April 26, 2004
The Other Side of Oregon
Cape Lookout is a long, bony finger pointing west and a little south into the Pacific Ocean. The leading edge of the upper plate in a subduction zone, it rises some 300ft straight out of the ocean and bares the geologic stories of many ages in basalt and sandstone. A coastal temperate rainforest grows on its northern slopes, the skeletons of many-limbed crucifixes silhouetted through sun-streaked fog. At its base claws the unsleeping sea.
Some friends from Shellback kayak club—Sam, Jon, Sandy, and I—launch through toothy white surf, the gatekeeper of the ocean, Jon calls it, and into a dynamic world few ever experience.
The reported 5’swell rolls by, dwarfing Sandy in his kayak. Sea feet somehow appear much, much bigger than statute feet. The swell moves on to smash at the base of an offshore rock and send a blanket of white into the air. The water all around is bumpy, unpredictable, ever moving. As if someone were shaking the carpet beneath, but from several directions at once. Foam and sea birds dot the surface.
As we round Cape Lookout’s fingertip, the gray tail of a whale signals high out of the water, like a giant open palm raised in greeting or farewell. It slips gently below the surface. A column of spray shoots skyward, and the barnacled head of another gray whale surfaces for a breath.
South is the Caribbean side of Cape Lookout, sheltered today from direct wave impact. Swells rise and pour off the cliff base where rock is lined with colorful life. Purple and orange sea stars suction themselves to the wall and to each other like haphazard, animated tiles. Tasseled brown kelp grows on rigid, footlong stalks. Six-inch green anemonies bloom prolifically. Anemonies are animals, but their green color comes from tiny plants that live within their cells, bartering photosynthesis work for shelter. Deep inside sea caves, the anemonies are pale.
Our insignificance is magnified inside the giant granddaddy of sea caves, where wave energy ricochets and feeds a rumbling blowhole. Red footed guillemots perched in an overhead crevice whirr like party favors above the gastric churning.
Ah, the dreams we hatched and promises we made to come back to this place as we cruised along the sun warmed, sea bathed wall of life, and ventured into black depths of narrow, unnamed caves, and wove through rock gardens, timing wave surges for rides over little waterfalls. Perhaps the sea will remember even if we in our tragic busy-ness forget.
For photos, see http://www.cse.ogi.edu/~walpole/Lookout2.html