Washed up housing

Don’t ask, because Suzan Heglin can’t tell you why, or when, she fell in love with driftwood beach huts.

“I just started taking pictures because they were cute,” she said.

Before long, Heglin found she had quite the collection of photos — enough to maybe consider it an obsession.

This year, 2008, marks the second year she’s self-published a calendar of driftwood beach hut photographs through the online site www.lulu.com — and she already looks to have enough photos for a 2009 version.

A description on lulu.com states, “The unique calendars depict the beautiful and fanciful architecture of the huts created entirely of driftwood along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. They represent the primal longing for home and shelter, and the most romantic dreams in the most evocative places.”

“At this point it’s really an obsession,” Heglin admits.

Suzan Heglin grew up in the Northridge-San Fernando area of California, but she has been a resident of Boulder, Colo., for the last 14 years.

Every three months or so she can be found back on Whidbey, visiting her parents, Bobbie and Howard Heglin, who have called Oak Harbor home for close to 30 years. It is then when this writer of more than 20 years migrates to becoming a driftwood hut photographer.

Heglin considers her photography of the driftwood structures as ethnography of sorts.

“I tried to find any pictures on the Web or any other way people had documented driftwood huts but I couldn’t,” she said.

The driftwood calendars aren’t the first major publication for this veteran writer. In 2006 she published a book that had been on the back burner for 16 years, “Paula: The Lighthouse Years.” The book distributed by Xlibris, is based on the true story Paula, the Estonian mail order bride of an Alaskan lighthouse keeper and their life in the 1930s.

Heglin was drawn to do her calendar by a fascination with the variety in driftwood architecture.

“Why are people compelled to build them,” she wonders. “They’re not functional, they can’t necessarily protect you from the rain.”

And they come in all shapes and sizes — some rounded, some A-frame, some rectangular and some without entrances.

“I had no idea how they intended to get in, or if they did at all,” she said.

Some of the huts appear simply as piles of driftwood, others are intricate creations that obviously took a lot of time. Some are accompanied by additional driftwood creativity.

“One beach had skeletons in the trees that were made from driftwood and dressed as pirates,” she said.

Heglin also studies the altars she said often reside inside the tiny huts.

“They’re usually beautiful with all kinds of shells and bits of other stuff,” she said. “You can’t help but feel compelled to add something to it.”

She has to do it quickly, however, because there’s often someone waiting in the car while she quickly scans and photographs the beach.

“They don’t let me wander too much,” she said.

Heglin herself has never made a driftwood hut.

“I’ve made sand castles,” she said.

An explanation for both her fascination and her lack of driftwood hut building experience could lie in where she resides.

“There’s no equivalent in Colorado,” she said. “But I am interested in tree houses, too.”

She can, however, give you some tips on what she’s observed over time.

1) The windward side of Whidbey (or any other island) is the best for hut building.

“That’s where all the driftwood is,” she said.

2) Certain beaches tend to stick with certain styles of design.

“The huts are always a little rounder at City Beach and more angular at Fort Casey,” she said.

3) It’s against driftwood hut etiquette for people to tear them down.

“That’d be horrible, but if you want to add to the structure or alter it, that’s OK,” she said.

Heglin has long wondered why people build the huts, but has never found any answers.

“The builders are always gone by the time I get there,” she said.

The answers may be coming soon. Heglin wants to hear from people who have built driftwood huts. She wants to know why you did it, how you did it, what your structure looked like and what you used it for (shelter?).

She plans to incorporate these stories, along with her photos and poetry she writes about driftwood, into a new project.

“There’s something here that’s so unique and beautiful,” she said. “It have to continue.”

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