The Visitor

Do you remember the first time you saw the ocean? For someone who grew up on an island in the middle of the Pacific, this memory is often taken for granted. I only know that I was taken to the beach before I was a year old because my mom told me that it happened; my first actual memory of the ocean is as a toddler at Ala Moana Beach Park. The idea of going years without ever seeing the sea is…mind boggling. Yet this absence of the big blue is a reality for many land-locked individuals out there. I know because I have met some of these individuals during the HRAP beach shifts. Since my first meeting of an individual who has never seen the ocean before, I have been extremely cognizant of the visitor mindset. 

Yet, here in Oregon, I am a visitor. I may not be a “tourist,” but I am certainly not a local. While I try to put myself in the shoes of those who are unfamiliar with the ocean and marine environment, I also observe myself as a visitor here in Cannon Beach. Having self-awareness as a visitor, sometimes wielding authority at Haystack Rock can be difficult. I have talked to many a beach goer that remembers playing in the tidepools as a child without any government regulation and exploring the Rock without any restraint. Some of them cannot believe what they got away with — now as adults they see how their actions were irresponsible, and would never fathom doing those things now. Others resent me and see me as a barrier between them and reliving childhood memories. As a visitor of Cannon Beach, I feel a little uncomfortable about telling these people “No.” But then I remind myself that as a kiaʻi kai (ocean caretaker) it is my kuleana (responsibility) to protect all the invertebrates in the tidepools that do not speak human and therefore cannot scream “You are hurting me!” as they are poked, pried or smashed.

Saturday, August 3rd was the last day of data collection via survey for my project studying human dimensions at Haystack Rock. According to my data, one third of my respondents knew about Cannon Beach from their childhood. Of those individuals, 48.5% are from Oregon and another 35.6% are from elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. I often compare Haystack Rock to Hanauma Bay, a Marine Life Conservation District that is probably the most popular snorkeling destination on the island of Oʻahu. Like Haystack Rock, Hanauma Bay is the responsibility of multiple levels of government: all of the land areas are a municipal park, but once you touch the water you are under State jurisdiction. Also like Haystack Rock, interaction with the environment is regulated and education is a major component of the visitor experience. Anyways, getting back to my point: if I were to do a survey of Hanauma Bay visitors, I highly doubt that many of those visitors would be locals that remember visiting as a child (although I am from Oʻahu and remember being seven years old, coming face to face with an uhu (parrot fish) and getting attacked by pigeons while eating Cheetos my first time at Hanauma Bay). A huge difference between Cannon Beachʻs visitors and Hawaiʻiʻs visitors is that the love that the former has for Cannon Beach comes from a deep seated sentimental place in the heart that can only be developed over time. Hawaiʻiʻs visitors may have love for Hawaiʻi, but it is a love that is developed during their short stay and on their own terms — they see and take with them the pretty pieces of Hawaiʻi that they prefer and leave behind the ugly real life parts that do not fit into their idea of paradise. 

There is a bumper sticker back home that says “I Love Kailua…Before You Came.” I think this phrase, though maybe hurtful to new comers or visitors, is completely justified. As the local of a particular place, one draws identity from the area: the place is a part of the person. This does not mean a person new to the area cannot also love the place, the love is just different and the relationship with the place is different. As a visitor of any place, one must remember that there were others there first — and not just humans but plants and animals too. As a visitor, one must keep in mind the places back home that they love, that define them and remember that this new place serves the same purpose for someone else. Almost like extending the golden rule so that “others” encompasses all nouns, not just humans.

Walking the Wrack Line

***ALERT: Last week of data collection! If you have ever visited Cannon Beach, you are eligible to take the survey and enter to win a bunch of HRAP swag and Sleepy Monk coffee. Just click here to start! ***

Haystack Rock and the Needles from the South.

During my few weeks of work with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program, I tried to walk to work as much as possible while staying just past Tolovana Park in Cannon Beach. I learned that the crusty, salted line of debris caused by the ebbing tide is called the wrack line; it is here that I have found amazing treasures and intriguing marine life. Identifying the organisms in the wrack line has helped me to become a better Environmental Interpreter as it has made me more knowledgeable of the marine life specific to this region. In most traditional Hawaiian practices the moon phase is very important to kilo, or observations, made in the natural environment. Thus, the following kilo include the Hawaiian names for the different faces of the moon. 

ʻOle Pau, June 23, 2019

My first walk along the wrack line was an experiment to determine how long a commute would take on foot. As I stepped into the sand, the first observation made was the sound — the sand squeaks! Lifting my shoes out of the soft, powdery grains proved laborious, so I found a piece of drift wood to sit on and removed my footwear. Much better! Note taken: just like in Hawaiʻi, it is more efficient to walk barefoot in the sand. At first I was committed to being fully present and experiencing the beach through only organic eyes and not a screen…but this attempt failed when I saw the green, sludgy sea foam I had read about. Mai hopohopo mai — do not worry folks, it is not pollution!

Sea foam tinted green from diatoms!

Diatoms often cause the water to be a greenish color and give bubbles that develop on the shore a greenish tint. Moving on I found a strange arthropod that resembled a marine pill bug, which was being feasted on by other flea like creatures. This was my first run in with mole crabs and their babies — that bite! While attempting to film the frenzy I felt little pinches on my feet that felt like ant bites. Slightly shrieking and dancing away, I know now to move quickly when I see the hopping baby mole crabs so as to not give them time to munch on me. When I finally arrived at Haystack Rock, I found the first of many deceased birds that I would photograph. The contrast of the bustle of visitors at Haystack Rock fawning over the puffins and the sea stars with the floppy corpse of the murre fascinated me.

The lifeless body of a common murre in front of the icon Haystack Rock.

Kāloa Kū Kahi, June 24, 2019

When I stepped on to the beach in the morning, Haystack Rock could barely be seen in the distance through the mist. As I approached were the sea meets the shore, I noticed several progressions of wrack line. Dried lines of salt littered with bits of shell and detritus were evidence of the ebbing tide, which would continue to drop until 11:57 am that morning. I soon stumbled on to the shell of a key hole limpet and a sea gooseberry.

My first sea gooseberry!

Finding the keyhole limpet shell was particularly exciting because it reminded me so much of the opihi we have at home, except for the aperture at the apex of the shell’s point. When I got within the vicinity of Haystack Rock, I came across a pile of gull, the dry, fluffy feathers making it evident that the bird was attacked in air or on land and did not wash up with the tide. The common murre from yesterday was still there. Before leaving the wrack line, my eye spied bright blue debris — plastic! But alas when I picked it up I realized it was bits of egg shell — common murres can have blue eggs!

Not plastic — yay!

Conditions on the walk home were quite a contrast from that morning: blue bird skies, streaky cirrus and sand toasted by the sun. A sea nettle was the first of my discoveries in the wrack line, followed by a lady bug (?!?!), dead manʻs fingers — an algae, not actually, LOTS of dead sea birds and their parts, a tangle of bull kelp and finally some live gulls scavenging the rising tide. 

A sea nettle, a lady bug, dead man’s fingers and bull kelp.

Kāloa Pau, June 26, 2019

I stepped on the beach at 8:04 am to walk to work as the tide just turned from a high of 5.8 ft at 7:45 am. My first wrack line specimen for the day was a piece of coralline algae, of which I have only seen the crustose variety. The structure reminded me of the Halimeda that we have back home, a calcifying algae that contributes greatly to our calcareous sand beaches. Not far from the coralline algae was a clump of feathery cirri from a gooseneck barnacle. As I continued down the beach, bundles of cirri were a common find. I found a key hole limpet shell and a sea gooseberry again, and an intact moon jelly. I also found iridescent sea foam and tube worm casing. The highlight of this walk was definitely the flock of pelicans that were slowly making their way to the Needles. I was able to catch a video of one in flight as it searched for edibles in the water. 

Coralline algae, gooseneck barnacle cirri, and another sea gooseberry.
A beautiful moon jelly and some iridescent sea foam!

My first find on the walk home was a sand hopper, which cowered from the shadow of my phone as I tried to film it. Tube worm casing and crab molts littered the wrack line as the tide continued to rise from its bottom out at 1.7 ft at 1:40 pm. I also found an ostrich plume hydroid attached to some driftwood, a mole crab filled with bright orange eggs and what looked like akulikuli, or pickle weed. Before I made my way up through the dry sand to the beach access, I spied the biggest sea gooseberry I had found yet — it was the size of a quarter and I was lucky to snag a picture before the ocean reclaimed it.

An ostrich plume hydroid.
A mother mole crab with eggs and cannibalistic babies!

Lono, June 28, 2019

The beach was crisp even though the sun was out when I got there. The tide was rising to 6.0 ft at 10:08 am from a low of 0.9 ft at 4:01 am. Last nightʻs rain made the wrack line difficult to differentiate from the rest of the sand, but I did find my third and biggest keyhole limpet shell. There are many limpets at Haystack Rock, but I have yet to see a live keyhole limpet — I have a feeling it does not do well in the intertidal zone because its aperture allows for the release of water, which so many intertidal organisms strive to maintain with their bodies as the tide recedes.

The bombucha keyhole limpet shell!

Another evidence of last night’s rain was runoff flowing from an outlet that usually does not make it to the sea. I often see children playing in the runoff at the Gower St. and the Tolovana Park outlets — not a good idea as this water usually has a high fecal bacteria count. Ick!

An olive snail shell in a patch of biogenous sand.

On my walk home, I found many shells. The olive snail shells were an awesome find — all empty and free of critters, of course. The smaller ones were dispersed in a patch of biogenous sand, which I was very excited to find. I also found a strand baby sea star.  Not knowing what to do, I texted my mentor for help. For future reference: if you find a sea star stranded in the sand do NOT pick it up directly, either use something to shovel in up or pick up the sand around/underneath it. Then, if it is not already upside-down, turn it over: if is is hollow in the middle it is dead, but if it has tube all its tube feet it lives! Next, place it right side up on a rock nearby and hope it makes it. Or you can just leave it alone and let nature do its thing. 

If you MUST pick up a sea star, pick up the surrounding sand with it!

hoʻomaka i ka huakaʻi….

On Tuesday, June 18th the drive that I made from Corvallis to Cannon Beach was the farthest distance and longest time I have ever gone in a car by myself. If you are sitting in your car for hours back home on Oʻahu, it is not because of distance but because of traffic. The journey was exhilarating and a familiar playlist made the drive less scary. Any remaining anxiety was relinquished when I accepted that I would not be there in 3 hours due to traffic and areas where the speed limit was 35 mph. Though I passed many coffee shops and antique stores, I did not stop. The further I got, the more an overwhelming feeling of gratitude towards my Dad and Stepmom welled up in me, as I would not be experiencing such freedom without the car they lent me.

The view from the porch at my first residence in Astoria.

After arriving at Cannon Beach City Hall and getting set up in the office, Lisa took me down to the beach so I would know where to go the next morning for the beach shift. What surprised me was that I was not that cold. I have never been on the Oregon Coast before — that was the first time my feet touched sand in a week. The beach was so wide and the sand was so fine, I could immediately feel the difference between the quartz grains been my toes and the calcareous sand that I am used to. Though I wanted to stay and explore, my na’au (intestines, also gut, like gut-feeling) reminded me that I had not eaten in 5 hours and I would soon be dancing on the edge of hangry. Luckily my “work” day ended upon returning from the beach and I was free to go to the Farmer’s Market, which happens every Tuesday, to get some of the fish tacos I had already heard so much about before journeying on to Astoria where I would be staying for the rest of the week.

My first housemates…

As I continued north on the 101, the dependence of the area on visitors became apparent. Services and amenities that cater to tourists line the main highway and many signs announced camping sites. Astoria seems to capture many of the iconic features of the Pacific Northwest. Foggy, overcast and by the sea, it was difficult to not fall in love with the ambiance of the area. Over the weekend, I was able to attend the Scandanavian Midsummer Festival and experience some of the “local” culture. Tried pickled herring for the first and went back for a second helping. My stay in Astoria was short lived, however I plan on returning when I make the drive to Longview Washington to visit my paternal grandmother.

The five countries represented at the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in Astoria.

My new lodging in Cannon Beach is incredibly close to work and Haystack Rock. I spied a beach access on my walk to Fresh Foods (to get what was probably the best strawberry rhubarb pie I have ever had — its the lard in the crust that really makes it!) and decided to check it out. From the beach access I could see Haystack Rock and thought “I can walk that far.” I was right — it only took 35 minutes and that was with stopping to take pictures of mole crab babies eating their parents and a decaying common murre. While I am staying so close to work, I will be walking to and from the office everyday for a morning and afternoon kilo (observation), respectively. These observations will provide material for my next blog, so stayed tuned to learn more about what washes ashore in the wrack line!

Gull foot prints above the high tide line.