Last week, I hiked Newport’s new tsunami interpretive trail that leads from the Hatfield Marine Science Center to what is being called “Safe Haven Hill,” a little rise that has been designated as the gathering place in case of a tsunami for people who live and work along the south shore of Yaquina Bay. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I enjoyed an easy walk along a paved path with informational signs that talked about tsunamis and let walkers know how many minutes they were from higher ground. I passed the boat launch, the RV park, and the marina, where folks were setting up tents for next weekend’s seafood and wine festival. I passed the Rogue Brewery, a bus stop shelter, sinks where two men were cleaning fish, and old concrete restrooms. I followed the signs south to the foot of the bridge and then I . . . got lost. Where was the sign to tell me where to go next? What if the tsunami came now while I was trying to figure out the map? My walk had brought me closer to the beach, not farther away.
I climbed up the steps to the bridge, climbed back down, walked under the bridge, climbed up the other side, climbed back down, drove south and parked near a hill I had climbed before, and climbed it again. There’s an old cemetery up there, but I don’t think that’s Safe Haven Hill. It’s a rugged climb, and it would be crowded with 10 people. Where would they put the hundreds, maybe thousands of people coming out of Hatfield, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration complex, the marina, the RV park and the brewery, all of which would be in the path of a tsunami? Maybe it was the hill across the exit ramp, all sandy and smooth, with a no-trespassing barrier and a sign that proclaimed it the property of the Oregon Transportation Department. A recent article at News Lincoln County clears up some of the mystery. Folks are still working on creating a smooth trail up the hill on the north end and a gravel road on the south side.
Fortunately, the people who work in the zone have practiced this walk, and if the earth starts shaking, they will know exactly where to go. I just hope when they get up there, stranded for hours on a hill while the water goes crazy below, there’s a restroom and maybe something to drink. I don’t live in the tsunami zone, but who knows where I might be when it hits?
People are thinking a lot about tsunamis here on the Oregon Coast these days. It’s hard to miss the blue and white signs along the highway that let one know one is entering or leaving a tsunami hazard zone. Signs at our state parks alert beachgoers to carefully collect and bag debris washed up on the sand from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan, reporting anything too big to put in a bag. Mostly what we see is bits of foam rubber and the occasional plastic bottle, but we have had a massive dock arrive at Agate Beach, and about two weeks ago, a barnacle-covered fishing boat washed up on the Salishan spit near Lincoln City. So tsunamis are on our minds.
I walked the trail at 11 a.m. on a sunny day. What if the tsunami hits at night during one of our frequent storms? What if the power is out and all those lovely lights along the way are dark? I guess that’s why people practice heading to higher ground. Tee shirts available in local gift shops say “Tsunami evacuation plan: run like hell.” That’s pretty much the drill. First, during the earthquake that is likely to precede the tsunami, duck and cover. When the earth stops shaking, go immediately to higher ground. Do not stop to gather your things or wait for an official warning. If it’s a 9.0 or bigger quake close to shore, you will only have 15 to 20 minutes before the tsunami hits. You can find tsunami evacuation maps and other information at http://www.oregongeology.org/pubs/tsubrochures/NewportEvac.pdf.
Let’s pray the tsunami never comes, but at least now I know where to start.
Last weekend, thousands of visitors invaded Newport for the 35th annual Seafood and Wine festival. Imagine being crammed in an oversized tent where the temperature is 40 degrees, everyone is drinking, and you can barely move. Fun! Like many locals, I usually stay away, but I appreciate the big boost it gives our local economy as festivalgoers pack our hotels, restaurants and shops.
Once upon a time, my husband Fred and I and our friends Larry and Jennifer Anderson were visitors, too. It was February 1996. The Andersons had already moved from San Jose to Bay City, up the coast just north of Tillamook. We agreed to meet in Lincoln City, taking rooms at the Ester Lee Motel on Friday night and driving down to the festival in Newport on Saturday.
Locals remember the winter of 1996 for its epic storms. We were not prepared. Oh yes, we brought some light waterproof jackets, but we must have figured this would be like Hawaii, where it rains but it’s not very cold. Uh, no. That first night, we ordered pizza and congregated in the Andersons’ room as the storm ramped up. Rain turned puddles into lakes in the parking lot as the window blew so hard we could see the our ocean-view windows bowing in and out. It took over an hour for the pizza delivery guy to get there, and he looked absolutely drowned. We tipped him ten dollars for his efforts and settled in with lots of wine. Surely in the morning, the weather would be better.
No again. Yes, the rain and wind had eased up. Now we had snow. It drifted down from the sky and piled up on the windowsills and on the sand. We decided against our planned walk on the beach. Even in our cozy suite with fireplace, kitchen, living room and bedroom, we were freezing. We had shivered all night. Instead of going to the beach, we drove to the outlet stores for warmer clothing. Then we piled into our car and drove to Newport.
I’ve never been much of a wine drinker, but Fred and our friends loved the stuff. In fact, Fred had started working part-time in a tasting room at a winery in San Jose, and he was building quite a collection of vintage reds. When we got to the festival, they dove in, despite being surprised at having to pay to taste. Wine-tasting was generally free in California. Here they wanted a dollar for a few drops in what looked like a Nyquil cup. But they drank and got happy while I searched out the seafood and Tillamook chocolate. This was a cultural experience, far different from the many outdoor art and wine festivals we had attended in the Bay Area, where you could sprawl on the grass in the sun with your wine and listen to live bluegrass or jazz.
After a few hours, I grew anxious to go someplace warm where I could move my arms without touching a stranger and regain feeling in my frozen toes. But oh, they were getting very happy. Finally, as the daylight waned, I convinced my group that it was time to go. They had tasted and talked and were ready for naps. “You drive,” they said. Was there a choice? I had not driven in snow before, and it was a good 45 minutes or windy two-lane roads back to the Ester Lee. Except for when I was cursing, I was holding my breath, hoping the tires wouldn’t slip.
We made it, stumbling into our rooms with our commemorative wine glasses. By morning, the snow had melted. Locals assured us this weather was a freak occurence. Six months later, Fred and I moved to Oregon.
White. Everything is white with snow that fell during the night. Unable to drink from her frozen water bowl, Annie vacuums up the snow. Her world is one giant snow cone. As I crunch along in my slippers, I look up and see blue sky with white etchings, the top of the Sitka spruce tipped with sunlight, the leafless branches of the red alders flocked with snow.
It has been a crazy-weather weekend. Just last Friday, I sat outside in the sun reading a book while Annie chewed on a branch fallen from the last wind storm. Saturday we had light rain, but the snow predictions seemed unrealistic. Sunday, I awoke to the sound of Annie barking at the hail banging on the skylights. But that soon stopped. In church, as we stood to go to Communion, I glanced out the window and saw snow falling. So beautiful and so worrisome. We all had to drive home. But by the time Mass ended, the snow was gone, everything merely wet.
The restless dog and I went walking, she just in her collar, I so bundled up I could barely move. Tiny flecks of hail fell around us, no big deal. It wasn’t until we turned back onto our street that the serious hail came, half-inch balls of ice pounding on our heads, gathering on my coat and Annie’s fur. “Hurry!” I urged, but the dog kept trying to dive under bushes instead of heading for the sure security of the house. When the hail stopped a few minutes later, the earth seemed to sigh as the pounding ceased.
Around 4:00, the snow finally came, thick, fluffy, some of the flakes looking like shreds of paper floating down onto deck, lawn and concrete. Staring at it made me dizzy, but I couldn’t look away. Annie stood beside me at the window, amazed. Beneath the arborvitae out front, two dark-feathered birds flittered around, pecking for bugs, undaunted.
For the rest of the night, the snow came and went, but this morning, everything was covered in smooth white, untracked until Annie started eating it. Our ratty patio furniture looked perfect, its nicks and rust-stains hidden in a coat of snow. Sunlight sparkled off the white surface, making everything glow. Ah, snow. Online, I read reports of cars sliding around, danger on the roads, homeless people gathering in a shelter at the fairgrounds, but here at home, all is safe and special today.
We first saw snow here in February 1996, when Fred and I drove up from California for the annual Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. Prepared for rain, we were surprised by the biting cold and had to go buy warmer clothing. Staying at the Ester Lee in Lincoln City, we awoke to snow on the window sills and on the beach. Does it snow here on the central Oregon coast, we wondered. We needed to know because we were already planning to move here. Oh no, people told us. This never happens. Snow on the beach? Nah.
Hah. Yes, it does. It’s the beach, but it’s also the Northwest. Nearly every year, it gets cold enough to snow, and if the rain comes at that time, it does snow right here on the beach and all around us. It’s icy, slippery, dangerous, and so pretty. Would we have moved here if we knew this? Probably. We wouldn’t have believed it. Just like Annie keeps putting her tongue on that frozen water, expecting to get a drink.