Sea-Stacks and Driftwood

One of the many things I worked hard to get right in Wilderness was landscape description.  At the beginning of the book my character, Abel Truman, is living as a recluse on the wild northwest coast of Washington State.  One of the reasons I chose to set much of the novel in that locale is the striking other quality to the landscape; to visit there—let alone live there—is alienating and strange and suits the character of Abel.

Here are some passages from Wilderness, paired with photographs of the landscape that inspired them:


“Within the bounds of his little cove stood sea-stacks weirdly canted from the waves.  Tide gnawed remnants of antediluvian islands and eroded coastal headlands, the tall stones stood monolithic and forbidding, hoarding the so by moonlight their rough, damp facings took on a soft, alien shine: purple, ghostblue and glittering in the moon- and ocean-colored gloom.  Grass and small, wind-twisted scrub pine stood from the stacks in patches…”


“All along the shore, behind the cabin and down the banks of the river, stood the dark and olden wilderness tumbling in a jade wave to the shore.  Numberless, green centuries of storm and tide had stranded massive logs of driftwood against the standing trunks so they lay in long heaps and mounds.  Strange, quiet citadels of wood, sand and stone.  Natural reliquaries encasing the dried bones of birds and fish, raccoons and seals, and the sad remains of drowned seamen carried by current and tide from Asia.  Seasons of sun over long, weary years, had turned the great logs silver, then white.  The endless ranks of wood provided the old man’s home with a natural windbreak in storm seasons, and he spent many nights awake, listening to the mournful sound of the wind at play in the tangle.”


  “Their meal finished, Abel threw sand on the remains of the fire before walking with the dog out across the beach into the surf.  The massive, dark sea stacks rose from the water like strange teeth from the floor of the ocean’s jaw.  Occasionally, the setting sun would come flaring through the clouds to silhouette a tiny hogsback island farther out to sea.  The old man and the dog sat together on a boulder and watched the tide come in all around them.”


  “A thick, wet mist clung to the forest at his left and a cool wind slowly tattered it.  The tide lay far to sea and the sand was crossed and recrossed with the rolling, wheel-like tracks of hermit crabs and the precise, pencil-thin prints of oystercatchers.  The smell of beached kelp and broken shells, of damp sand that had never been dry and rock pools astir with tiny fishes was as heavy as the sound of crashing surf was constant.  And wind never-ending.”



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