The creek’s world let us in, early one morning. A yellow-eyed heron, engrossed in its walking meditation/fishing, tolerated our binoculared stares. Four fluffed round tree swallows, cuddled on a curving reed, were oblivious to everything but the treats swooped to their mouths by their parents. On thick leaf pads, husky yellow blossoms, a local version of lotus?, ignored our bumping as we glided in to peer at their delicacies.
We relished the benign neglect that the wildlife offered us. Paddling our kayaks silently upstream, we could blissfully feel we were one with nature, and all was right with the environment. Is that sound still the automobiles? No – it’s the swash of the ocean waves.
After disembarking and reloading the kayaks on top of our cars, we became one with that traffic to Newport’s featured human event: the open house for the new Marine Operations Center-Pacific of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We had figured that waiting until the weekend’s final hours would mean “the public” would be gone. Ha. We waited in lines to get in through the doors and out onto the vast pier of our federal government come-to-town. Over three thousand curious people, the gatekeepers figured, had already come through.
Because I work for Rick Spinrad, who not long ago was the assistant administrator for research of NOAA, and having for years known Jane Lubchenco, who is now NOAA’s head, I was pretty aware of this Department of Commerce bureau. Yet I had so much to learn. In the warehouse, we shuffled past table-top displays about the science, created especially for this celebration, and in the administrative building we saw permanent exhibits. Scientists and other guides remained intensely enthusiastic after hours of explanations.
We got to look up-close at antique and new artifacts, including: A lead line mold. Intricate model ships. A chronometer. Drift bottles. Sextants. China from the Captain’s table. A huge wooden ship’s wheel. A precise level. Tools for hand-drawn maps, including India ink.
There were illustrations of a salmon’s life cycle, and what it needs from its environment at each stage. Hands-on demonstrations of salinity-testing tools. Instructions on how to escape a flood and survive a tsunami.
The information shared made it clear that our species does much more than peep at and enjoy nature, and is trying to figure out how to stop bumping it.
I found that the active verbs of NOAA include “protect, research, collect, understand, support, monitor, maintain, steward, manage, educate, explore, alert, oversee, deploy, provide . . .”
Did you know? : the US Coast and Geodetic Survey began releasing “messages in bottles” in 1959 to learn about ocean currents. NOAA is home to “the seventh uniformed service” of the United States. Four of the nine ships in the MOC-P fleet are homeported in Newport. Rachel Carson worked early-on for NOAA. NOAA Fisheries has had a presence in Newport for 35 years. A “NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards,” portable and battery-powered, can automatically alert you to severe conditions, including lightening. A salmon finds its way home to its breeding ground through its sense of smell. Susan Solomon, formerly of NOAA, is known as the Ozone Hole Sleuth. NOAA does not own the Newport property - it has a 20-year lease.
Kayaking that day kept me in touch with the brilliance of nature. NOAA’s official vision of the future: “Healthy ecosystems, communities, and economies that are resilient in the face of change” helps assure me that it (and OSU) are helping create a better symbiosis of the natural and human-made environments, for a vital world.
- Jana Zvibleman
If you weren’t among the hordes in Newport that weekend, you can still view some of the scientific displays at the Hatfield Marine Science Center for a little while. And, if your group arranges a tour, you may be able to get into NOAA’s administrative building to see the mini-museum of photos and artifacts.
We plan to offer the public opportunities to visit the facility and ships as we are able. Visit opportunities will be posted to this website
To view the current location of any NOAA ship: NOAA Ship Tracker