Monday, April 8, 2013

The Neskowin Ghost Forest
By Michael

I feel compelled to note that my previous post was in the spirit of the holiday, April Fools Day. I think it was obvious to readers of sailing magazines and books that I was having fun, painting caricatures of the personalities that are so well-known to many of us: Nigel Calder, Fatty Goodlander, Beth Leonard, and Lin and Larry Pardey. But it must have seemed odd to everyone not acquainted with these folks--now you know. And if you want more, check out last year’s April 1 post.
Now back to our serious programming.

Eleanor resting at the top of a bluff she
reached after climbing up a 250-foot dune.
See that coat next to her? Yep, she left it
right there and had to climb that dune
a second time to get it.
This past summer and fall, en route from Mexico to Canada, we stopped at 14 ports and anchorages between San Diego and San Francisco (mostly to visit with family and friends). North of San Francisco, we made one more stop in California (Eureka) and then only one stop on the entire Oregon-Washington outside coast (Astoria). It's not that we don't have as many friends north (we don't), it's that this stretch is comparatively desolate, with few ports or anchorages.

But we sailed (mostly motored) almost always in sight of this wild coast. Neither of us has spent time here and we wondered--even aloud--about its magnificence. I reasoned it would resemble the rugged beaches of Big Sur I know well. Windy figured it would remind her of cold, windy days she's spent on the beaches of Humboldt County.

A couple weeks ago we hopped on the ferry and rented a car and drove down there to visit friends who were staying about an hour north of the small Oregon seaside community of Newport. I knew we'd hit the good breweries nearby and discover the beaches we'd sailed past. None of us expected to see ghosts...

Windy just told her that it is
often said that there are as
many stars in the universe
as there are grains of sand
on all the worlds' beaches.
This idea didn't sit well
with Frances--she's not
a believer.
The forest is just a few miles north of a giant sea stack called Proposal Rock, in a town called Neskowin (pop. 170). It’s not a forest like one you may imagine on the Oregon coast, mostly because it is really on the coast—in the water actually. And forget leaves and branches and birds and shade, this is a ghost forest, made up of ancient Sitka spruce trees—that aren’t there. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Until 1998, these trees were the stuff of rural legend, of stories told and re-told. Generations of residents in the area spoke of a forest of massive stumps that appeared in the surf every 20 or 30 years before quickly disappearing. Then, some of the largest winter storm waves ever recorded on the Oregon coast hit at the end of 1998. When that storm season ended, the newly eroded beachscape featured a ghost forest for all to see: about 200 massive stumps stood in the surf, rooted where they’ve been mostly hidden for sixteen centuries.
It’s thought that these trees were casualties of a major subsidence event (this is where the ground level drops suddenly to fill a void beneath), sparked by a massive quake along the Cascadia fault line around 400 AD. The trees quickly died and rotted away—except for the root structure and 6-7 feet of trunk. This part of the trees was preserved in the dense sand that covered them up soon after (in fact, the nutrient-rich forest floor the trees grew in is preserved beneath the sand too).

But whereas before the sand had always returned--carried ashore by the prevailing summer currents--to cover the exposed stumps, after 1998 the stumps remained exposed. For the first time in 1,600 years, the stumps are weathering 15 years of continuous exposure, deteriorating in the elements. They are covered in barnacles, pounded by the relentless surf and tide. Scientists aren’t sure why, only that this period of exposure is unique. The leading hypothesis is our changing climate.

This is it, a portion of the Neskowin Ghost Forest. Not
a lot of surfers around.

1 comment:

  1. When i saw them , at first glance it it seemed to me somewhat like old, ragged pilings like man made but i was really surprised when i came to know they were stumps of a forest some 1000 to 2000 years.


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