28 January 2007

A Devil of a Time on the Coast

On Friday evening, I headed up the road to Portland to celebrate my cousin's birthday. After my obligatory trip to Powell's the next morning, I decided to take the scenic route back to Eugene and drove out to the coast. You couldn't ask for a better day to take a trip to the Oregon Coast. It was windy enough to throw up some fairly impressive surf and the tide was particularly low, always a plus if you like tidepooling or beachcombing. Most importantly, it was bizarrely sunny and warm: 65 degrees according to a bank reader board in Newport (though a second sign in the same town said it was 18 below). I decided to spend most of the afternoon at the beaches below Cape Perpetua, one of the more imposing headlands along the central coast. It turned out to be well worth it, largely because of the Devil's Churn. The Devil's Churn is a surge channel, one of the wave-cut fissures that crop up all along the coast and often make for spectacular interplays between water and rock. I've seen my share of surge channels (during my summer of fieldwork on Tatoosh Island, we had to leap a pretty good-sized one almost every day), but this one is unique. Though it's fairly normal in terms of depth, it is both extremely long and extremely narrow (just a few feet wide in places). Because the Devil's Churn is so long, it runs far up into a ravine on the face of the cape, and because it is so narrow, it channels a massive amount of tidal energy into a roiling, frothing maelstrom (hence its name). Even on a warm, sunny day conducive to cheerfulness, it's a creepy place. It's perpetually in shade, the walls of the ravine are continuously dripping with water, and the rocks around the edges form weird, sharp-edged figures. Perhaps uncanniest of all is the sound of it: when a large surge hits the channel, it runs up to the end and smashes into it with an audible crash. This is pretty normal for a surge channel, but because of the sheer ravine walls on either side, the noise echoes around impressively with a sound like a kettle drum; you can actually feel the concussion. My point here is that if you're looking for a taste of the sublime (in the literal sense of the word) and you happen to be in the vicinity of Florence, Oregon, this is one you shouldn't miss. For those of you with less of a taste for such things, I can vouch for the rest of the beaches around there being very nice on a sunny day. Either way, it's worth the trip; so, dear readers, when are you coming to visit?

No comments: