2013 Field School Oregon Coast

On the first day we arrived on the Oregon Coast after a full on city experience in Portland. Everyone was looking forward to some down time and with any luck, some relaxing on the beach. Little did we know the beach would be much wetter and windier than we could ever expect. The first stop was Astoria for the Public Market was filled with local vendors selling their wares: birdhouses, freshly caught fish, veggies, wine, and the amazing cigar box guitars, which Alec could not resist.


The town of Astoria was this interesting combination of historical buildings that have retired from their original use, and repurposed to little shops, cafes, restaurants, and tourist-friendly places keeping their decorative facades. A town that was once a booming economic hub for the fishing and logging industry looked lively from the picnic table we sat to eat our salmon chowders and chick-pea curries.
After lunch we arrived at the Seaside International Hostel and Trung, our lovely Vietnamese host greeted us along with her apprentice Levi who turned out to be a fantastic vegetarian chef. A few of us took advantage of the break in the clouds to rent a 9-person bicycle and cruise around to see how Seaside is laid out and get a sense of this little town. We walked into town on the beach and were blown away by the wind on the beach and finished off the day in Seaside Brewing.

The next day we were greeted by Art as we enjoyed Trung and Levi's amazing breakfast, and he took us to Cannon Beach to visit Haystack Rock in Ecola State Park just south of the city. We went here with Cam's former professor Art to look at some wildlife and enjoy the beach. It was rainy and cold, which seems bad for a day on the beach, but we were so accustomed to it by this point of the trip that we were bright-eyed and bushy tailed ready for a great day. We hopped on the bus and travelled down to Cannon Beach. We were greeted by 50mph winds, and freezing horizontal rain, however the adventurous bones in our bodies told us to keep pushing forward.

We walked down the beach with rain sand and cold ocean air whipping our face to the point of pain to Haystack Rock. Here were welcomed by the Adele the wildlife naturalist for the beach that taught people about the area, she was just about to leave but saw some hooligans attempting to walk down the beach so waited for us to come to tell us a little about the rock and the Puffins and Seagulls that inhabited it, as well as the other animals in the area. After learning about that, seeing Alex fall into the ocean with his full rain gear on, everyone soaked literally from head to toe, Cam, Iain, and Alex decided to go for a swim. The others just watched and laughed but realistically they were just as wet as them.

This goes to show how no matter the weather on the trip was we always had a good attitude. Positivity was very important especially once we got to Seaside we had had rain for weeks. For those of us who faced the Cascadian weather and it reminded us of what would be to come as climate change approaches - more stormy weather, more rain and winds. We considered how this change will affect the similar climates of Cascadia down the coast including us in Victoria.

After our windswept adventure visiting Haystack Rock – and a quick hostel stop over for some dry clothes – we hopped on our Eco-bus to learn more about salmon restoration and explore Thompson Creek and Stanley Marsh. On the drive up it was obvious the natural landscape was in ill health as the hills were blanketed with scotch broom and other invasive species.

All along the Oregon Coast native populations of salmon have dramatically declined and it is a huge challenge to restore fish populations and improve water quality in rivers and streams. Our guest speaker, Art, led us on a guided field trip and bus tour to the site he had been working on to restore salmon populations. We learnt that the Stanley marsh plays an important role in the ecosystem as it is the holding area for young salmon trying to migrate to intertidal areas.

The Oregon silver spot butterfly thrives in the early sucessional coastal prairie habitat. This unique plant community of low, open grassland formed through fires, salt spray, and other factors which discourage tree growth. With the suppression of fires, shrubs are begging to encroach on the areas open grasslands. We leant that the early blue violet is a crucial plant in these areas as the leaves are the primary food for the caterpillars that transform into the critically endangered silver spot butterfly.

There is a restoration project currently in place that aims to re-establish the butterfly – which also relies on the blue violet for nectar – through halting succession and preventing the growth of shrubs and trees. We thought this restoration effort was comparable to the conservation of Garry Oak ecosystems back in Victoria. It provoked an interesting discussion around imposing human values onto nature in order to protect rare ecosystems. Is halting a natural process really what is best for the environment? Whether humans are involved or not, ecosystems are always changing. Every goal for ecological restoration is based on a value judgment, and it is important to think critically whether it is in the best interest of the ecosystem.

That evening we had a visit from Pat Corcoran from the University of Oregon to discuss the Cascadian commonality of earthquake unpreparedness. Seaside, Oregon as we said during our presentation is the most susceptible city on the Oregon Coast to a tsunami. When Pat Corcoran presented his knowledge and expertise on the subject of earthquakes and tsunamis he both informed and scared us. He has been living on the Oregon Coast for many years, and has been vigilantly working towards educating people about the hazards a tsunami can create and helping people prepare for disaster.
The large earthquake that is supposed to happen in the Pacific Northwest’s fault lines along the Ring of Fire: 8-9 magnitude – has happened approximately every 250 years for the last 10,000 years of human existence. The last time a dramatic event similar to this happened was 313 years ago, and it is clear that we are expecting to get the earthquake soon; he says the chances are 1 in 3 over the next 50 years. Pat says we are slowly working towards learning that the event could take place soon, and we are learning that there are ways to mitigate and adapt.
Pat Corcoran has spent a lot of time teaching students and businesses about the possibility of the event. He has gone around to businesses and asked the employers to teach their workers what to do in the case of a tsunami/earthquake emergency. He has also prepared students and teachers like ourselves on what we can do such as: create a tsunami evacuation map or download the app, save yourself, make a meeting place for your family and teach your family and friends. The three main points he emphasized was to expect that it will happen, know the difference between local events and distant ones that are acknowledged by sirens, and make a plan to connect with loved ones but save yourself in an emergency situation - do not go back.

The next day we set off in our Eco-bus to Astoria. We delved into the mysterious weather and extremely rough seas at the Maritime Museum - it was clear the Columbia River has been a hurtle in to set up a commercial port and maintain industry. The Columbia was so rough in fact the Port was moved to Vancouver to avoid the abundance of 2000 vessels lost in the Graveyard of the Pacific. Astoria is one of many towns on the coast to shift from a booming fishing and forestry economy that brought canneries and saw mills to a downswing after the war. More recently, there has been slow growth towards tourism, taking advantage of the beautiful architecture and passionate coastal community to host global travellers. However, the tourism jobs have not been able to provide family-sized incomes in the same way the past industries have. But this downturn in jobs has not stopped Chris at the Baked Alaska to reach for his dreams. After our tour of the Maritime Museum we walked over to the Baked Alaska for some lunch. The group was very hungry and excited to sit down to a nice meal. We were greeted at the door and guided to a huge table set for each one of us that overlooked the beautiful Columbia River.

The restaurant was established by Chef Christopher Holen and is known for its quality food and sustainable ingredients. He came in to speak with us just as we received our flaming ice cream cookies –a desert named Baked Alaska which inspired the restaurant’s name – and told us the story of how his business came to be. Born and raised in Alaska, he took his passion for cooking and went on to sell food out of his van at music festivals. Years later on honeymoon driving through Astoria impulsively purchased a cafe for sale which grew into the successful restaurant.

The building is renovated with mostly re-claimed materials and the menu is known for its natural and hand-picked ingredients. The fish and seafood served is also wild and local. This is better for the environment and means better quality fish which brings in more business and allows for money to be put back into the local community.

After lunch we went to Fort Clatsop to watch an educational video about the Lewis and Clark expedition from the perspective of the Clatsop and Nehalem indigenous peoples. What we did not know was we would meet the stars of the film - the Basch family.That evening we were all looking forward to the visit from the family. We listened to Richard, Roberta and their daughter Charlotte around the campfire speak about their challenges as an indigenous family in the North Coast of Oregon. Many of us thought it was astounding that they are able to keep strong as a community despite being labeled as an extinct nation.

Roberta spoke of the desperate need to confront the all-too-common denial and ignorance around protecting the environment from the effects of climate change and the influx invasive species, and how they affect the rest of the native plants in an ecosystem. One element they emphasized was the need for community involvement and support for restoration projects in Seaside. Roberta was very concerned about people's lost connections with the elements despite all of us being completely dependent on them no matter how far removed we may feel from nature. Someone must speak for the plants and trees, she said. And people have not been educated about their natural environment and their impacts. One clear example of this was from Charlotte at her summer job in the Aquarium when a child brought a crab in from the beach convinced the crab was being saved and belonged within the walls of the building and not out in nature. We were also inspired by their energy and dedication; their community is often called upon to stand up against natural gas fracking, and they always respond as representatives of all humans who should feel strongly about these detrimental activities against the earth. Roberta also spoke of knowledge sharing, and when it is appropriate to share certain knowledge depending on the type of person who hopes to absorb the information. She described words for two types of people and their motivations: (spelling is interpreted)
Ce'ab (See-ahb) were those thinkers with good hearts and intentions
Mema'an (Mee-ma-un) were those who are not conscientious and care more about money than values. These are the people doing the fracking, those who will not feel the damage because they hold the power in a distant place. Roberta felt as though the Ce'ab are those who can appropriately utilize information gained by indigenous peoples about the knowledge passed down generations of the Clatsop-Nehalem community, including medicinal plants and wild harvesting areas in the North Coast.

Richard told this wonderful story of the grandmothers he worked for as a teacher to the children on the reservation, and was paid with the profits from the local smoke shop. The grandmothers wanted the children to experience life and make decisions with good values. We were reminded of the importance of considering what the impacts our actions will have on the 7th generation, and the benefits as well.

Our visit with the Basch's reminded us of the importance of telling stories to share ideas and values. I hope we remember this when we are back in Victoria and people ask us how the trip went, we can respond with a series of inspirational stories about the people we met and places we visited, with the hope of activating passion in our coastal community.


Seaside, OR
United States


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