Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pacific Ocean Breezes

We recently returned from a vacation to the Pacific Northwest, specifically, Olympic National Park, both Rainier and Mt. St. Helens volcanoes and Seattle. I took lots of photos, and it's hard to decide where to start. The ocean always puts me in a philosophic mood, so let's give it a go.
First, I know the Pacific Ocean is bigger than the Atlantic, and you wouldn't think that should make a difference in the kind of beach, but the beaches we saw are so much wilder feeling than those on the East Coast. For miles up and down the coast near Gray's Harbor, the beaches are huge. The sand extends for at least a quarter mile from the water's edge to the dunes where plants start growing, and they are hard packed enough that people treat them as roads. We expected to see lots of shore birds, but there were more crows than gulls or other birds walking around. We missed the northward migration of the shorebirds by about two weeks, and saw very few anywhere. The driftwood is enormous as well, usually big conifers that fell in the mountains somewhere, washed down a river and into the ocean, before washing up again on the beach. Even on a day with nice weather, the waves looked rough and dangerous. I'd be really intimidated by them on a stormy day in January.
The wind blows hard all the time onto the shore. Between the waves and the constant wind, erosion makes some dramatic scenes. Sea stacks are big rocks left in the ocean, when the rest of the shore has worn away. Birds use them for safe roosting, away from predators and humans. Eventually, they will wear away too. One stack is now three miles out into the water, but used to be part of the shoreline. I felt a real sense of time on this ocean, watching the cliffs and thinking how long it took for them to be worn back by tiny bits of sand in the never ending winds, helped by the ebb and flow of the tides.
Photos which appear to be out of focus are simply blurred by the sand in the air. The sand looked like flakes of gold as it filled in the sinuous patterns just out of reach of the waves. Sometimes the pattern was snake-like and sometimes it resembled a diamond-shape. I found myself pulling a hood up around my head to block the wind, while other beach goers wore shorts and tee-shirts. The Snowy Plover nests on the bare sand, and there are signs restricting access to those areas where this rare bird has been found.
Finally, once you get past all the sand, you find rocks which shelter small animals in tidal pools. but you must be careful climbing around on them. The surfaces are covered with small barnacles, while larger barnacles, mussels, anemones, sea stars and other invertebrates abound, whether the tide is in or out. We later learned there are no green anemones. The ones that look green harbor an algae that makes them look green, but they are all really white anemones. While we scanned for a path among the boulders, a shadow flashed by, and a juvenile eagle swooped down to capture a large fish, not 10 yards away from us, then returned to the cliffs to devour his lunch.
I love vacations. You get to see so many things you don't find at home.

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