Thursday, October 11, 2012
You may have heard that a good time to walk along the beach is after a good storm. You never know what bauble, what serpantine piece of driftwood, what glass balls from Japanese fishing boats, what letter in a bottle from a long-lost lover, you might come across.
Case in point: here is half of a Turkish freighter that I found washed up on the east coast of Taiwan twenty-some years ago, just outside the Hua Lien harbor, after Sarah Typhoon struck the coast.
It's an amazing coast. Just beyond a narrow belt of farmland growing papayas, peanuts, and sugar cane, rises a wall of mountain, covered with bamboo that waves even in breezes. Those mountains go up, up, up, to some 13,000 feet, a few ridges from the coast. (There are no comparable mountains in the larger coastal provinces of China, or even in central China. In fact, the largest mountain in Taiwan used to be the largest mountain in "Japan" -- back in the day.) Storms driven up from the Phillipines strike the coastal wall and unleash torrents, which are funneled down from the mountains through the narrow Tairoko gorge. This gorge truly is gorgeous, sculpted marble surrounded by emerald hills. (Walk carefully in the hills, though: there are lots of snakes!)
The storm was pretty amazing, too. As I recall, it dumped over 50 inches of rain along the coast a little further north. I weathered it out in Taipei, which like Los Angeles is in a basin, protected by mountains on most sides. (This didn't prevent a later typhoon from flooding the suburbs, resulting in over a hundred deaths across the island.)
I was told this ship had arrived from the Pacific Northwest with a load of timber. The other half of the ship was about a hundred yards behind it, out to sea. Two sailors lost their lives, as I recall a missionary who had tried to help the survivors told me.
This is certainly the biggest piece of driftwood I've ever found. Though not, I have to admit, the most beautiful.