We’ve had a couple of good blows in the last few weeks along with high tides – 17.7 feet here at Grief Point, which is as high as we’ve seen it. Luckily they didn’t coincide. The wind and the tides. Still, everything has shifted. Hundreds if not thousands of logs moved northwest up Malaspina Strait over the past month. Sometimes whole trees, root clusters and branches taking the shape of mysterious vessels. Sometimes a seagull riding.
Walking our usual stretch of beach is like opening the pages of a new book – pages shining with unexpected images, mysterious conjunctions, peculiar stories. Twisted plots expose deep roots, once hidden. Massive logs block stone stairways. Oyster catchers mine the seaweed, tumbled into heaps along the tide line. The peculiar kale plants that grow in the gravel are freshly salted. Still growing.
Driftwood. Having lived for over forty years on a road named Driftwood beside a creek with the same name has focused my attention on the stories those jumbled piles contain: the seed that germinated, the soil that received it, the sunlight it processed into stems and leaves and bark, the years it witnessed, the creatures that climbed it, rested and nested in its branches, the music the wind played in its foliage. There, in Driftwood Canyon, it all originated within the few miles between the creek’s alpine beginnings and our home.
Here, beside the ocean, the whole coast sends driftwood our way. Some trees ripped out by wind, erosion or machinery. Straight cuts on the huge ones tell another tale. Men and chainsaws. Trucks on precipitous roads. The big boom logs, holes at either end to tether the others. The ones that escaped. Then there’s the lumber – wood that could have travelled the world before it arrived here. A boat torn apart in a storm, construction garbage tipped down a bank, a summer cabin bulldozed onto the beach. Decorative fences, seashore patios for viewing the sunset, washed away. The bottom step of a stairway suddenly a chasm.
Children build forts with it all.
For each scrap of wood, there was, somewhere, sometime, a tree. That one in the forest everyone questions. Whether or not we heard it fall, that scrap of cedar or Douglas fir contains hundreds of years of stories. The composting berries birds deposited in its canopy. Globe-travelling rain dripping nutrients through the lichens dangling from high branches. Traces from the salmon carcass a grizzly brought inland to share with its cubs. Calcium from the shells seagulls dropped. Everything on the forest floor adds its own note to the song the tree sings. A pile of grouse feathers flung from the owl’s roost. A mouse skeleton under an alder leaf. Someone’s old leather glove decomposing under the moss. A forgotten sandwich. A dog, lost.
Its stories are like the ones languishing in folders in my desk. Some abandoned under a tangle of blackberry vines. Others unfinished. Just resting for a few days, weeks or months until the wind and water, stirring my imagination, set them free again.
After the big wind and tides, the sand is packed hard for pleasant walking and the beach is a library made new. Old favorites, brought out and dusted, seen in a new light. New arrivals, waiting for our imaginations to open them up and make their stories part of our own.