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Big blows and beachcombers’ bounties

Outdoor Living

TAKEN BY STORM Our autumn storms will bring all manner of interesting things within reach of the diligent beachcomber.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

How glad I am that I carried that lump of timber back along the beach! One side of it was encrusted with clusters of goose barnacles, which were by then long dead and no more than creamy white, elongated discs. Attached by leathery stems that proved tougher than I thought, they soon dulled the blade of my small knife.
Although dessicated they still carried a powerful odour of decomposing shellfish so that I wondered more than once, as the wood grew heavy with distance and stained my coat with its pungent odour, if this really was a prize at all.
It must have been in the ocean for many months and had certainly come far, perhaps travelling all the way from South America. I imagine some riverside sawmill on the banks of the Peruvian Amazon, where brown-skinned workers wrestled the remains of a dead jungle giant onto the bed of a great bandsaw and sliced it in two, then four, then into multiples of each. One piece had slipped into the water while being loaded for export, and had been carried away downstream by a steady current, through hundreds of miles of forest sound, past bands of shrieking macaws, under the jaguar’s gaze and over the backs of pink river dolphins.
Did giant otters watch it pass them by; piranhas play in its shade?
Away it went, beneath blue skies, through thundering storms, underneath temporary homes balanced precariously on stilts and past the places wild children still splash in play. The waters that carried it grew in stature as more and more rivers and streams emptied their load into the great river, like history pouring into the streams of time, through life and death, strife, and long moments of serenity.
The river was an ocean long before it met the Atlantic. Up to 300 miles across at its peak, the Amazon carries as much as 60 times the capacity of the Nile, and the equivalent of six hundred River Shannons, and somewhere out there in its midst my piece of four-by-three hardwood drifted without purpose. Finally it spilled into the sea, where it found waves and currents that carried it hither and thither for who knows how long.
The Brazil current would have taken it far to the south, where this meets the South Atlantic current. This tremendous flow of seawater feeds the Benguela current, which travels up the west coast of Africa, and from there the Equatorial current feeds the Gulf of Mexico, home to one of the world’s largest so-called dead zones, where nothing lives from the bottom of the sea to the top over an area of several thousand square miles.
Through this my piece of wood might have sailed before eventually finding it’s way into the Gulf Stream, which would carry it north and east and into the north Atlantic drift, which brought it as far as the surf line off Carrowniskey Strand. I found it in the sand alongside a dead gull and a large amount of plastic waste, bewildering in its diversity.
Its journey was not finished yet. It had a fireman’s lift on my shoulder for several hundred yards, and then a journey past green fields the like of which it had never seen, beneath the scree slopes of the Reek, across an area of brown bog and into my woodshed.
When I examined it later I found it still bore the scars of iron teeth along it’s sides, from that first encounter with a saw thousands of miles away and perhaps several decades ago. It should, by rights, have been made into a shelf or a doorpost, although some decay in the midriff had reduced it’s potential.
As things happened, it met an inglorious end on the saw horse. At least I gave it the dignity of destruction by handsaw and admired the fine sawdust, with its warm, spicy scent, that fell to the floor, and last night the tail end of that timber warmed my stove with a long-lasting dull glow of yellow flame.
There is more to come. And now we await our autumn storms, which will bring all manner of interesting things within reach of the diligent beachcomber.
It is hard to agree as to which has been our most interesting find. Would it be that piece from an airplane wing that came ashore at Emlagh? Or the bottle of Russian vodka half buried in the sand at Keel? What about the dead sperm whale, which gave up two of its teeth as souvenirs, or the shoal of triggerfish that must have all been stranded on one great wave? The beach full of phosphorescent jellyfish was interesting, the weather balloon more so.
We shall go again, after a big blow, and when we return there will be that welcoming, soft yellow flame, with more tales of long-distance travel from some far-off, exotic land. If the truth was known, that piece of wood probably fell off the dock in Limerick. Peru; Peru is far more interesting.