October 9-10, 2017
Astoria might be remembered more for being the backdrop to 80’s movies like The Goonies or Kindergarden Cop. The Oregon Film Museum is even dedicated to sharing this cinematic history. I came in search of older history, the kind that doesn’t come in 2 hour chunks but has evolved over countless decades.
The town itself seemed caught in-between it’s past and future. Breweries like the Buoy Beer Company, organic bakeries and cafes like Blue Scorcher, and a main street that seemed aimed toward gentrification looked out on a pleasant riverwalk and water routes where tankers lingered and blue-collar fishing and industry still remain.
At Netul Landing, pylons and booms from the original timber harvest had been cleaned up into a pleasant luncheon spot and their history detailed in plaques. A winding, flat trail, connected the site to Fort Clatsop and the reconstructed structures near where the Lewis and Clark expedition had wintered in 1805-1806.
While most of the national park focused on the famed explorers and their Corps of Discovery, I was pleasantly surprised by a documentary, however dated, that takes the perspective of the people already occupying this coastal land prior to the westerners’ arrival. Their story provided additional context to the famed tale and the exhibits at the interpretation center, and was firm in declaring that the people Lewis and Clark encountered were there before they came, after they left, and are still present today.
The Fort to Sea Trail gave my senses a brisker taste of the different landscapes where all of these people, whether native or explorer, lived and found ways to survive. The trail wound downhill from the fort through drenched evergreens to farmlands, across sloughs, and out onto wide beaches where Pacific waves thundered. Seemingly well-intentioned efforts of the 1930’s to employ people and preserve the dunes stood as blackened stumps due to the storms of 2007 when wind and rain led to fires that raced through the straight rows of hand-planted organization. I found fresh trees, shrubs, and native plants growing up through the aftermath, doing what order and efficiency had failed to achieve for posterity.
Further up the coast at Fort Stevens State Park other evidence of man combating nature jutted from the sand and sea. The steel carcass of the Peter Iredale had been worn down, but in it’s shadow, sandpipers dashed in and out with the ebbing water line, careful to avoid a dip into the same waves capable of beaching massive logs as easily as man-made vessels.
Towering over both the town and trails was the Astoria Column. The hilltop view and the history conveyed on the decorative monument were worth the trek but it was the Richard Fencsak Cathedral Tree Trail that I’ll remember most. The elk near the trail-head and the 300+ year old trees, including the trail’s namesake, stood among the moss and fog, growing quietly and steadily regardless of what occurred around them. Sounds of rain, of dripping water, of seals barking miles away, filled the forest, and made me feel appropriately small compared to the natural world that had been there long before, and hopefully, will be sustained long after each and every visit.