Le Dernier Mot: Wood you Believe it?

Le Dernier Mot: Wood you Believe it?

Kristin’s driftwood collection goes from treasure to poison to art

My obsession with driftwood began, oddly enough, at a barbecue. Seeing my husband dash around the garden, gathering dry sticks for our brasero, I realised he needed a good stash of kindling. Noticing some brindilles scattered beneath our pepper tree I reached down… when the thrill of wood scavenging bit me!
Around our neighbourhood, I discovered an endless supply of free wood: pine cones and little fallen branches peppered our streets for a veritable wood feast. How rewarding to clean up the neighbourhood while building a supply of petit bois. I returned with handfuls. When those poignées grew to armfuls I brought along a tote. Then a bigger one. Finally, I brought my husband!

The collection grows!

Gathering sticks
Armed with a granny cart (Mom’s four-wheeled shopping trolley), we were ready to collect some of the logs that had landed on the local seashores after a storm.
Here in the sparkling bay of La Ciotat, these outings became a treasure hunt when we ventured to la plage and encountered driftwood. With its rounded edges and smooth surface le bois flotté is a work of art, the salt water, ocean waves and time combining to make a marvellous sculptor. As we gathered another load, my conscience cleared its throat: “Ahem. Is it ecological – or even legal – to carry off driftwood?” A web search revealed that, in France, gathering coquillages or galets carries a €1,500 fine. (And six years in prison for the couple who tried to cart home 40kg of sand from their vacation!). As for driftwood, Le Service Public notes it is OK to take. But now another dilemma arose: these shapely pieces of wood we’d collected were too beautiful to burn!

Back on the web, I watched a documentary on driftwood artists including the exotically beautiful Karine, a furniture-maker who harvests wood near Biarritz, and the no-nonsense grandmother who drags home driftwood from the beaches of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Sigh! From lamps to outdoor seating, such beautiful creations these artists make!

But the last thing my family needs is another obsessed artiste – and all the paraphernalia that goes along with making art. No! By burning this wood we could eliminate a possible hoarding situation – and heat our home instead. This was a win-win outcome, surely!

Driftwood on the beach in La Ciotat

And then i twigged…
But was it, after all, OK to burn driftwood? A few more taps on the keyboard and the results were in, via this terrifying headline: ‘Driftwood – the Deadliest Firewood in the World’. Yikes if that didn’t stop me in my log-marked tracks! I don’t want my family breathing in dioxins when those salt-saturated logs release toxic chemicals as they burn.

Mais quelle dommage! The idea of lugging all this wood back to the sea was killing me until my conscience piped up again: “All is not lost when you view things from an artist’s perspective. Keep the treasure. Make art, not fire.”

LE BRASERO = brasier, fire pit
LE PETIT BOIS = kindling
LA POIGNÉE = handful
LA PLAGE = beach
LE BOIS FLOTTÉ = driftwood
LE GALET = stone
QUEL DOMMAGE! = what a pity!

Lead photo credit : Kristin and her driftwood collection

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The American-born author and photographer lives with her French husband, Jean-Marc, and their two children on a vineyard and olive farm near Bandol in Provence. She's the author of "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France" and runs the French Word-a-Day blog and newsletter.

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  •  Helene Mewborn
    2023-05-24 09:40:15
    Helene Mewborn
    As always, enjoyed your most recent article! You and your writing have not changed since you began your writing! Hope you and family are doing well in Provence! A really OLD FRIEND Helene


    • Kristin Espinasse
      2023-07-16 01:32:46
      Kristin Espinasse
      Thank you, Helene. It is so good to see your note. Just the encouragement needed as my next article is due soon and I’ve got to get to it! Merci encore and thank you for reading!