Walk along the beach in winter and it’s quite likely you’ll see tremendous amounts of driftwood dumped unceremoniously along the tideline. If you happen to be walking with a five-year-old, you’re in luck. There’s something you can do together. And plenty you can learn by doing it. Build something.

Build Something With Someone

Building a driftwood den on the beach is a really wholesome activity. Making your own shelter speaks to our deepest animal instincts. It has a natural appeal, bringing elements of play, outdoor manual labour, and engineering together. Along with a sense of pride once completed. 

Clearly, it was worth watching all those Bear Grylls episodes. If nothing else, to use the term ‘bivouac’.

So it was, I embraced my inner-child — my inner-adventurer — and set about building something with my five-year-old son.

To help get us started, we found a place by some rocks that offered solid foundations upon which we could lean and prop logs and branches. Next, we set about gathering as much wood as we could. 

It was a labour of love. 

Slowly, we organised our driftwood into a roof across two large rocks. These, in turn, were secured in place by a few uprights. Then, we extended the shelter backwards to create a rear entrance that joined up with some other rocks. All the time, we kept shifting and tweaking the placement of certain branches (shape is everything when trying to optimise the amount of shelter a den can afford the occupier). 

Essentially, it was an elaborate jigsaw made out of pieces that were never meant to fit together. 

And therein lies lesson one.

Ultimately, we’re not meant to fit in or fit together seamlessly. We’re not a carefully and precisely cut jigsaw of perfectly intersecting pieces. Instead, we’re a chaotic mass of mismatching miscellanea. Every one of us different. Unique. And yet, we somehow manage to fit, in spite of our differences. 

We’re able to make things work. Because there’s strength in difference. And there’s also compromise. In essence, we have enough similarities to find the common ground necessary to collaborate, and enough differences to build something for others. Something they can use, enjoy, improve, and pass on too.

Which brings me to what we learned.

Build Finished. Now What?

Once we were finished building our driftwood den, what next? Were we going to live there permanently? Perhaps, we should continue to add to it and develop it further?

Firsthand experience of the five-year-old attention span will tell you that further development was off the cards. Enough was, very much, enough. Now it was time for play. Or something else. Another adventure.

So, what do we do with the den?

Do we tear it down, ruining all our hard work? Like Tibetan monks destroying their painstakingly crafted sand mandalas as a reminder of the impermanence of life?

Or do we leave it there? Que será, será.

But, what if someone else comes to use it? What if they change it? Add to it? Move things around?

Seeing as we couldn’t take it home with us, the only solution was, of course, to leave it in situ. And yes, accept that others may see it and want to play there and have their own adventures with our den. 

Because what we had built was not just for us. 

Sure, it had been hard work. But we had done it together. It was fun. We learned how to make all these washed-up bits of wood into a den. We built something and enjoyed doing it. 

And then we played with it and enjoyed doing that too. 

Eventually, all that was left to do was to look back at our work, and admire what we had built, before accepting that we hadn’t just built it for ourselves. 

Instead, we had created something for others to enjoy too. If they wanted to.

It’s Not for Us

When we build something for others, the reward is infinitely greater than when we horde something for ourselves. Sharing an idea and allowing others to run with it in whatever direction they choose, prolongs the life and the impact of that initial idea. It acts as a catalyst for something new. Something better. Something for others to enjoy.

So, we left our den in the hope that others would find it and let their imagination run wild, just as we had allowed ours to do whilst building it.

That is why we do the things we do. It’s why we create.

To serve others in some meaningful way.

Often, in ways we could never have imagined whilst we were busy building.

But, that is not for us to decide.

Problems and Solutions

One final, interesting side note. 

As we walked along the beach, leaving our den, we came across another three dens along the way. Each one different in style and technique. One was a teepee. Another had been partly dug into the side of a sand dune. And the last was a large dip between two small dunes that had been covered over with driftwood.

This came with a realisation. 

There are more solutions than there are problems.

And this is something worth remembering and holding on to.

Now, go build something for others.