It could have been a sculptural piece of drift wood or a gnarly tree branch from the woods or a twisted piece of metal from a salvage yard…but the idea is to see things in a different way and once again—as I have done this before— to make something from nothing. And in this case, with no effort or manipulation—just the natural beauty of the found object.
The tide was out making the beach so wide it was like a great runway of wet sand. Scattered on the surface were the leavings of the waves – pieces of shell and polished stones. There amidst the beautiful debris was what looked like the suggestion of an abandoned boat hull—a dried, darkened palm sheath. I instantly knew, this would be another beginning of the tropical table-scape that I am so fond of creating when we are at the beach.
“Creating something from nothing,” my father would often say. He was a great believer in that idea that one man’s trash was another man’s treasure. We loved to beach comb together whenever we found ourselves at the tide’s edge. Sometimes it was tropical and the coral was bleached white and pocked with texture. Fine mesh pieces of purple sea fan and perfect little green “hat” shells would be nestled among the dense collections of heavier piles of white coral.
Then other scenes would find us on northern beaches of the Maryland coast where there was no coral but the ocean would wash multi-colored surf-polished stones onto the shore blanketing the sand particularly at the very edge where the water would curl between the beach and the ocean’s depths. Tiny purple and pink clam shells would peek, being abruptly exposed and quickly bury themselves back into the wet sand moistened with each incoming wave.
On this day, the warm breeze is tropical and the beach is expansive offering rare treasures scattered broadly but sparingly on the pristine surface of sand. It is here that I encountered my centerpiece.
Don of course is saying—”what are you going to do with that? It’s too big. Leave it here.” And I assure him that it is in fact a treasure and that it will be magnificent in the center of our dinner table where we are entertaining 11 for festivities this coming weekend. He, as always, acquiesces knowing that it is futile to stand in the way of my wildly enthusiastic creativity.
Over the next couple of days, he and I both collect white stones and shells on our daily beach walks. At my instruction, we only collect white unless it is a particularly interesting shell. The idea is to have the stark contrast with the dark hull of the palm sheath.
Our dining table is a handsome slab of travertine marble. Laminated to a double thickness and finely finished with a smooth full bull-nose edge, it is the perfect organic surface to build this also very organic centerpiece.
It needs something…the neutral tones are lovely. Yet, the dark espresso brown of the palm sheath with the white of the stones, against the creamy surface of the travertine invites something more. I realize that it can only be enhanced with another layer of organic material – here in the form of the fresh verdant green palm fronds – the perfect punctuation!
Oh would that I had collected more flat oyster shell halves…they work so well for votive candle bases…but alas, parrot green cocktail napkins will have to do for this last minute detail.
Our woven palm place mats, in their natural dried flaxen color, compliment the rest of the organics on our table. And as night falls, the sun drops beneath the sea’s horizon and twinkle of scattered candles finish our scene. Salud!