At the Helm: Changes in the South Coast

By Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer November 11, 2011 08:49 pm

 

I awoke the other night to the sound of huge, crashing surf. The constant white noise slipped through the slightly open bedroom window and my first waking thought was, “Ah, winter is almost here.”

That morning, as I drove across the Chetco River bridge, I glanced down at the Port of Brookings Harbor and spied giant waves pummeling Sporthaven Beach. I made a U-turn and headed in that direction. I spent the next 20 minutes walking on the beach, a cup of hot cocoa in hand, inhaling the sharp, salty air and feeling the sand vibrate under my feet with each detonating wave.

It was glorious! And I wasn’t the only one basking in nature’s raw power. I spotted a woman sitting on a rock. She was smiling, with her face turned to the sun. When I approached her, she looked at me and simply said, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yes.” I said. And we sat there for a few minutes, in silence, soaking it all up. Too soon I hit the road and went to work  and, for some reason, had a hard time focusing on the day’s duties. Lunchtime couldn’t come fast enough and when it did, I headed back to Sporthaven Beach.

The surf was bigger and there was something else to watch: A U.S. Coast Guard lifeboat. The sleek, metal 47-foot vessel punched its way through the surf again and again. A crowd of people had gathered in the parking lot of Sporthaven Beach to watch the action.

It wasn’t a bad way to spend one’s lunch break.

This has become my favorite time of the year. The changes in the natural world are noticable day by day, even hour by hour. On any given  day, I walk outside and spot the telltale signs of an approaching storm. The sky grows dark under the threatening clouds, a few drops of rain hit my face, and the wind begins to rise, whipping the spray off the backs of thundering waves. 

The ocean itself has changed. Its mood has darkened, as has its color, the result of sediment and organic material stirred up by the storms’ waves and strong currents. At local beaches the location of cresting waves has shifted, breaking in new areas. The moving sand has created temporary sandbars and deep holes that affect the size and shape of the waves.

The recent storm-driven rain, winds, waves and tidal surges have and will continue to transform the landscape and character of many beaches.

The mouth of the Winchuck River and surrounding beach, near the Oregon/California border, is a prime example. The recent storm activity has scoured away the gentle wind-sculpted dunes and scattered driftwood, leaving behind steep dropoffs, exposed rocks, giant logs and wide areas of dark, shiny pebbles.

The river itself, which once pooled at the mouth with only a shallow path trickling to the ocean, is now cutting a deep, wide channel to the sea.

The changes are just as dramatic at Lone Ranch Beach, north of Brookings. Rocks once buried in the sand are being exposed and the wide, sandy beach is giving way to large patches of tumbled stones and piles of dislodged kelp and seaweed.

This is a time of extra energy and excitement on the Oregon Coast. I love it! 

Of course there’s a downside to this time of year: High winds, rising flood waters, power outages and that uneasy feeling that comes when a storm is howling at the door. But take it from me, it’s small price to pay for living in such a wild, exciting corner of the planet. And a cup of hot cocoa also helps take the edge off.