Kayak guide and MITA member Joe Guglielmetti submitted this fanciful conversation with a piece of driftwood to our story contest last year. We think it captures the magical spirit of Jewell Island! Visit jewellrenewal.causevox.com to contribute to much-needed island maintenance, and be sure to keep those driftwood fires confined to designated fire rings. 🙂
Dusk falls. I trudge down the ridgeline. Through pines shifting, green into black. Lichens blend to granite. I smell dirt, and damp, I slip, curse, click-on headlamp, trudge. Jewell Island’s spine. Forehead tilted down, I light each root across my path, dance between them.
Deposited by the Punchbowl, curving down, over the sand. Out of the woods, there’s natural light again. I savor it like dark cooking oil. Click-off headlamp. Soft beach under foot. Bend my walking route round a stout drift-log. I look over the twisted wood. She has old lines and deep knots. I say, “Hey there, Biochar.”
“Surely you jest, sir,” she says.
“Well, I think you’re going to wind up a bonfire,” I reply.
“Cast me to the sea,” she requests, in a longing tone.
“Tide’s pretty high. Punchbowl’s full. Waves long and lively. Now’s the time. I’ll try.”
I approach her woody end. Slide my fingers under her veins, pocks, dents. Bend knees. Neutral spine. Hup! Psst! Whew. Nothing. I try again. Hup! Grrrat! SHARP pain in lower back! Release. Failure.
“Well there Biochar, I think you’re beach fodder,” I say darkly, catching breath.
“Pity. Imagine burning away for the sake of some caveman TV,” she says.
“You’re still log enough to float. You could go out with the tide, into a voyage, up and over the waves, to another island maybe, maybe several islands. But I can’t lift you.”
Night falls while we aren’t paying attention, as is its habit. Smells of sea and campfire.
“Do you see that fixed white light to the southeast? I think that’s a tanker at anchor. Brings home heating oil down from Canada. And that red light swooping over there, that’s Halfway Rock Lighthouse. Where were you a tree?”
“Somewhere else,” she begins, more relaxed now. “I was a stout red spruce, clinging and curving from some cliff where the guillemots gathered. I saw sunrise most days. One day, big nor’easter offed me. Giant kid thumb-flicking a dandelion head. Pop! Back-flipped into the sea. Spent a day raging in a washing machine, tumbling amongst ledges. Others along with me, other trees fell that day. Confused winds and seas, big, and grey, and frothy. Then floated free.”
Comfortable silence. Waves slow, now break farther out, at the entrance to the Punchbowl. Air cool and dry.
“I watched the sunset tonight from the old submarine tower, and stayed for a bit of the pink afterglow.”
“I saw that tower on my float in. Pretended I was a U-boat,” she laughs.
“Yeah, I always wonder about folks who stood in those towers, waiting, watching, day after day,” I reply.
A distant fire springs up from the north side of the beach, atop the campground. A silhouette-person squats next to it.
“So is this it, is this my grave?” she asks, curtly. “Waiting to burn?”
“The tide’s on ebb, and I can’t lift you, so perhaps so. But I can sit here with you for a while. Tell me a story?”
She sighs, and calmly speaks. “I didn’t travel, until the nor’easter. You, sir, you move, and piece stories together, their arcs, and comfort, lessons, and you tuck them away and walk on. But I’m stationary. Just like some folks hunker down year into year, and become a place. But boy did I travel, after the storm released me. I drifted. Driftwood. At first with some branches still spired out in quills. But eventually, my sides were smooth enough to glance over the shallowest quartz-rind ledge. I felt a pod of porpoises surround me. I felt big blue ground swell. I felt the sun and the slime and the foam. My roots were cut.”
“Well, Driftwood, you’re stuck in this sand. Your root-nubs are anchored in. I guess you’ll be this place now.”
Night tucks around us. Milky Way’s freckled cheeks beyond the blinks of trans-Atlantic flights. Horizon fishing boats’ lights. Wave-breaks, far and soft.
“Just an old, stunted red spruce, that’s all I ever was. But I fell, lost my skin, drifted on some other forces’ whim. I felt alive.”
The distant fire flits its fingers.