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October 2013, vol 9, no 3

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Peter Butler

The Adventures of a Wooden Boulder

In 1978, British sculptor David Ash fells a 250-year-old oak in North Wales, after severe storm damage. The first piece is a spherical boulder, over a yard in diameter and weighing a quarter ton: "It was too dangerous to move down a footpath so I chose a steep rocky bank which could contain the momentum of its descent." It lands in a nearby stream, where it jams halfway down the first waterfall.

wedged in rocks
to talk to

The following year washes it to the pool below. The tannin in the oak begins to react with the iron in the water, turning it to a deep indigo.

orphan boulder
changing face
gaining confidence

A storm the next year washes it further downstream where it remains for eight years. "It became obvious the boulder belonged to the stream. I should just observe it as a stepping stone into the constant changing drama that flowed around it."

in calmer waters
conversing with reeds
sun on its back

The boulder's progress is filmed at intervals. During the next 24 years – on occasions captured, weighed, returned – storms move it downstream nine times, according to tides, wind and rainfall, until it floats into the estuary. In 2003 it disappears and is assumed to have gone to sea.

appearing, disappearing
seen, unseen

In 2008, it reappears briefly in the estuary. It has not been seen since. Or has it? Reports suggest it has now been spotted floating in the Irish Sea. "It is not lost. It is wherever it is."

giving voice
to nobody
in particular

Note: Wooden Boulder is both a sculptural work by David Nash, and the story of its journey downhill, by river, into the Irish Sea. Images and the story can be found at: http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/garden-attractions-A-Z/wooden-boulder.htm