“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
― Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
The words of my book nothing, the drift of it everything. Walt Whitman
I’ve been studying on the idea of driftwood lately. Not just what shapes it, changes it, or even damages it as it drifts through the ocean and against rocks, but more about the entirety of its “life.” Y’all know I’m an analogy girl at heart—somehow, this world and all of its mysteries make sense through other images in my mind. This is one that still has me caught in its clutches.
While I’ve stumbled upon driftwood in storefronts, I had never experienced it upon the sand where it landed until Driftwood Beach in Jekyll Island. That was many moons ago—somewhere ‘round about 2000-ish?—but, as struck as I was standing there as a young mom, the lesson didn’t sink in deep until I went at the age of 51. There were several monolithic pieces, but the one that I loved the most was an old oak much smaller in stature. She had stories to tell, man. I had taken dozens of pictures of my younguns on this driftwood over nearly two decades, but never had I been the subject. The downside of single motherhood, right?
But this time, I sank in and became part of the picture. And I remember feeling her, the green she used to be and the wind in her arms, the day the ocean swept her up and she drifted far from who she had been, and the time she had spent becoming . . . well, art. Within her, barely perceptible now, was a vibration—not a life pulse, a vibration—that was being called back to the ocean itself. Nothing is permanent. She would be swallowed up one day and drift again until she was as she started: energy.
But, in the meantime, she got to be a part of memories of summering children, broken hearts that wandered the beach, perches for sea gulls against salty sunsets and proof of land for shrimp boats after a brutal workday. In the most profound way, she was in the middle of that journey back . . . but not before teaching folks a thing or two. I mean, not all trees get to be driftwood. Most are ravaged for paper, furniture, pallets . . . not this gal. Her kin might have been heartbroken as she fell in that first wave, ripped from her roots and swept away into dark waters. How painful it must have been to watch as she lost all control. How solitary it must have been, cell memory still intact, as she sunk into the hurricane that didn’t know her name.
Or, did it?
From Smithsonian Magazine, I found the most beautiful explanation for this part of a tree’s life:
”A tree undergoes reincarnation when it lands in flowing water. Branches, bark, and heartwood—what appears to be nothing more than floating debris—become either home to or sustenance for a range of plants and animals. In old-growth forests, up to 70 percent of the organic matter from fallen trees remains in streams long enough to nurture the organisms living there, passing through the digestive tracts of bacteria, fungi, and insects. Caddis flies and mayflies undergo their metamorphosis into adults while anchored to floating wood. When they emerge, they in turn become food for salmon fry, salamanders, bats, and birds. Larger logs control the very shape and flow of streams, creating pools and back eddies where returning salmon rest and spawn. These pools provide critical shelter for young salmon as they hatch, feed, and hide from predators before they make a break for the open sea.”
Reincarnation—part of the journey—but then, only some trees become driftwood. Logging, high winds, flooding . . . these are the things that sweep the tree into the violent, chaotic process. What appears to be the end is only another chapter. These are the vibrations she held within her that day I joined the photo: loss, wisdom, acceptance, joy, sacrifice, peace. She was on her way somewhere—and so was I.
”Most driftwood, of course, goes untouched by human hands. The afterlife of these dead trees can be just as surprising.”
I reckon I’ve had small driftwood moments like this. Not yet ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, the universe has been letting me “practice.” Y’all, I think we can easily miss these moments. Yet, like that ol’ gal on Driftwood Beach, we can send out the vibration, especially to those who come to sit on our branches for a moment. I hope you can feel mine.
The other day, a best friend and witch had some shadow-work time on the phone when it hit him, that simplicity of everything. He said: “Omigod, I’ve got it! It’s just love. Then shut the fuck up.” Yes. That’s it. It’s both complicated and simple as hell, all at the same time. And, until we really get it on a deep-mystery-arterial-sort-of-way, we drift.
Ah, Batchildren. I’ve had one helluva ride. One day, when the ocean is done with me, I hope to be like my friend on the sand—until it’s time to go home.