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How Witnessing the Strange on Oregon Coast Can Change You Forever

Published 09/28/21 at 1:56 AM PDT
By Andre' GW Hagestedt

How Witnessing the Strange on Oregon Coast Can Change You Forever

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(Oregon Coast) – Even after 20 years of covering the Oregon coast and its natural events, that sense of wonder and awe has never left me. It's really been my raison d'être in many ways: seeking out strange new things and going where no professional beach bum has gone before. All this has led to me to some exceptional discoveries. Actual discoveries in science - in geology, geography and meteorology.

For example, I literally helped uncover something new about Rockaway Beach several years ago. This past year, I was the first to write about several geologic features at Coos Bay, Netarts, and the south coast in general, and the first to publish what happens when headlands “wear a hat” on the this coast.

I don't mean to brag (well, maybe a little). I'm simply trying to show what new territories Oregon Coast Beach Connection has veered into.

So how did I get here? That, too, is a set of weird discoveries.

I'll never forget what sent me down that road. It was the late ‘80s, and my girlfriend and I drove out to Neskowin – on a Friday the 13th to be exact, and a full moon. It was March 13 and the second full moon and Friday the 13th in a row, and it also happened to be exactly one month we'd been together.

We arrive at our hosts' house a little after midnight and head out to the beach, where serendipitously there was a bonfire fire still burning. Perfect. We were going to celebrate with a wee bit of champagne out here.

Manzanita at night

After a bit of imbibing on this overcast night, with the moon just barely visible, I started to notice something over her shoulder. There was some vague, undulating, red glow, apparently on the water; and it appeared as if it was far, far out there. It was too dark to tell for sure. She and I talked, and for some 10 minutes or so I watched it behind her: changing shape, fading in and out and never getting very bright.

Finally, I mentioned it to her, and she saw it as well. So, apparently I wasn't going crazy. We watched and gawked at it, completely puzzled. Was it a reflection from the moon above the clouds? No. It wouldn't be red. Was it a reflection from a boat? Possibly. But over the years I looked closely at every boat at sea I spotted at night and never saw a similar effect at all. It actually, more than anything, looked like it came from beneath the water.

Since then, I was increasingly fascinated by weird coastal tales or strange scientific facts. This experience haunted me, and I began to collect such things like some people collect hubcaps.

Glowing phytoplankton (courtesy Steve Smith / Solution 7 Media)

A few years later, I heard about "glowing sand" in that secret cove at Roads End in Lincoln City. Some years after that, in 1993, I'm wandering the beaches of Newport at night with friends, and spotted odd, bluish/green sparks beneath our feet. At first I thought it was all the booze I'd guzzled earlier, but my friends saw it too.

Years later, while researching such coastal oddities, I discover it's bioluminescent phytoplankton that causes the glow. Since the early ‘90s, I've seen it dozens and dozens of times. Once in Arch Cape, I kicked a chunk of sand that had been glowing and it was such a huge collection of the dinoflagellates that it glowed for several seconds, looking like a fat, misshapen glow stick. On the same eve, my friend and I dipped our hands in the Nehalem Bay and watched the glowing trail behind them. Spectacular.

Flying foam at Yachats in the '90s (although I was unable to catch it drifting upwards)

Rewind again to the early ‘90s. I find myself staring slackjawed at what looks like snow going the wrong direction, drifting upwards to the highway from the Devil's Churn, near Yachats. I pull over immediately, flipping my wig, and take a few pictures of a tide so foamy that it resembles snow flurries flying at you and then going upwards. The updraft within the rocky cliffs around the Churn caused the drifting-up effect.

Never seen it since.

Green flash in Seaside, early 2000s

In the late ‘90s, I discover the glowing phytoplankton and that freaky, snowy tide have a lot in common. In fact, they're almost the same thing. Sea foam, it turns out, is made of the dead skeletons of phytoplankton. That's right, there are so many of them they form all that foam you see.

In the meantime, other weird things or wonders crossed my path. The green flash at sunset, which I finally saw and photographed several times. Then there's that freaky "singing sands" phenomenon, where sand in the National Dunes Recreation Area near Florence and near Cannon Beach can make a singing or violin-like noise. And then there's all those ghost stories I've collected. I don't believe in ghosts, but the tales are a kick in the pants. Ironically, only the Oregon coast paranormal yarns interest me.

Oh, and some possible explanation for that weird, red blob in the eighties did finally pop up. I talked to Dr. Edith Widder, a bioluminescence expert in Florida, (before she got famous, actually) on the possibility it might've been what's known as "red tide": a form of phytoplankton that glows red. She said that was extremely unlikely, since that species couldn't survive in our cold waters.

As she gave up on guessing what it was, her final words on the subject filled me with the same chill and awe The X-Files did in its heyday: "But there are a lot of things out there we don't know about."

That one statement, more than anything, probably influenced my search for oddities and science than anything else.

Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees nearly 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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