Driftwood. I love even the word itself. It embodies a volatile yet timeless relationship. A marriage in which one partner, Wood, is warm and compassionate, while the other, Water, is dynamic and restless. In my mind’s eye, I see Wood being gathered up by Water in the crest of a wave and flung on a windswept beach. Or bobbing in a tumbling, crystalline river before gently washing ashore. While Wood lies abandoned, exposed to the elements for days, weeks, even months, Water heads elsewhere, exploring new places. When it returns as a high tide or flood, Wood is sucked back into Water’s greedy current and the cycle begins again. Wood, soaked in sea Water and weathered by sand, or steeped in fresh Water and battered by pebbles, has its corners softened, edges smoothed, and colours muted. Though Water is sometimes violent and harsh, Wood rides all its moods and only improves with age…
Enough. I’m getting carried away with my fanciful metaphor. It’s beginning to sound like a Mills and Boon story. But perhaps it shows that, of all my natural hoards, it is my driftwood collection that I treasure most. For me, wood does not stop living even though it is separated from the roots that sustained it and its sap no longer flows. And after it has been immersed in water, moulded by sand and stones, and bleached by the sun, a piece of wood is transformed into nature’s work of art.
Sometimes I can’t resist taking one home. The driftwood in the photos below I found in places as far afield as the desert of Namibia (the paler pieces) and the rainforest of Peru (the darker ones).
But this is the one I like best, found along the Madre de Dios River, southeastern Peru. What does it remind you of?
Though driftwood has a beauty all its own, and I usually prefer to see it displayed for its own sake, one artist stunned me with her sculpture of a life-sized, driftwood foal. It stands in the entrance of the Eden Project, in Cornwall, UK. Heather Jansch’s understanding of horses is obviously profound, but her judicious use of driftwood to epitomise them is a stroke of genius. She somehow manages to convey both the spirit and energy of her subject, as well as of the driftwood and the processes that shaped it.
My driftwood pieces have survived five house moves so far. I pack them more carefully than my glassware. I wonder sometimes what people make of these bits of firewood on my shelves. But I know them to be unique and irreplaceable. They remind me of wind and waves, of river banks and shorelines, of lakes and streams and the sea. They bring nature into my home.