return of the rains will undoubtedly perk them all up again.

Although our local beaches vary considerably, they are never far from fresh water runoff and lush vegetation - usually in the form of large conifers.

And so it is not surprising that driftwood is common, whether carried by water from somewhere else and washed up on shore or crashing down from the many high banks as endless erosion takes its toll.

Either way, it is at the mercy of the sea and its endless ebbing and flowing. With time, all wood here is "sanded" down to its essence with all trace of leaves, bark, and branches scoured away.

Some driftwood fits its name and drifts along with the seas - for who knows how long - picking up all kinds of passengers. Some use logs as a resting place or hook a ride for a bit;

others are in it for the long haul, attaching themselves permanently to the wood.

Some of this wood has been purposefully transported here by humans for constructing piers and various other structures.

Depending on the type of wood and the severity of the coastal waves, some of these can remain in place for many, many years.

Humans have never been able to resist using this wood, which nature has already cut, limbed, and stacked.

Depending on where they lived and what the land offered, various Indian tribes have used this readily-available resource for fire, shelter, tools, utensils, art objects, and boats.

There are stories of early-day pioneers collecting and lugging this wood to what they deemed a suitable home site on which to build a simple shelter.

"Every time we walk along a beach
some ancient urge disturbs us
so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments
or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers
like the homesick refugees of a long war."
Loren Eiseley

The lure is still there - as evidenced by the "play" structures, pieces of art, and campfire remnants still found on any beach with a reasonable amount of driftwood.


With time, isopods, shipworms, and bacteria decompose the wood and gradually turn it into nutrients that are returned to the food web of the sea. Nature, ever the master recycler, never wastes a thing. 

No matter the season, or weather, we return to the beach - to relax, walk, listen, observe, contemplate... for it is here that we are renewed, cleansed, reminded of our place in the greater scheme of life. Storms are bound to come - we may be battered and worn down, our size and shape may change, but we will also become hardened and polished. Like driftwood, we toss about on the seas of life, following the ebb and flow, until we wash up on some steady shore - rough edges removed, outer facade stripped away. If our inner grain runs straight, strong, and true, we will be primed and ready for whatever "new use" we can be put to. Are you ready?

"If you want to build a ship,
don't drum up people together to collect wood
and don't assign them tasks and work,
but rather teach them
to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

For other BEACH EXPLORATIONS,  please click below:


  1. The rain must have chased Ladybug inside to her computer -- finally! Great post, and your last paragraph was especially insightful. I look forward to more of your posts now that our dry spell is over.

  2. Thanks, Sherrie! Yes, I think this has been my longest hiatus from posting, but with the busy, in & out summer and the GLOROUS fall weather, I just had to be outdoors most of the time. However, I'm now full to the brim with that kind of recharging, so am ready to get back at some more regular posting. Thanks for still checking in & reading - I do so value those of you who regularly do.

  3. i LOVE all these driftwood pictures...and especially the artistic sculptures, created and left behind for others to see!

    love the quotes too!!

  4. It is indeed a spectacular time when the rains finally return to us - our yard is turning green and the fields are too - ready for a nice long green winter. I enjoy a good storm on the ocean and of course I too collect some driftwood for a few projects. I have one nice piece that I painted "Welcome to Camp Run-A-Muck" on - for our deck and our grandsons.