I was at the beach the other day when I found this rock among the thousands of cobblestones bordering the high tide line. It was early. The rock was approximately two feet across, weighing roughly 30 pounds. Obviously, a beachgoer with an artistic bent used the smooth stone as a natural drawing surface and had done an impressive job capturing the previous night’s full moon over corduroy lines of swell. For drawing materials, the artist employed red and orange dirt from a nearby cliff, charcoal from a burnt piece of driftwood, and other rocks to scratch white highlights: a sparkling sea and cracking surf.
My first thought upon making the discovery was, “Wow, had the waves been that good?â€? But my second thought was that I wanted to take the rock home. I considered the feasibility of hauling it up the mile-long hike to my car, along with my surfboard and gear. I imagined placing the stone near a piece of driftwood in front of my fireplace. It would make a nice doorstop as well. Racking my brain, I wondered if I still had an old can of fixative from art school to preserve the work.
By this time, another surfer had come up beside me and was admiring the rock over my shoulder. I explained that the drawing was completely natural, created from the environment. “Pretty cool, huh?â€? I said. He seemed impressed and called some of his friends over.
It wasn’t long before small group had formed around the creation and as they congregated, I stepped aside and began pulling my wetsuit on. I thought about Andy Goldsworthy’s nature installations and his theories about the impermanence of art. Would the person who did this want me to take it away? It seemed obvious that this rock belonged just where I found it, and with the unusually high tide predicted, it would be gone in a few hours anyway.
What would you have done?