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The Art of Seeing: Driftwood

Naturalist and educator Neal Maine helped found NCLC in 1986, becoming its first executive director. Since his retirement from the land trust in 2010, he has pursued his passion for making deeper connections with the coastal ecosystem through his nature photography and by developing and encouraging what he calls the Art of Seeing.

I was on the beach one day last winter after a storm had tossed all kinds of things onto the beach. What caught my eye that morning was the driftwood. I started looking at the pieces of driftwood, their shapes and forms, and then I started looking closer. Some people look at clouds, or mountain profiles, or driftwood and try to find recognizable shapes, like a cat or a house or Grandma Moses smoking a pipe. I was just interested in the artistry inherent in the wood itself, and in the story that created that artistry. Those patterns were once the living tissues of a tree, generated one cell at a time, over decades.

I noticed this particular piece of driftwood at the Cove in Seaside last summer, high-watered onto the rocks, nearly in the parking lot. It’s 6 or 7 feet long and has this beautiful honeycomb color. It looks like some kind of hardwood. We don’t know what its adventure might have been. It could be from anywhere: Alaska, maybe, or South America.

The beach is full of driftwood from all over the planet. There’s enough of it to last all of us the rest of our lives, inspecting it for its unique characteristics. Once I started looking closely at it, I got going on it and I couldn’t give it up. It’s become kind of a career.

I love it when the ocean delivers these big gifts.

More of Neal’s driftwood photography will be on display at the Cannon Beach Community Center during the inaugural Earth and Ocean Arts Festival in Cannon Beach Sept. 20-22. Neal is also leading a hands-on smartphone photography workshop on Friday afternoon for festival passholders. Year-round Neal’s photography is on display at Fairweather House and Gallery in Seaside. Sales benefit North Coast Land Conservancy.


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