Pilings have been use for as long as people have been building near, on, or over the water. Houses in old Amsterdam had their foundations set on pilings driven deep into the marshy ground under them, to prevent them from sinking. In southeast Asia houses are built on pilings above the water so the fisherman can paddle or sail right up to them with their catch. And where would boaters be today without the pilings that support their docks and piers, and hold the attached floating docks in place?
A piling is nothing more than a straight tree-trunk that’s had one end pointed so it can be driven into the ground, or harbor bottom. It’s great fun, or monumentally boring (take your pick!) to watch a pile driver at work, with its heavy weight hoisted time after time over the top of the piling, which is supported by a vertical cage to keep it straight up-and-down, slamming down on it every few seconds, as the piling goes ever deeper into its home of many years-to-come. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the sound of a really big pile driver carried across two miles of Long Island Sound to our house from the US Merchant Marine Academy’s severely damaged docks, all day for weeks on end, in an incessant reminder of their very expensive recovery from a very powerful storm: “Wham . . .Wham . . . Wham . . .” It’s a sound that brings home the insistence of man on defeating Nature, or at least keeping it at bay. Because Nature always wins in the end.
Hence the sight of row after row of decrepit pilings from destroyed docks everywhere you look around the New York shoreline, from the old ocean liner piers in the Hudson River to the long-forgotten ferry docks on the Sound. [Photo of the liner Queen Mary in the Hudson River by Kim Freeman.]
In 2012 a very heavy, eight-foot-long section of a piling arrived under our sea wall. We looked at it, immediately saw it could, and should, be repurposed somehow, and set about trying to recover it. We had one tide’s worth of time to do it, knowing that the next high tide would carry it back out into the Sound, where it would continue its current life as a “hazard to navigation.”
Native ingenuity came to the rescue after we gave up trying to simply hoist it up the wall – far too heavy! We remembered that at our yacht club we had an old boom vang from our boat hanging in our locker, and its 4:1 purchase was all we needed to get the job done, plus a lot of plain old muscle, of course. (Don’t know what a boom vang is? Email us at email@example.com for the answer!)
A piece of material like that has to “rest” with us for a while. It needs to sit outside and let the rains leech the salt water out of its surface, and we need the time to contemplate how we can reclaim it. After many months, which included a lot of work in our garden, we saw the need for a bench and at least one garden seat, and it became clear what we needed to do. We cut it into three pieces – the two ends became the upright “legs” of a bench, and the remaining center section was just long-enough to plant 18 inches into the ground and support a wonderful, curved piece of Manhattan schist from our beach as a small seat overlooking our flower garden.