If you know where to look, you can find dragon’s teeth along the Oregon coast. Some of the best are at South Beach in Neskowin, Oregon. This beach is a deceptive playground of waterlogged stumps in summer. Children wonder at the sea life and dip for sculpins, flounder and baby crabs trapped in the basins of ancient cedars. But in winter the stumps grow into looming snags as the ocean sucks out sand and boils around their roots. Both are dragon’s teeth that warn of a danger that can chew and crush.
The ghost forest at Neskowin represents a kind of destruction that I was unaware of when I grew up on the Oregon coast. The public was just beginning to hear about plate tectonics. In high school when what civil defense called “tidal wave warnings” went out, the kids who lived along the beach spent their nights on high ground. Nothing ever happened except they got to skip classes because of missed busses. The rest of us were jealous.
Earthquakes did occur, but they were small and meant little to us…until the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964. It’s magnitude of 9.2, its 27-foot tidal wave and the report of areas of land uplifted nearly 30 feet stimulated discussion in science class. We learned about Cascadia, the name of the 750-mile long fault that parallels Oregon and Washington.
Neskowin’s drowned forest is the result of the most recent full-scale earthquake to shatter the Oregon coast. It occurred January 26, 1700 around 9 pm. We know the date because the tsunami that traveled across the Pacific Ocean was recorded by the Japanese. It likely wiped out whole Native American settlements on the Oregon coast.
Scientists suggest that the Northwest coast dropped at least six feet leaving forests in the ocean. What remains today are the beautiful ghost forests scattered off Oregon and Washington. Two of the finest are at Copalis Bay, Washington and Neskowin, Oregon. At both sites stumps of rot-resistant cedar stick up through sand and tide pools.
I love to wander among them at low tide. In the summer they resemble barnacle-covered headstones. In the winter when the ocean moves the sand off the beach, they rise as much as twelve feet in fanciful forms, ghostly in the morning fog. Winter storms uproot their scoured remains and pitch them high on the beach. To the delight of children, these become pirate ships and summer jungle gyms.
Scientists have confirmed more than 19 megaquakes along the Cascadia fault in the last 10,000 years with an average interval of 250 years. The current interval is at 313 years. So yes, a big one is overdue. Looking out over the Pacific reminds me of power. But what lies hidden beneath has the power of dragon’s teeth.