"rivers are the lifeblood of the planet, and driftwood the nutrients"
February 22, 2018 1:12 PM   Subscribe

From streams to estuaries to the deep ocean floor, driftwood shapes every environment it passes through. While there's an awareness that temperate rainforests are enriched with nitrogen from the marine environment, delivered by decomposing salmon, less well known is the fact that dead trees from those same forests travel to the sea and become a vital source of food and habitat. Driftwood is in need of a PR campaign, celebrity spokesperson, or publicist at the very least. Driftwood, it turns out, is also rapidly disappearing.
The Trees That Sail to Sea by Brian Payton.
posted by Kattullus (3 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
On the north shore of Haida Gwaii is Naikoon Provincial Park. And along that shore is a massive beach, many miles long, where for thousands of years the Gwak'rala'chala people scooped up crabs as plentiful as pebbles. Standing there and looking further north across the surging waves of the raw ocean, the thin bluish-grey coastline of Alaska is just barely visible.

A few people have lush, mossy rain forest property grandfathered in to the boundaries of that park. One of them, a wood sculptor, has ruined several pickup trucks retrieving samples of the massive driftwood that adorns that beach.

His workshop is rife with exotic wood and fantastic carvings, some of them his, and some pure works of the earth and ocean. His harvest represents a minuscule portion of the crop in an area with few tourists and even fewer residents, but elsewhere...
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:40 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

In southeast Alaska, where I live, the terrain is steep and the incredibly abundant forest grows right down to the tide line. During a particularly high tide, especially in conjunction with a storm, fifty foot trees topple into the water and float away. When they are newly fallen they are spiky with branches projecting in every direction but the action of wind, waves, and collisions with other fallen trees quickly strip most of them of their branches, yielding multi-ton floating obstacles that move from place to place with the wind and tides. You need to keep a sharp eye on the water when you are running at any speed.

Exposed beaches near the convergence of major waterways will often be piled with hundreds or thousands of logs swept there by wind, tides, and currents.

As the article says, they're an important part of the incredible web of life in this amazing ecosystem. Just not one you want to hit in a small boat while going 20 knots..

They're also a resource, and a pretty abundant one, in this part of the world, and as you might expect resourceful people have found myriad uses for them. Carving. Construction. Traditional subsistence users have long used hemlock branches to harvest herring roe in the spring (the herring spawn and the roe are deposited on branches left in the water for that purpose.) I know a fair few people, especially those living beyond the reach of the power grid, who heat their houses with driftwood salvage, including one with a homemade hot tub heated with a cast-iron pot-belly wood stove built into the wall of the tub.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:59 PM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

I started reading this article because I've always loved rivers - I spent 6 weeks walking along the Arno once; it was a life-defining experience - and adore driftwood. But I should have known that any article focusing on nature will almost inevitably depress me, as they chronicle the detrimental effect of humans on every single part of our environment.

I am a fairly optimistic person who chooses to focus on the positive in life, and for the most part I manage to do this, even in the current American political climate. I know that positive change is always made 2 steps forward and 1 step back, and for every advance there is usually a backlash, but overall progress is made. The one area that I struggle to maintain my positivity is the environment. It physically hurts me to think about the bullshit we are doing to our world and how we are changing it forever - and how we just keep ignoring every single warning signal.

Sorry to be a downer. Clearly, I'm going to have to do some research on positive environmental changes now.
posted by widdershins at 7:50 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

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