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25 October 2009


When my mother was a little girl, she lived on the Pacific shore of Oregon every summer for the months of June, July, and August. When the tide was low, she and her sister would take wooden rakes out to what she called “crab pools” and rake in crabs for dinner. My grandmother would boil them and the family sat on the porch picking crab and eating their fill. 

Picked crab costs $25 a pound locally these days, though you can sometimes find whole crabs on sale for $8. I don’t like to think what people inland or in the east pay for Dungeness crab. When I was a girl, my mother used to argue with a neighbor about the relative merits of Dungeness crab compared to lobster. The family across the street who had been raised on the east coast and insisted that lobster was superior. My mother confessed to me that she’d had never actually eaten lobster, but insisted with stubborn NW pride that nothing was superior to Dungeness crab. A few years before my mother died I ate lobster at Legal Seafood in Boston, and when I came home I told my mother she’d been right all along. Dungeness crab is better—more flavorful, tender, and easier to pick.

The days are long gone where you can rake in a crab from the pools along my shore. Commercial over-harvesting and toxins released by septic systems, agriculture, and logging have done their damage. The students I teach don’t know to call these pools by their older name, because my mother’s “crab holes” no longer provide sanctuary for crabs. They are (more accurately) called tide pools because they are the result of the action of tides on continuously shifting sand. They house sand dabs and sand fleas, the odd minuscule life forms caught by a receding tide.  Nothing edible. The crab boats fish off on the horizon, never coming closer than a half mile to shore. 

This week we’ve seen at least two dead seals on the beach, probably shot by fishermen. The seals follow boats, feed off refuse cast back, interfere with nets and traps.  The attitude of those involved in commercial or sport fishing is that the seals and sea lions should be eating something people don’t care about. As if you could reason with them, convince them to eat what humans won’t. Every spring when I teach persuasive writing to 16 year olds, someone whose father fishes writes an essay about why sea lions and seals should be shot to keep them from interfering with the industry. They want the sea lions who fish at the base of dams on the Columbia River to be shot to protect endangered salmon. I don’t have to agree with their thesis. So long as they make a good case and use objective sources (not their fathers) I support their arguments. It’s my job to teach them to write reasonably, not to be fair.

Though they are very intelligent, seals and sea lions can't be taught to choose the fish we wish they’d eat. Their populations have dwindled along with whales, and the species humans most prize on their own plates. Dead zones on coastlines, rising ocean temperatures, polluted waters, and disappearing fish species are the result of human effects on the natural world.   

Einstein said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” I’m certain he wasn’t talking about crabs or seals. He wasn’t worried about the fishing industry that has suffered so much damage in my lifetime. But it’s fair to point out that the sea lions causing havoc fishing at the base of dams could not cause the problem if we hadn’t built the dam to begin with. And the missing crabs aren’t the fault of sea gulls or seals or any other wild life. Most of the changes I’ve witnessed in my 57 years acquaintance with the Pacific Ocean are the result of human action, not nature. 

We tend to think of ourselves as aloof and independent from the natural world, and continue to act as if there were no consequences to ourselves for the choices we make and our overwhelming presence on this planet. Maybe it’s time to demand a higher level of thinking if we want to solve these problems. We should be asking what we can do ourselves to solve the problems we’ve created.  

14 October 2009


I like Obama.  I'm proud of him and proud my country elected him.  I voted for him and find his speeches deeply moving.  His nomination for the Nobel in January was based, probably, on those moving speeches, his race, and the political shift his election represents after the disastrous Bush years.  I think most of the world is grateful for our president.  He is a relief.  

However, I didn't vote for him so that he could move the war to a different country.  I didn't vote for him to ensure a more effective strategy or for him to continue the war in any nation. I voted for Obama because he promised to bring troops home. The BBC is reporting that Obama will soon send 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan—solders and Marines who have already served tours and need to come home to their families, and some of whom recognize the futility of their task. Fighting an invasive war in Afghanistan is just plain stupid. Invaders have been trying to take over Afghanistan for millennia and failing. And we are invaders.  

I am disappointed in Obama because of this and because he's not followed through on health care as aggressively as I'd hoped and because I think his Secretary of Education is something of an idiot, and for any number of compromises he's probably been forced to make in order to maintain some level of conversation with conservatives.  He is reuniting a badly fragmented nation. I respect his desire to reach consensus.  

Nevertheless, I want to see change, real change, and soon. I want nationalized health care and better school funding. I think if we can fund a war, we ought to be able to ensure that Americans have health care and education.  Why are we willing to pay to kill people in other countries but not to keep our own citizens alive? Why has “peace” become a dirty term? If we are still fighting anywhere two years from now, I wonder if I will vote for him again. Men shouldn't be dying because it's politically inexpedient to oppose war.  

Does Barack Obama deserve the Nobel? He deserves it more than Henry Kissinger (1973 for working with Le Duc Tho to end the war in Vietnam—Le Duc Tho declined the award because his country was not yet at peace and I’ve always wondered if that was also because he didn’t want an award shared with Kissinger). In any event, I don't think the Nobel should be awarded for potential or good intentions or because Bush was a maniac and Obama is a highly talented and compassionate black president. It should be awarded for accomplishment. As of January Obama hadn’t been in office long enough to accomplish much compared to Amnesty International or Nelson Mandela or Doctors without Borders. I think he was not expecting the award and I am sorry he's been put in a position to defend this award. 

I'd like to think that in a couple of years, President Obama will earn the Nobel in a way that no one could criticize.  Because, despite my impatience, I have faith that our president means to make the world a better place.  

11 October 2009


This morning Gary was nursing a sore knee so Yeti and I went out for our run without him.  I began running sixteen years ago almost on a bet with myself.  I wasn’t sure I could keep it up.  I’d always been a walker, but running?  Before, I’d wondered about people I saw trotting along the side of the Coast Highway.  Why weren’t they running on the sand and listening to the ocean?  A few months later I had the answer.  On the beach there are creeks and the tide to contend with.  The timing of low tides doesn’t allow you to run at the exact same time every day.  And there’s another reason for running the highway:  hills.  

Before I began running with the high school cross country team in the fall of 1993, I’d run only on wet sand.  Flat sand.  The current head cross country coach, Neil Branson had moved to Sisters for a year and the new coach that year was a great believer in hills.  In addition to running dunes at Camp Rilea, he located a steep hill in a development east of town and regularly ran us to the base.  We ran up and walked down, ran up and walked down.  We ran light back to school.  I found new muscles. 

This year I have managed to run at least every other day since May and only once have Gary and I had to run the long steep hill on highway 101.  Most days we’ve run the beach.  There have been no dead seals or sea lions, shot by fishermen a few years ago.  We’ve seen live oyster catchers and gulls, of course, ravens, crows, sandpipers, and eagles overhead.  We have run on wet sand, but less sand than when I started running, far less than shown in the photos of my mother’s childhood. 

My grandfather’s aunts bought our property in 1911 for $10.  Highway 101 did not pass through Arch Cape at that time.  In fact there was no road at all leading to the beach at Arch Cape, then called “Cannon Beach” because the cannons have all been found here, at Arch Cape, not in Cannon Beach.  There was an Indian who lived here back in those days, and soon summer cottages, including my aunts’ summer cottage.  This stretch of beach was difficult to get to.  They chose it because it was difficult to get to. 

My mother told the story to anyone who expressed curiosity, how they had to wait for low tide, drive down on the beach and around Hug Point on a partially paved path blasted out of the rock.  In her childhood my grandmother and my mother and aunt and various cousins stayed from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Occasionally other relatives visited.  A milk wagon pulled by a white horse delivered fresh milk daily in the summer, but my grandmother had to plan carefully to ensure they brought such things as enough toilet paper for the summer.  She cooked on a wood stove.  It was the job of my mother and aunt to clean the smoky lantern chimneys each week. 

One photo shows the family in the autumn of 1925 on the sand in front of the house.  The aunts are still alive—one who was an artist, the other who ran a business school in Portland—my grandmother and her parents, “Nan” and “Bomp,” my aunt is a little girl, my mother still a baby in arms, and there is a cousin, but I don’t know his name.  My mother never cared much for that side of the family.  She said they dumped their children off for my grandmother to care for during the summer and were ungenerous in paying their share of the costs of toilet paper.

When the great grand aunts died, my grandfather, the youngest of the family, was granted the beach house while his sister got the money and his older brother took the West Hills house.  This was the only branch of my family “with money.”  By the time my mother was approaching high school, her parents had separated, my grandmother was working in a shipping office to support her daughters, and the beach summers ended. 

My mother said those summers were the best of her life, that they must have been hard on her mother with no electricity, running water, or bathrooms, but for her sister and herself they were wild, blissful times.  They played a game walking all the way south to the creek on drift logs without touching “poisonous” sand. 

Today that game would be played differently. The logs are mostly gone and so is the sand.*    

Even in the summer when sand washes in, the rocks are never completely covered as they still were by August thirty years ago when my husband and I moved to the beach.  Autumn tides pull the sand offshore into bars, spring tides push the sand back onshore.  I studied this in an Oceanography class at the UW.  And for years we watched this push and pull of sand during the seasons.  By late summer the sand was all the way up to the vegetation line, by spring the dark rocks underneath are exposed, leaving a thirty foot band.  The dark rocky strip grew wider and wider.  And then in the winter of 1998/99 the sand moved far out and the rocks made a ridge along our shore that has not been covered since.  This has been noted in many places on the coast. 

There are many theories about this shift in the sand.  The jetty up north of us may have changed the currents.  Perhaps this is part of a natural shift of sand which has now gathered someplace else.  North of Cannon Beach a development built on dunes struggles to keep a steady accumulation of sand from burying ground floor patios and decking.  The sand has moved elsewhere or some manmade structures have caused the shift or even interfered with the creation of new sand.  There are other theories.  I can’t say what I believe.  No one seems certain why it's happening.  Only, I have this photograph taken in 1925 of my family, all dead now, bundled up against the cold, sitting on sand that doesn’t exist anymore. 

I have another undated photograph of my grandmother—taken before the Great War?—hiking on a Mount Hood glacier.  She wears bulky leather boots, carries a staff in her hand, and is smiling.  She’d belonged to some sort of club.  Probably my grandfather took the photo, perhaps before they married.  I don’t know exactly where she’s hiking, but I probably couldn't find the place today.  The glaciers on Mount Hood are melting, like glaciers other places in the world.  In my lifetime I may see my family house swept away by a tsunami, or by rising sea levels. 

The world changes.  Whether we cause the change or are only subject to that change, the earth goes on with or without us.  

The earth isn't here to serve us.  I don't believe the earth owes us a thing.  If we abuse or damage our home, we are the ones to suffer.  Like the ocean itself, the earth is not malevolent, it is indifferent.  I am a passing visitor here.  

This is why I’m grateful every morning for the hard, wet sand that provides a stable, cushioned surface for my beach run, for the ocean and the dawning light, the birds, and the cool wet air. 

*Logging companies take better care of their valuable logs and summer visitors burn everything they can carry, roll, or set a fire next to and then fail to tend their fires.  A man staying in the rental next door to us built an eight-foot driftwood ziggurat this June and in a couple of hours had burned all the beach fuel for the summer.  He didn’t even stay till it burned down.  Five full-time residents cautioned him about the danger of such a huge fire, but it was his vacation and the rules of common sense and courtesy simply don’t apply to us when we’re on vacation.  Locals wished we knew where he lived so we could build a stack of wood eight feet high fifty feet from his house and set it ablaze.  

In the spring of 2015, the sand came back. Sweet glory!

03 October 2009


Here is Precious and two of her sisters at 8 weeks.  I am shamelessly indulging my puppy-lust.  We hope to breed Yeti next year. I'm getting over a cold and will blame my poor judgement in posting photos on that.  

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