Sailors Finding Art in the Wild

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Stumbling upon art while out sailing is an unexpected pleasure. Finding colorful glass balls that have washed across from Japanese fishing fleets is certainly magical. But it’s the purposeful art left for the enjoyment of others that most moves me.

One example was a deer made entirely of driftwood, leaning against a tree on the path around Montague Harbor in British Columbia. What a delight! But who was to know there was an entire driftwood art museum in the Octopus Islands near Vancouver? We only learned of it by chance. The price of admission was getting past the “dragon,” the boisterous current in the narrow Hole in the Wall channel. The strongest tides in the Northern Hemisphere rush through this part of the Inside Passage, and the dragon rests a mere five minutes at slack current, twice a day. At the appointed time, we followed the awaiting boats to the Octopus Islands Marine Provincial Park.

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Once through, we dropped the hook in a quiet cove, marveling at the beauty surrounding us, the silence of the forest and the surrounding mountains. There is a code of honor here: don’t run your generator, don’t talk too loudly. Every paddle stroke is heard, as it every beat of a raven’s wings as it flies overhead.

On this day, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, so we headed our dinghy toward a trail that enters the surrounding rainforest. At the head of the bay two sculptures awaited, rocks balanced gracefully atop each other, like Japanese cranes. Someone had placed them there. And, in the Zen style of impermanence, the rocks would topple and wash away with the incoming tide.

Sitting on a boulder and admiring them while lacing up our boots, we took a deep breath to register what a sacred spot we’d found. We must have carried some of that aura with us as we stepped from the shoreline into the forest because a couple soon appeared who shared one of the local charming secrets of this area. We were looking up at the shafts of light on the bark of tall Douglas firs and hemlocks and marveling at the luminous moss-covered boulders when we heard the jingle of a dog approaching. His owners trailed closely behind and paused as we scratched behind its ears.

“Did you notice the Japanese crane sculptures in the bay on the way in?” I asked. Yes, they had. Then, all of a sudden, the woman’s face lit up. She glanced over at her husband, who rolled his eyes.

“Have you seen the art museum?” she blurted out. “I tell everyone I meet.” My husband looked confused. I wanted to know more. “It’s there, right at the entrance. There’s a sign posted on a tree that says ‘private island, no camping’.” We’d seen that sign and what appeared to be an old cabin on the way in, but had decided to pass by. “Boaters stop and add to their art every year,” she continued. “You won’t believe it.”

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She was right. It was truly unbelievable. The rickety cabin looked spooky, maybe even unsafe, as we entered and let our eyes adapt to the darkness within. Before long, I saw what she meant: a superb and cleverly crafted art collection of driftwood and items found at sea that few had ever seen. There were sea creatures, birdhouses, unique sculptures, signs and flags. Families proudly displayed their names and the dates they’d returned to add to their piece of art, year after year.

After that experience I began to take notice of all the ways art is expressed in nature, from a log washed ashore that has been carved by wind and waves into a whale, to purposely picking up a leaf and leaving a smiley face for others to find underfoot, to the totally sublime, even magnificent beach mandalas created by Jon Foreman of Sculpt the World. Like the Zen cranes, his art is temporary. Washed clean and sent back to the sea. Maybe one day we will get to see his art too. But we’ll leave that story for another day. 

September 2018

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