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Pocket Beach After the Storm

Sometimes nature turns a peaceful face. But then it can be sheer chaos too.

Snug indoors, we rarely experience nature face on when it’s wild and raging, or have to step through the aftereffects, so it’s easy to forget the scale of its destructive power. John Muir, with that thought in mind, once deliberately climbed high into a tree in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and then rode it for several hours in the heart of a howling gale. 

. . . [N]ever before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobo-link on a reed. . . . I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was streaming past.

John Muir ~ A Wind-storm in the Forests - 1894

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.

Furlonggulchbeach
Pocket beach at Furlong Gulch on the Kortum Trail. A steep offshore drop and unpredictable surf make it dangerous to play at the waterline - don't turn your back on the ocean here.
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