Risky Business on the Oregon Coast

How large a role will risk taking play as we work toward a more sustainable now?

Panorama of Astoria

On May 28th 2014, we hopped on the bus eager to spend the day exploring Astoria and Cannon Beach. Though the rain came down most of the drive, we sung for sunshine and arrived in the old fishing town of Astoria just as the skies cleared. During this day trip along the Oregon Coast, we visited Astoria and Cannon Beach, both quaint sites that gave us a nice break from the city of Portland. Traditionally, the Oregon Coast is regarded as having three distinct sub-regions, each with its own local features and regional history. Risk taking has been a strong theme throughout our Cascadian journey, and our day trip to the Oregon Coast was no exception. Three primary examples stood out for us; a young entrepreneur’s leap of foodie faith, the local resident’s daring decision to live along an active fault line, and our own craziness in ocean dipping.

Cascadian Rainbow

Our first stop was the Astoria Column, where we climbed 164 steps up the historic tower that overlooked the dangerous Columbia River Bay. After a collective bout of dizziness, we found solid ground and busted rhymes like nobody’s business (see below for our rap) to orientate our friends with the Oregon Coast. Founded by John Jacob Astor (who never even visited the town!) in 1811, Astoria was the first fort west of the Rocky Mountains and was also the prime fur trading post in the Northwest. Skipping ahead a few decades, this port soon became a thriving fishing village. However, as recessions began to rock more than just the fishing boats, nearby towns turned to tourism to keep them afloat. One man, Chris Holen, played a great role in the revitalization of this tiny coastal town. Like many of us, Chris struggled to find his true path after formal education. Spurred by a string of epiphanies, he eventually pursued his culinary passion that led him to establish multiple restaurants in Astoria. His small seafood empire began when Chris and his wife were driving through the (once) underwhelming town and made a split decision to buy an old café. Soon after, the newly wed couple moved in and worked continuously to realize their dream. Fast-forward to 2014 and their restaurant, The Baked Alaska, is a nationally renowned sustainable seafood establishment. If it were not for their fearless optimism, we would not have tasted the succulent salmonberry salmon and mouthwatering Baked Alaska dessert.

Silence came over the table when the food arrived.

The Baked Alaska

With our bellies full, we walked along the sandy beach to meet Pat Corcoran. Witty and ever practical, Pat affirmed the inevitability of a Cascadian mega thrust earthquake. Although many of us are aware of the risks we take in coastal living on an active fault line, we are not taking serious measures to lessen the impact when the Big One hits. This risk is unlike any others, one that will impact the majority of us and result in major change if we do not take immediate action. Though destructive, the threat of an earthquake and tsunami can be an agent of positive social change. Motivating us to build more resilient communities along the coast, the question of when (not if!) can catalyze a movement toward a more sustainable future that appropriately evaluates risk. Many of the unnecessary risks that Cannon Beach residents are taking, can be applied to folks in Victoria. For example, Pat mentioned that the 1-5 highway would likely be impassable, rendering them isolated from immediate outside help. The same can be said for Victoria, as we would be left to fend for ourselves in the time of crisis. With local food in short supply and a poorly communicated evacuation plan, we need to collectively think ahead and plan for this disaster.

Chatting with Pat

Our final risk of the day came via a brisk dip in the Pacific Ocean. So many of the stories we’ve listened to on this trip have been about taking that jump into the unknown with nothing but passion and a slice of zaniness. We are all capable of making great change, we just need to take the risk and trust that through perseverance we can achieve our dreams. A group of us took this to heart by diving into the cold waters, but all 20 of us took an even bigger leap of faith when we decided to join this field school in the first place. Bound by nothing but a desire for a more sustainable future and the love for geography, we embarked on a month long journey with strangers. We are now a tight knit group who are beginning to recognize the risks and rewards that come with sustainable living.

Cold but happy!

Each of the three experiences we’ve highlighted begs for us to look at how risk taking impacts the course of our individual and collective future. By accepting momentary discomfort, we can make greater change at an unprecedented level. From numbing our bodies with the Pacific’s cruel waters to evaluating desire over practicality in the face of a tsunami, we are partaking in risks each day. Drawing the line between adventure and risk is like building a wall out of water. You can’t be sure of the outcome, but the fear/excitement in getting there quickly overrides that first step.

- Written by Caroline Eisler, Temily McCutcheon and Lauryn Zosiak


Cascadia Remix of Fresh Prince:

Now, this is ‘Astoria’ all about how

This coast got flipped-turned upside down

And we’d like to take a minute, just sit right there

We’ll tell you how this little town came to the States care.


On the Oregon Coast, sitka and firs,

inhabited by folks who were here first.

Fishin and hunting, carving out tools

and creating their culture with no colonized rules.

When a guy named Astor, who was up to no good

started making trouble in this neighbourhood

They got in a couple big fights and the chief got scared

He said “these strangers hold no muther-flippin care”


They fought and they stood each and every day

But the British packed their homes and sent them on their way

They gave them some pity through a small treaty

As you all know this deal was pretty seedy.


British class, yo they live well

Trading furs with the east and using the swell

Is this what colonized livin’ is like?

Hmm, this might be alright.


But wait, I hear they’re unfair, bourgeois and all that

Is this the type of place we should be studying at?

I don’t think so, you all know that there’s more

Let’s explore this town and see what’s in store.


Well, uh, history went on and this town grew

Filmed were a couple of movies like the Goonies and Free Willy two

There’s some seafood and parks, transport too

though that last one, well it’s a little new.


But this is only half, we still have Cannon Beach

A few k’s away, just out of our reach.

We’ll jump in a bus and when we come near

we’ll breathe fresh salty air and then get a bit scared

Why you ask? Well an earthquake ain’t far

But we’ll think, nah forget it, lets go to the bar!


This is our rap and that is our day

We’ll soon yell to Cam, “Yo homes, thanks by the way”

Look at Cascadia, we are finally here

To reconnect with this coast and then share a beer.


(end of rap)




Astoria, OR
United States


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