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The Twists, Turns of One Nocturnal Oregon Coast Experience

Published 08/31/20 at 5:41 AM PDT
By Andre GW Hagestedt

The Twists, Turns of One Nocturnal Oregon Coast Experience

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(Manzanita, Oregon) – As night descends on the Oregon coast, it becomes an entirely different world. This is often my favorite time to wander the beaches, where they’re bereft of visitors and locals, almost always not another living soul around. There’s also that slight sense of the unknown, even a hint of danger as you stumble around in the dark, not always as sure-footed as you are in daylight. With this comes a tingle-inducing smidgen of fear, a tiny charge of adrenaline. Even the gentlest of wave action looks more ominous and threatening at night, as if maybe that next one coming up just might be a tsunami.

Mostly, of course, there’s the unparalleled beauty that happens here once your eyes adjust. There’s simply nothing like it when the stars meet the sea in the distance, or a massive chunk of the Milky Way floats above you. It’s the closest I feel to being a space explorer, I suppose.

Astounding wonders can happen after dark on the coastline – things that don’t occur during the day. Or even just commonplace things take on new dimensions in the nocturnal Oregon coast.

Case in point: one particularly amazing evening in January of 2006. About 1 a.m. I wander onto the beach at Manzanita. The stars are bright and resplendent, with Orion standing out, his figure looming larger and more brightly than that of ancient, all-knowing Neahkahnie Mountain in this dead of night. In fact, Neahkahnie is dwarfed not only in size, but by the fact it’s a mere shadow figure in the distance.

I had parked the car on that road alongside the sands, and even before I descend into the dunegrass I notice something odd in the darkness. There’s a long, mysterious line of foam stretching all the way down the beach, simply standing by itself. It’s close to the vegetation line, hard to see in this opaque, but it’s certain this is an unusual place for a chunk of foam.

As I approach, I’m startled to notice that it’s moving. It turns out there are TWO such lines across the beach’s length. One is a line of foam left there by the crazed tide, perhaps only minutes before. It is winter, after all, which means the great width of Manzanita Beach can shrink. The other line of foam IS the tide itself: a totally surreal sight of moving white bubbles – sort of appearing then disappearing again and again.

Meanwhile, the majority of the time the main tideline is far away, as Manzanita normally is; something like a couple of hundred feet away or more.

At the time the thought runs through my head: I feel like I’m “LOST.” That show (only in its second season at that moment) is notorious for things you can’t put your finger on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a horse traipsing through out of nowhere – or a polar bear. This is a surreal scene, with the tideline playing tricks like this.

This night is a weird mix of low, low minus tide and stormy waves. So what you get is a surf that tends to lurk farther out there than you’re used to, yet can pull some awful, tidal gymnastic surprises and abruptly jump up close to the bluffs connecting the road with the beaches.

As I tread in the dark, I see the tide is far away, and things get weirder the closer I get. Huge chunks of foam are breaking up like ice islands of the arctic North Pole. Abruptly they change direction, coalesce together and create giant walls of suds that approach me, sometimes even chasing me. Beautiful. Extremely strange. Certainly engaging.

In the midst of running and observing all this, the stars continue to shine brighter than they ever have in my former life in the Willamette Valley. I think to myself about Oregon Coast Beach Connection readers and the greater population of this state: why the hell aren’t you people out here more often at night??? I mean, I’m here all the time and I still encounter peculiar, amazing stuff I’ve never seen before.

I again walk towards the tide, but never make it there because the tide and a wall of furious, freaky foam comes zipping back towards me again, collecting all the suds to chase me. This is perhaps the strangest tide I’ve ever seen. This happens over and over again, and each time I start laughing loudly with glee. I’m like a little toddler getting chased and teased by a family member, and loving every second of it.

I come back to my car, only to see the tide shoving the foam up close to the vegetation line again, where I had just been. It jostled its way up some 50 to 100 feet farther than I was down on that beach.

I had left just in time to miss one nasty, foamy sneaker wave.

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