Seashore Ruminations from a Time of Covid-19

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At the onset of the pandemic shutdown, my wife, Karen Klobucher ’71, and I were winding up a week with our younger daughter at our vacation home and guest rental in Cannon Beach, Oregon.  To me, the shutdown felt like a plague of the spirit as severe as Covid-19 was to the body.  Knowing our house had no immediate potential for short-term rentals, we decided to return as soon as we could take care of some business at our condo in Seattle.

Between mid-March and mid-June, when our place was reopened for bookings, we spent about three-quarters of our time in Cannon Beach, population 1,700 — less than half that of Yellow Springs.  (The town was closed to visitors with stay-out signs posted along U.S. 101, but we were covered by an exception: unlike some states, Washington and Oregon allowed property owners to travel between principal residences and second homes.)  

As in Seattle, where we both have family, we saw practically no one for more than a few minutes.  We cooked our own meals, read, attended to some upkeep and other house-related business, kept in touch by phone and Internet, and Zoomed, mostly for religious purposes.  The only times we turned on the TV were for music-only channels.  

Mostly we walked.  Clear or cloudy, wet or dry, in almost any weather short of downpour or high winds, we were on our feet —  a quarter-mile to the Cannon Beach Bakery and Mariner Market downtown; two miles south on the sand to Sea Level, a smaller bakery, and Fresh Foods, a bigger grocery, in the Tolovana neighborhood; and another mile to Silver Point, just past the end of the beachfront houses at the south end of town.  Tides permitting, I sometimes went a fourth mile to Humbug Point and a mile beyond that to Hug Point.  At those times, Karen often knitted baby blankets for grandnieces and -nephews.

Here are some observations and flip phone images from those walks.

Whenever I arrive in Cannon Beach, as soon as I set foot on the sand, I am drawn first to the middle and far distance – the waves, the dark basaltic rocks rising above the surf, and the horizon, a stark line between sea and sky or an indistinct, misty transition zone.  The first six images largely reflect this type of focus.

The closest to a theme picture is Fig. 2, shot in mid-April.  Haystack Rock is the most recognized icon of Cannon Beach, its outline discernible even on the blackest night, its features and characteristics variously revealed in moonlight and sunlight, fog and rain and snow.  Yet this was the first time I felt its presence as a looming, featureless black mass against the setting sun.  Was it this kind of vision, I wonder, that inspired Dylan Thomas to “rage, rage against the dying of the light?”

Haystack Rock also appears in the background of Fig. 6, shot on May 24.  Pervasive greys and browns have replaced the ominous black against brilliant reds and yellows in Fig. 2.  In contrast to Fig. 5, shot three days earlier, people are returning to the beach. The sky is cloudier and the landscape more monochromatic, but there is light once more.

Focusing closer, the seashore unspools an endless, enchanting and bewildering array of shapes and sizes, forms and figures, tints and hues, sounds and smells.  Footprints, love messages and sand castles may last moments or hours but are almost always gone the next day.  Rocks emerge as the sea subsides, then vanish as the water rises.

The sea brings the dead ashore, then washes the dead back out to sea, the source of all life on earth and without which no life on earth can survive.  The sea relentlessly attacks the land, and, as evidenced by abundant basalt from ancient volcanic upheavals, the land periodically rises up against the sea.

Sometimes, in some places, by some means, for brief moments, the sea may seem to send messages in the foam left from successive waves.  Who can decipher these messages?  Could they help crack the code of the novel coronavirus.  Or are they useful as sanity checks?  In the sadly memorable words of Dan Quayle, “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful — how true that is.”

All around, on the sand and rocks, were images that seemed, at least to me, anything but Rorshchachian.  Then again, what do I know about blobs and splotches?

At the end of the last of our visits, in June, we were joined by a man and woman from Seattle and their teen-age daughter.  During this time there were some extremely low tides, the lowest I can remember, and the man and I took advantage of the opportunity to explore some rarely accessible tidepools on each side of Haystack Rock.

The sea stars, aka starfish, are particularly noteworthy and may be another harbinger for unpleasantry to come. Since 2013, West Coast starfish have been repeatedly decimated by a wasting disease that scientists blame on an unusually tiny waterborne virus. For a few years, there was hope of a comeback with high production of baby starfish by survivors of the initial devastation.  Since then, there have been new losses and the huge and formerly omnipresent sunflower variety is being proposed for endangered species protection.  In the absence of sea stars, sea urchins proliferate and eat entire kelp forests, which provide vital habitat for crab, abalone and countless species of fish.  Just what the world needs, another nasty, seemingly unstoppable virus.

Now back in Seattle, Karen and I are – irony of ironies – in the best physical health we have enjoyed in some years.  Must have been all that walking on the beach.  Even so, I expect Covid-19 to continue to affect my life in more debilitating ways than I can anticipate for the foreseeable future.  And I wonder what will happen to the sea stars.

About Tim Klass ’71


Tim Klass is a graduate of the Antioch College Class of 1971.

Born in Sioux City, Iowa. Escaped to Antioch in 1966. Record editor winter 1968. Last Co-op The Associated Press in Baltimore, 1970. Graduated 1971 and moved to Seattle. Retired from AP 2009.

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