Muir characteristically brushed off clinging alone in a gyrating tree-top at high altitude – and with none of the modern gear we have at our disposal – as “hardly greater (danger) than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof.”
I recalled his bravado recently when an early February front dropped down from the Gulf of Alaska and it pushed me to suit up and walk into some of nature’s dark and stormy side.
Along the Sonoma Coast Kortum Trail there’s a small steep pocket beach that’s particularly exposed to storm surf. A small stream drains into it down Furlong Gulch from the highlands to the east, and when big systems roll in the northwest swells can top 20 feet and wipe the sand clean all the way to the cliff face. In the aftermath, huge heavy logs and broken wood, washed down the nearby Russian River, get pushed up and stacked into the mouth of the ravine in a mounded tangle. Normally the little stream just seeps into the sand unseen, but heavy rains swell it into a rushing channel across the beach.
The destruction sometimes has a stark and lethal beauty all its own, but it hides a warning. Just south of here the same giant waves swept and drowned several people off the beach. Power and violence are essential features of the wild. Nature demands respect, and it is up to us to realize, the unwary will not be spared.