Dock of the bay

Japanese import.

Japanese import.

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

It’s summertime, and Auntie Ruth is back from a week on the coast. Everything they say about an ocean breeze is true, and the beaches of Southern Oregon remain a best-kept secret.

But one recent addition to the Oregon coast has hardly been a secret, even though by the time you read this, it will be no more.

Ruthie’s spousal unit really wanted to see the Japanese dock that washed up on Agate Beach near Newport, to which Ruthie had a go-along, get-along shrug. It’s just a dock, right?

As extreme as the weather events have been these past few months, it’s hard to top the drama of the March 11, 2011 tsunami in Japan. More than 16,000 died, and a nuclear-power plant melted down. But it was the power of the ocean ripping apart cities and beaches—captured on television and online—that put that weather event in the awful category that stays in the mind and does not go away. And as climate change lays its hammer down—with every extreme-weather event the foreboding increases—in March last year, what did we know?

From our motel window, we could see the dock far down the beach. It had been a tourist attraction since it washed up in June, with parking hard to find nearby. Most of the locals we talked to hadn’t been out to see it. It was a tourist thing.

But it’s not. It’s a totem of a kind, a signifier. A concrete shell more than 65-feet long and 7-feet tall, it is, to Ruth’s knowledge, the most dramatic of the 1.5 tons of tsunami waste to wash up on the American shore. Scrapped clean of foreign sea life, it is a discolored and battered shell of another place, a testimony to lives lost and to a curious kind of surviving. (For the massive cement girth of the thing, it floats because it’s filled with Styrofoam.)

We were there in the morning; we had the thing to ourselves. It was a little eerie, there in the fog, surrounded by the puddles of high tide.

By the time you read this, it will have been sliced apart and carted away—a corner of it to be preserved as a memorial.

We wait for climate change to touch our lives. We wait and we wait. And, sooner or later, it washes up on shore.