Beginning in 1978, when a spherical chunk of oak got lodged in a stream as he was moving it to his studio, the sculptor David Nash has documented its long riverine journey.
“For 25 years,” Nash writes, “I have followed its engagement with the weather, gravity and the seasons. It became a stepping-stone into the drama of physical geography. Spheres imply movement and initially I helped it to move, but after a few years I observed it only intervening when absolutely necessary - when it became wedged under a bridge.”
The journey is so extraordinary — made more so perhaps by the fact that it's so well-documented — that we can't help but quote the rest of Nash's accounts:
During the first 24 years it moved down stream nine times remaining static for months and years. Sedentary and heavy it would sit bedded in stones animated by the varying water levels and the seasons. Beyond the bridge its position survived many storms, the force of the water spread over the shallow banks did not have the power to shift it. I did not expect it to move into the Dwyryd river in my lifetime.
Then in November 2002 it was gone. The 'goneness' was palpable. The storm propelled the boulder 5 kilometres, stopping on a sandbank in the Dwryd estuary. Now tidal, it became very mobile. The high tides around full moon and the new moon moved it every 12 hours to a new place, each placement unique to the consequence of the tide, wind, rain and depth of water.
In January 2003 it disappeared from the estuary but was found again in a marsh. An incoming tide had taken it up a creek, where it stayed for five weeks. The equinox tide of March 19 2003 was high enough to float it back to the estuary where it continued its movement back and forth 3 or 4 kilometres each move.
The wooden boulder was last seen in June 2003 on a sandbank near Ynys Giftan. All creeks and marshes have been searched so it can, only be assumed it has made its way to the sea. It is not lost. It is wherever it is.
Obviously we know what has happened to it — it's been scooped up by a reclusive oil tycoon to adorn his secret garden like a pilfered Grecian kore. Resting on a pedestal, accumulating monetary value, periodically acting the part of a showpiece to entertain guests.
It would be unsurprising to hear someone remark that the boulder is at the mercy of the elements, although we're more apt to say that it is the river that is at the mercy of this artifact, under the weight of human agency, and of Nash's relentless gaze and choreographic machinations.
The river turned into a Picturesque folly; the passing of time, the same physical forces that smooth out rocks and bend rivers turned into a constructed view.