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Surreal Manzanita Moments: An Oregon Coast Photo Essay
By Andre' Hagestedt
(Manzanita, Oregon) – It's one of those times on the beach that go beyond simple beauty into the surreal and serene.
While I have no science to back this up, spring – I swear to God – issues some of the most interesting of sunsets on the beach. It’s a combination of the varied weather patterns that cram themselves into a single air space, I suppose: a mixture of fat clouds where darker outer layers contain copious threats of rain, yet they’re floating apart enough to allow lots of blue sky in.
These spaces, along with the moist air mixed with who knows what else, seem to bend and refract light in varying ways, allowing the waning sunlight through in eccentric combinations of colors. These holes between clouds make for bold shafts of sunlight to come crashing through in fascinating shapes. Or the bulky clouds create unusual shadows that are cast by the light.
It’s in this atmosphere where I begin bouncing around one north Oregon coast beach.
As I’ve slowly made my way from the Highway 26 junction from Cannon Beach down to Manzanita, there are bundles of high vantage points that show this off. Just south of Cannon Beach, you can see those massive beams of sunlight streaming down from the clouds and casting large patches of brilliance on the sea at the horizon. With the mix of sunny spots, blue sky and dark clouds, the ocean is a patchwork of dark to slightly less dark areas – an enthralling aesthetic exercise in contrast.
I hit Manzanita’s beach a little after 7 p.m., as all the dynamics of sunset are ready to come out and play. I’m immediately struck by the shades of orange to black that are spilling down at diagonals from the clouds. I snap one set of shots of this from the steps of the beach access.
Neahkahnie Mountain, the large, looming presence that hovers over Manzanita like some watchful entity, is at times more photogenic than others. Tonight, it’s graced by vibrant dark blues of the sea and the off-white of the waves intermingled with patches of different colors from the sunset. It’s as if Neahkahnie became a super model tonight and can do no wrong. Chunks of blue, orange, white and various shades thereof from the sky get reflected in the waves and the wet sheen they leave on the beach.
These hues are especially brilliant tonight; they create a kind of dreamscape on this sandy stretch of Oregon's coast. They are surreal as well as stunning. They make my head whirl a little.
One thing that Neahkahnie is always good for if you’re shooting it is the doppelganger of its reflection in the water: it makes for some nifty photographic symmetry. Tonight there’s a lot more to it than that. Everything photographs livelier than usual.
The shafts of sunlight change drastically every few minutes. At one point they’re almost evenly placed, as if some alien technology – or perhaps the Starship Enterprise – were beaming something up or down. Another minute the configuration has changed completely to some odd little strip of light where rays come down in tooth-like shapes.
The foam from the ocean is heavy as well. In fact, near Cannon Beach, I noticed bunches of that brown foam that has freaked many a tourist in recent weeks. This is a large bloom of a certain kind of phytoplankton, and the proliferation of foamy stuff on the beaches is partially this as well.
This can mean interesting sights like the “glowing sand” phenomenon, where a type of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates makes a greenish glow on the beaches at night. I’ve often found that that these foamy conditions can mean this type of phytoplankton have arrived as well, but not always. It’s still rather rare on the Oregon coast.
There was no brown foam here in Manzanita, although some of the frothier foam had hints of brown.
Blues and oranges continued shifting. Shafts of sunlight changed shape some more. I was starved, however. It was time to eat.
On the way back, I notice some woman has set up a green beach blanket over a large log that poking up in the air at a slight diagonal, and she’s using its convenient shape as a seat. She’s simply gazing out at the slow moving show.
Me, however: I’m too type-A, I guess, to sit anywhere too long. Plus I’m all hopped up on coffee from just before my leaving Portland.
Spring will continue a while, and the wild, esoteric sunsets will come again. I’ve taken some of my best sunset shots in the spring. This beach ain’t going anywhere, either.
It’s time to write all this down and convince the rest of the world about what I see here. Take a Manzanita virtual tour.
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