In the beginning, according to geologists, Southeast Alaska was part of the giant landmass, or super continent, known as Pangea. This isn't surprising, since every bit of land surface on earth, at the time, was a part of Pangea. At some point it broke apart into six to eight continental plates. SE Alaska, as part of the North American continent, wandered about the ocean, sometimes inhabiting the tropics, sometimes serving as the North Pole.
Over the years I've often thought about that as I hike over the rocky bluffs and beaches. I think that if I'd been alive endless millennia ago, I could have stepped from this rock over onto Fiji. I try to imagine the tropical waters that would have washed against these familiar rocks and the balmy breezes that would have warmed the land.
I've been walking, climbing, and running over these rough and rocky beaches for as long as I can remember, always with the sea on the other side. When, in school, we went to inter-island track meets, visiting other communities, I remember how hard it was to adjust to running on pavement.
And then there are other memories. During a strenuous hike to the nearby village, I got stuck in a natural rock chimney. I found myself unable to move upward, while below it was twenty-some feet to the crashing waves of the sea that were pounding the bluffs. However, once I'd established that I was most likely going to die, that this was my final adventure, I realized I had nothing to lose by trying. It was better than staying wedged there until my muscles gave out and I crashed into the sea.
With that encouraging thought I managed to inch my way up the ten feet to the top. By the time I got out of the chimney I was shaking in every extremity and my muscles were too cramped to move for a long time. But it taught me to never give up.
When I was in my twenties, I and a friend climbed out onto an arm of rocky land to be invigorated by a storm on the strait. We laughed as the salty spray from the big combers crashed into the un-giving rockmass we stood so securely on.
I remember standing there mid-laugh watching as the ocean pulled back to reveal the never-seen bottom. I had only a moment to think "this can't be good" before I was airborne, swept off the rocks by a giant rogue wave.
I wasn't swept out to sea. Instead, on the next comber, I was flung into the rocks. I grabbed hold with all my strength as the sea sucked back out, pulling at me with almost irresistible force. Then another wave crashed in over me, deafening and blinding me, and grinding me against the rocks. I caught my breath as the water slid off me and drained off the rocks around me and I kept hanging on. I didn't have time to crawl out before the next wave hammered me back down against the rocks. This happened again and again. I just kept telling myself to hang on, no matter what.
Fortunately, my friend was finally able, after a couple tries, to grab hold of my shirt in a wave trough and together we heaved me up onto the rocks. We scrambled for safety before the next wave hit. My shirt was shredded by the rock-and-sea action and stained pink with blood, but I got off way easier than I could have.
I have had a strong respect for the combination of rocks and sea ever since.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)