I’ve wanted to make the trip out to West Sand Island for quite some time. It wasn’t until Friday that it became clear what that would entail.
The paper has wanted to do a piece on the abandoned island for years and just one thing or another has held us back. But with the nice weather and a need for the lead piece on the Life page, it seemed like this week would be the one.
I decided I would get a boat and go out to the island to make photographs of whatever I found, and Friday was going to be the day.
After making arrangements to borrow a canoe from the Skookum Surf Co. in Seaview, I drove over with the thought that I would easily put it on top of the car and drive to Ilwaco. However, when the owner, Julez Orr, walked me over to where the boat was resting I realized this may not work — the canoe was easily as long as the car.
After tying it down, I drove to the Cape Disappointment State Park boat launch where my girlfriend and I gingerly got it off the car and into the water.
Upon landing on West Sand Island, I hiked the west shore, from the northwest end, down to the southern most tip — about four miles roundtrip — which took a few hours with many stops to examine things.
By the time I turned around to return north it was clear that a very strong north wind had kicked in, slowing down my hike back. It was also doing quite a number on the water in the channel, creating sizable swells.
I launched the boat, but was quickly pulled out toward the river by the current and was lucky to get back to shore.
I took off my life jacket and dragged the boat back up the shore and launched again, this time with better success.
I paddled hard for several minutes before realizing I wasn’t going north, but rather west, and was in the middle of the channel, going up and down with each swell.
I also realized I had forgotten to put my life jacket back on.
Using the paddle, I hooked the vest and flung it back toward myself and quickly put it on — much cursing could be heard around this time.
Knowing there was no way I was going to be able to paddle back to the Cape D boat launch, I let the tide pull me into the land, southeast of the Coast Guard station.
After a call to work to ask for a ride, I dragged the boat up the shore, figuring the Coast Guard would notice me eventually and either come arrest me for trespassing on Homeland Security property, or come help me. Thankfully it was the latter.
While I sat next to the boat, Petty Officer John Duncan came down from the motor lifeboat school and offered to help me drag the canoe up to the parking lot at the school, where my boss and girlfriend were good enough to come rescue me.
First thing my boss asked me was, “Did you get good pix?” I was happy to say that I thought so.
Because of where it is situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, West Sand Island is the final stop on the journey of a lot of ocean garbage, some of it is pretty interesting.
Living at the beach it’s an inevitable question — what will you take with you when the tsunami comes?
It may seem like there should be obvious answers — food and supplies, children and other family members. But what about everything else? What if you had the opportunity to bring only one personal item with you, what would it be?
For everyone the reponse is completely different and as personal as the item they chose. And the items themselves aren’t what you’d expect. For most people, photo albums and physical personal records have been replaced by digital storage on an electronic device or in the virtual cloud. For some people, pets are an automatic inclusion, for others, they are a “bonus,” if they have the time and ability to transport them.
The responses presented here are just a small sampling of people from around the Peninsula, each with very different thoughts on a future tsunami and what would be something they couldn’t leave behind.
What: His cats, Mayo and Pshta
Why: “It was an instinct. I share a lot of love with them and they are defintely loved by everyone who comes to the farm. Every volunteer, every intern. They’re part of my life force.”
What: Her father’s sourdough starter
Why: “We grew up with my grandmother making all kinds of bread, and my dad continued the tradition. It’s a family tradition and it’s the one thing that can’t be replaced. Everything else now is backed up digitally, and I can live without some of the family clocks, jewelry. But that’s connected to my heritage. Probably parts of it are from his mom, so probably 109 years old. I’ve drug it all over the country with me. I’ve had it probably 35 years?”
JIM SAYCE What: His father’s ring Why: “His sisters gave this to my father when he graduated high school, about 75 years ago. And it’s small — I can’t take all the paintings in the house. I wore it a lot before I was married. The image is Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war.”
What: A small family photo album
Why: “This is small enough that I know it fits into whatever I’m carrying. It has specific memories for each photograph. I know I have copies of these somewhere, but I like that it’s physically with me. I like being able to hold them. It helps me to remember the stories. It’s with me all the time. I don’t want to say it’s a ‘prayer book’ — it’s not really — but it comforts me.”
LAILA BROWN What: Grandmother’s book from Latvia Why: “It’s been in my family for many years, and travelled across the world. It’s significant because my great-grandmother chose to take this when they had just hours to pack up their belongings and kids, and she kept it with her all through their years in refugee camps during the war. Of my different backgrounds I feel closest to the Latvian side, and these patterns are for needle point, knitting.”
STU SIMONSON What: His Toyota Landcruiser Why: “I already had safety stuff for surfing in there. But I got to thinking, ‘Well, what if there was a tsunami? What is our plan as a family? Where do we gotta go and how are we going to get out of here?’ Our plan is to go to the Chinook water plant, and this will get us there. No matter what, this thing will push stuff out of the way and keep going. I’ve gotta bunch of tools I keep in here, some food, water, machete, tow ropes. Just in case.”
WENDY MURRAY What: Her iPhone Why: “All my photos. My other thing was being able to contact my people. My big fear is that I won’t be able to contact my people. Those are my two big things, contact and photos.”
ROB LAKE What: His grandfather’s scrimshaw Why: “He travelled the world and did all these things that are amazing. He spent time in Africa, Japan and the Arctic Circle. This was something he purchased. The sad thing is I never got to know more about it. Most of our stuff we just don’t care about, and I know that there is no possible way that I could get another one of these.”
What: Her portable hard drives
Why: “I keep my documents on a flash drive. You won’t have time to haul everything with you. This way it’s nice to have it there. By doing it this way I have it in my flash drive, and out of area I have a safety deposit box with it all on another drive. If this gets lost or damaged I have a back up to a back up. They call me ‘tsunami mommy’ you know?”
PAT SCHENK What: His handmade copy of ‘The Lorax’ Why: “I don’t think of myself as someone who is sentimentally attached to much, but I remember when I got that from my daughter for Christmas, she was so happy with herself and it was really touching. I was touched by how much work she put into it.”
CATHY RUSS What: Her family’s Bible Why: “I looked around the house and saw a lot of possessions that I’ve collected, but when I really thought about it, what would be the meaning after a tsunami? I thought about family and I’d want to know who I was. So I thought of this family Bible that has come down from my grandmother to my mother and now to me. It would lead me back to my roots.”
STEVE BLASKO What: His dirt bike Why: “I think if it came down the wire, if things were really bad, there could be downed trees, downed power lines. I think being able to jump on this and being to get where I need to go would be huge. In a fight-or-flight type of situation, this would be my personal item."
*NOTE: The idea for this piece was adapted from a similar photo series by photographer Martin Parr in 2011. You can view that series HERE