Beachcombers / by Akira Ohiso

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For the last few days, we have wandered the beach near our rental. The beach culture in the PNW is not the hedonistic sunbathing that you find at other summer vacations spots; vacationers wear sun hats and windbreakers, poke the smooth sand with walking sticks and relax in tents to cut the brisk winds.

Older folks enjoy retirement with their dogs and take long walks down the beach. Younger couples run, children follow the ebb and flow of the tide, screaming with delight when the foamy line almost touches their feet.

The surf is far out during low tide so you can walk for about a quarter of a mile before you reach water. First you traverse grassy dunes, then warm soft sand and finally wet smooth sand that shines from the uneven scalloped shapes of the tide.

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The kids find beached moon jellyfish, sand dollars and crabs. They try to save them with shovels,running them thoughtfully back to the surf. They use a metal detector, hoping to find buried treasures, but come up empty on a beach that doesn’t attract the Coppertone masses.

After a few days on the beach, we decide to leave the tsunami hazard zone and drive 13 miles north on 101 to Cannon Beach. Our hope is to get close to Haystack Rock.

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We are pleasantly surprised to pull up in a residential beach community, park the car on the side of the road and walk down a stairway directly to the beach. The unimpeded view of Haystack Rock is monolithic and austere.

It’s low tide so people are able to congregate around Haystack Rock and the surrounding tide pools that foster a fragile ecosystem of sea life. Signs inform visitors to protect the tide pools. I wonder about human fragility and our ability to protect ourselves.

Trauma is the uninhabitable parts of ourselves, the conceded land that we refuse to explore, yet preserve and protect against other humans. Bessel Van Der Kolk said, “Trauma constantly confronts us with our fragility and with man’s inhumanity to man but also with our extraordinary resilience.”

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I notice small white dots on the top of the largest rock, a white rim lining the mossy greens and gray brown basalt. These dots are mature Western Gulls, the most visible of bird life on Haystack Rock. I don’t see the Tufted Puffin, which is famous for mating on the formations away from predators. I learn that mating season is coming to an end.

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Gull keows pierce the clamor of visitors below. People on rental low-rider beach bikes zigzag through leaving bathetic tracks in the sand. Throngs face the formation compelled to moments of extended silence. I stand in solitary spots simply seeing what’s before me. To be in the presence of these natural formations is fleeting and timeless.

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We exit at the Tsunami Evacuation Route stairway and have a hearty lunch at Pelican Brewing Company just up the road. It’s still in the tsunami hazard zone, but I take my chances. I am starting to understand how locals think; you memorize where hazard zones end and safe zones begin.

Several Oregon schools have begun the process of relocating out of hazard zones. Many of the homes along the coast are not built to withstand a tsunami, but architects and engineers are starting to design tsunami-proof homes.

Still, conceding land to nature and moving to higher ground seems like the most logical choice. But, humans are often prone to illogical choices that lead to mortal outcomes.

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