Our trip to the Oregon Coast was reinvigorating to say the least; the overall consensus of our trip to the coast was that it was well-timed downtime, was great to get out of the city, and be able to decompress for a few days. As we wound the coastline on our way to Seaside, looking around at the group on the bus (aside from the few green faces), you could see the big city tension melting away. It was a well-needed rest that allowed us to study and focus on the goals of our field school, as well as gain a new perspective of the region of Cascadia.
Being able to walk the beaches of Seaside and Cannon Beach, and experiencing the dense natural foliage of the Oregon coast was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air for all. As our trip thus far has been city-oriented for the most part, having a few days in a seemingly more “natural” part of Oregon was inspiring. On our way to the coast we asked the group to come up with Haikus of how they imagined the Coast to be; some of the Haikus we came up with included:
sleepy sands slide south with us
listen for their song
After leaving the coast, our Haikus seemed to really emanate how we felt about the area, all its beauty, and its naturalness.
One might consider two days in the pacific-straddled town of Seaside to be a curious stop for a field school oriented on urban sustainability. To put it in terms a Vancouver-Islander might better understand, it felt like we were traveling to Tofino for a weekend after finishing a week of hard work in Vancouver. In fact, the wind-gnarled trees, expanses of prime, sand covered beach and rolling, wildgrass dunes might have been exactly what we needed after two weeks of constant and rapid sensory stimulation.
Seaside itself is a relaxed little town, resting on a stretch of coastline that veritably calls out to be used for surfing, swimming, beach fires and dog walking. Our hostel was as laid-back as one would expect, with friendly, unhurried proprietors and a common room filled with wrinkled couches and well-loved instruments. The fire pit on the back lawn was well-utilized by our group of tired students, who relished the opportunity for an evening just sitting and talking. We would like to extend a big thank you to the owners of our hostel, who graciously allowed our group to use the canoes and kayaks to take a paddle down the river.
Likewise, well taken advantage of were our trips to the famous Cannon Beach, home of the worlds third largest free-standing monolith, and the free time we had to explore the more natural vistas Seaside had to offer for urban-worn visitors.
On our second and last evening, many of us enjoyed watching the massive sun scatter purple, orange and yellow flame across the semi-clouded sky as it dropped down beneath the waters of the pacific.
Several of us stripped down on the mist-shrouded beach and rushed headlong into the waves, a moment that had nothing to do with urbanity but everything to do with sustainability – finding the most amazing moments don’t require a computer or a television, just your friends and earth.
During our visit to the Astoria Maritime Museum, we all were drawn to the special exibit of historical maps of the area, and of the world. The stunning cartography had us all captivated.
CASCADIA AS ... ?
As we have been traveling down the Pacific Northwest Coast, one of our main focuses other than understanding sustainability has been trying to define the region, and observe whether “Cascadia” as a region exists. If it does, why so? What defines it as unique from our neighbouring regions? The past few days on the Oregon Coast have revealed some patterns that might contribute to our perception of Cascadia as a distinct region.
CASCADIA AS ... FOOD REGION
One theme explored during this portion of the trip was food. We visited the Oregon State University Seafood Research and Education Centre, and the Baked Alaska Restaurant in Astoria to hear about sustainable seafood initiatives.
Imagine America as defined by food styles, dishes, and food regions. New Orleans is defined by a Cajun/Creole food style, and Texas can be thought of as having unique BBQ dishes. Perhaps the Pacific Northwest does not have a specific food style or dish that defines us from other regions. But, what we do have is ingredients. Fresh salmon and wild fish, shrimp, oysters, muscles, and a climate that permits food growing year-round – vegetables, fruit, and wild mushrooms... In this sense, Cascadia can be imagined as a food community where we have access to similar fresh and local food.
Chef Chris Holen of Baked Alaska emphasized the fortune of living in this amazing food region, which according to him holds some of the most delectable and abundant food resources. He also talked about his commitment to finding opportunities to use every single part of a resource. One dish we ate was a wonderful salmon filet served in a salmon broth. Chef Holen mentioned that salmon broths were a rare thing to be made, but in his view, everything should be used. The end result was a incredibly flavourful and colourful salmon soup that everyone enjoyed!
Check out the Baked Alaska website: http://www.bakedak.com/home.aspx
CASCADIA AS ... SHARED HISTORICAL NARRATIVES
We got a taste of the region’s history during our afternoon at Fort Clatsop. The Fort was built by explorers Lewis and Clark during their expedition to find a northwest passage in the early 1800s. What was interesting about our tour was that we heard the story of Lewis and Clarke’s Western settlement as told by members of the local Clatsop First Nations. During the winter Lewis and Clark spent in Fort Clatsop, the local First Nations were good neighbours, acting as important traders and allies to the explorers, particularly in helping to understand where local resources could be found, and how they could be used.
Fun Fact: Fort Clatsop is the smallest structure in North America to be designated as a fort.
Although the Pacific northwest region is home to many different First Nations, we have observed a common narrative of colonization and persisting First Nations struggles througout our field studies. But, as was said in a film we watched, a young Clatsop woman reminded us “We are still here”. History goes beyond exploration and western settlement. We should celebrate this history. We should also respect First Nations presence and the knowledge that was given and is still being given to us by the Coastal First Nations.
CASCADIA AS ... TSUNAMI HAZARD ZONE
“Physcial processes are only hazards when people get in the way” - Patrick Corcoran
Another way the region was defined is through its vulnerability as a coastal zone. A region can be defined through similarities, but a unifying external threat can also act to strengthen a sense of communality within a region. We spent an evening with Patrick Corcoran of Oregon State University talking about the ‘Geography of Preparedness’. Not only did he expose us to the uncomfortable reality of an impending earthquake/tsunami, but he also discussed with us some of the barriers that the Northwest region faces in terms of emergency preparedness in such an event. One of the major barriers mentioned was the mental or psychological challenges that are connected to ‘non-immediate’ threats. It is a difficult idea to come to terms with for Cascadians – that our homes and lives are so vulnerable to the forces of nature. But rather than trying to ignore the fact that this vulnerability exists, Patrick emphasized the need to educate and spread knowledge of the simple methods to increase our resilience during a natural disaster. Learn your high ground, learn your escape plan, practice your escape plan, and talk openly with others about an emergency plan.
After the talk, many of us went out and got “educational tsunami shirts”. Check out Grant’s new sweater:
All of us will be more aware in the future, looking for high ground wherever we go. We have developed shared sense of awareness that we will all be bringing back to Victoria and our other coastal homes. Thanks Patrick!