The Log In My Eye.


Dauphin Island, 2015.

When my wife and I went back to the beach on Dauphin Island this year I wondered about the large piece of driftwood. It was there last year, and the year before too, and may have even been there several years ago, when we first went to that particular beach. Calling it “driftwood” may even be a misnomer; it came up to my waist and if it had been a solid piece of wood, rather than the coiled and twisted roots of a large tree, I wouldn’t have been able to put my arms around it. In fact I wasn’t able to put my arms around it. I sort of stuck them through it and I’m pretty sure I heard the barnacles laughing at me. It had a distinctive shape, too. When I mentioned it my wife knew exactly what I was talking about: “The one that looks like a swan.” And from one angle it did look like a swan, the neck arching out into open sea and wings stretched out behind. In the earlier years its patch of beach had been vacant but last year a “Sold” sign went up in the spot behind it and there were outlines of planned construction. I’d walked by that driftwood cluster several times. It had become almost like an old friend. It was as familiar to me as the house on the beach we’ve rented three years in a row now. Every time we arrive there’s a certain routine. There’s the giant metal seahorse hanging on the wall, there’s the plastic mug with the chip in it, is that my deodorant I left here last year? And there’s that driftwood swan. It reminded me of my grandfather, not because it was old and gnarled and gray and had a sense of humor, but because of the fallen tree I saw at my grandparents’ house. They lived at the top of a steep hill that sloped all the way down to a creek. By the creek a massive old tree had fallen over and its underside, roots spreading out in all directions, faced their house. My grandfather told me it looked like a monster. And it did. At certain times, when the light was just right, it looked like it had eyes and a big snarling mouth. Or maybe it was about to let go with a sneeze than would knock down everything within a six mile radius. You’d think telling an imaginative and easily freaked out kid like me that there was a monster in the backyard would be a bad idea but I was amazingly cool with it. The giant amoeboid shaped intrigued me, and even though it was still as the light shifted around it I imagined it moved. Every time we went to my grandparents’ house I had to go and look at “the monster”.

Last year I knew we’d return to find the driftwood swan changed, maybe even gone, and I was fine with that. All right, I wasn’t completely fine with it, but I accepted it. Beaches always make me think about the ephemerality of all things. The sand, the waves, the wind, the light—all these are in constant change. Last year a group of Portuguese man o’wars washed up on the beach and while you’d think a cluster of stinging cnidarians could ruin a vacation they were cool and said, “Dude, we’re just gonna chill here until we can catch the next wave.” And within hours of the tide coming in most of them were gone. The rest were gone by the next day. There was a time when the driftwood swan hadn’t been there and I would have to accept there would be a time when it was gone. Besides it was too big to fit in the back of our car. I’d tried to move it and it wouldn’t budge. I’m pretty sure I heard the barnacles laughing at me too. I took some pictures and said farewell.

So I’d made my peace with the end of the driftwood swan, although I also kind of hoped the new property owners would like the look of it and leave it. And when we got to the house this year I could see its dark outline against the sand. It was still there. At least I thought so until I took a walk in that direction. It had been cut. They hadn’t cut it to the ground but they’d sheared off big chunks of it, completely changing the shape. The whole thing had been wavy, irregular, but now it had flat surfaces where metal had cut through. It made me angry. It seemed like they’d looked at it and decided it didn’t belong but rather than try to move it in the peak of pique they’d just cut it, their way of showing that wood who was boss.

Dauphin Island, 2016

Dauphin Island, 2016

“Maybe they did try to move it and it broke,” my wife said. She’s sharp so she’s always got a point. I thought how hard it can be to move anything that’s embedded in sand, and I have no idea how far down it goes. Maybe it had broken leaving sharp wooden prongs. Maybe the property owners have kids and didn’t want to take a chance on their offspring, or anyone else, being gashed.

And then I thought maybe they’d saved the broken pieces, or maybe they’d just cut pieces off because they liked the look of it. Maybe that wood, seasoned with salt and sun, was on a shelf, or maybe even somewhere far away, on a fireplace mantel, or on display in an ocean gift shop where it will make people think about the beach, where it may even make them think about the ephemerality of all things even as it sits there for a very long time.

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  1. halfa1000miles

    Awww. I love this post so hard. I hope those pieces are somewhere, being happy. I love your attachment to a “thing”. And yep, it IS hard to move things embedded in the sand — that spoke to me because of my last post – ha!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I was on Dauphin Island thinking about that driftwood swan and how hard it is to move stuff that’s embedded in sand before you posted your post about getting your car stuck in the sand. Yes, once again I knew what you were thinking–maybe even before you knew you were thinking it. Although I was also thinking about quicksand.

  2. Margot

    Aww….This post going in the “lovely” file, because it’s beautiful and I love it. (Yes, I think I’m starting my own filing system for your posts).

    I think that what’s left of the driftwood is still beautiful. To me it looks like mother and child, embracing affectionately. Hopefully, the owners of that stretch of beach won’t take it completely away. Hey, maybe you could leave them a note, or talk to them about your interest in having it if they don’t want it. You should offer Linda’s truck to get the rest of it out of the sand.

    Anyway, this post also reminds me, almost eerily, of an OK Go song:

    You’re right
    There is nothing more lovely
    There is nothing more profound
    Than the certainty
    That all of this will end
    So open your arms to me

    And this will be
    The one moment that matters
    And this will be
    The one thing we remember
    And this will be
    The reason to have been here
    And this will be
    The one moment that matters at all

    So while the mud
    Reclaims our footprints
    And our bones keep looking back
    The overgrowth is swallowing the path
    There for the grace of god go we
    There for the grace of time and chance
    And entropy’s cruel hands
    So open your arms to me….

    I don’t want to get in trouble for posting lyrics, so I’ll say this song is by Damian Kulash and Timothy Nordwind, copyright 2015 (?), and that these lyrics are incomplete,

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You’re right, there is something lovely about what’s left. I found the planed surfaces jarring because of my history with it, but had I never seen it before I think I would have appreciated the beauty of how it is now.
      Also if you’re gonna share an OK Go song you can always include a link to the song itself, especially when you choose one this lovely, although next time you may be telling me to get over it.

      1. Margot

        Uh oh Christopher…do we both love OK Go, too? Between Bowie and OK GO I am itching to write a quiz for you!

        It’s funny, I’ve always thought that that song should be at the end of some futuristic movie. I was pretty close, wasn’t I? I hadn’t seen this video before, obviously. Had you heard the song before?

  3. Sarah

    Ooh, this post gave me chills! How beautifully written! I read this and immediately felt like sitting down and writing, which is what happens when I read something particularly inspiring. I love the idea of that wood being on a fireplace (though shame it can’t be on yours!) The descriptions transported me to that beach, and I really like how you tied it all back to your grandfather. For some reason, after I read this I started thinking about when I was a kid and my family would go to Cape Cod for a week each summer. When i was seven (I think?) I got in to rock collecting and strolled the beach, looking for pretty ones. I ended up bringing a whole bag back to Buffalo with me. The thing is–spread out over the picnic table in our backyard, they weren’t as pretty as they’d been when they were wet, sinking in to the sand, pressed down by the incoming waves. So, my dad had the idea to put varnish on them so that they’d look wet all the time. We got out our paintbrushes and varnished every last one of them. They looked great. 🙂 Sorry, beaches aside that doesn’t have much to do with what you wrote. But, it brought back a good memory–so, thanks!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m thrilled I brought back a happy memory for you, and I like that you and your father varnished the rocks. They could have gone in a rock tumbler–remember those?–but the varnish allowed you to preserve them as you saw them.
      Also it absolutely makes my day that this made you feel like writing. I often feel like reading is how I recharge my own creative batteries and it means a lot that I can pass that on.

  4. Michelle

    Beautiful post, Christopher! I understand the attachment to those sorts of things… the older and gnarlier the better. I remember being absolutely heartbroken when our treehouse (just a platform really) branch got cut down because it was getting dangerous, and really angry that the old fishing jetty near where I grew up got partly demolished because the council didn’t want to pay to maintain it and didn’t want people climbing on it and hurting themselves and suing. So now it’s just rotting and falling apart. But we still have our childhood memories of fishing, watching sunsets, and jumping off it to remember it by.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The loss of your treehouse must have been really sad, and the fishing jetty too. Those are places that are just made for all kinds of adventures, and it’s bad enough to lose them yourself but even worse to know they’re not being used by the next generation. I know we shouldn’t become too attached to things, but I tell myself in my case it’s not a selfish impulse. If I’ve enjoyed something I want others should have a chance to share it.

  5. Ann Koplow

    This post is going to sit with me for a very long time, Chris. Many thanks.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you, Ann. Thoughts can be the most fleeting things of all so I’m glad to have created something that will stay with you.


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