Pacific Ocean

Posted by Ellen

Pacific Ocean beach near Kalaloch, in Olympic National Park.

Driftwood arrives naturally on beaches in the Pacific Northwest; storms, erosion, and ordinary old age can cause trees growing in thin soil on steep slopes to tumble down into inland creeks and rivers; when the rivers are running high and fast, entire forests can be floated right on out to the coast.

Posted by Ellen

At the north end of Castlepoint sheep station is Castle Rock itself, noted and named in the eighteenth century by Captain Cook. The rock anchors one end of a limestone reef; on the headland at the other end is Castlepoint Lighthouse, built in 1913, originally fueled by oil but now wired into the grid and controlled from a switchboard in Wellington, a couple of hours away. Its light is visible 22 miles out at sea.

The postage stamp above dates from 1947.  For almost a century beginning in the 1890s, the New Zealand government operated a life insurance company that had government franking privileges and printed its own stamps. Lighthouses were nineteenth-century symbols for insurance companies (as were big rocks, e.g., Mutual of Omaha). The government sold off its insurance operations in the 1980s, to a corporation doing business as Tower Life of Dunedin, New Zealand.

The reef at Castlepoint is not at all like the coral reefs growing placidly around tropical lagoons; geologically, it's a chunk of ancient seafloor millions of years old heaved up violently during seismic activity associated with the collision of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.

The limestone in the reef is richly fossiliferous, and directly underneath the lighthouse it's pocked with caves.

Inside the reef is a lagoon and a wide, hard-sand beach, crucial features in the development of a large sheep station here, back in the days before highways. Since the coast in this region has no natural harbors, sheepmen used to drive wagonloads of wool bales down the beach, to be loaded at water's edge into small boats that ventured out at high tide to meet up with cargo ships waiting offshore.

Today, shipping activity at Castlepoint is mostly recreational in nature, and the hard-packed beach now serves tractors and boat trailers. The blue tractor in the picture below is driverless and remote controlled from the boat, where the captain calls for it to push an empty trailer down into the surf and then pull the loaded trailer back up to high ground.

In the picture below, the tiny figure walking the beach near water's edge is my mother-in-law.

Posted by Ellen

On November 15, 1805, Lewis and Clark first saw the Pacific Ocean here, at the mouth of the Columbia River. It was raining. The expedition hunkered down across from a headland that English sailors had already named Cape Disappointment; it rained on them that day and the next day and the day after that, and all but twelve of the succeeding days for five months straight.

In May, however, as this photo proves, disappointment is no part of the scene.

We head westward this morning for another of Lewis and Clark's campsites: Missoula, Montana, which they called Traveller's Rest.

These here Good Mornings are unlikely until late in the month.

Posted by Ellen

About forty years ago, the limestone in the old quarry down by the waterfront in Oamaru was finally all worked out. The quarrymen left, taking their big machines with them.

The penguins moved in.

Penguins are common in seaside places all over New Zealand, and the Little Blue penguins like the ones in the Oamaru quarry are the commonest of all. New Zealanders generally seem to be fond of penguins and often place nestboxes in their yards to attract them. But city officials in Oamaru felt the town quarry was a terrible spot for a large penguin colony; for one thing, the birds were going to cause all kinds of traffic problems when they went waddling across the roads. For another thing, the quarrying operation had utilized some nasty chemicals, the residue of which might potentially sicken penguins. And then also, of course, somebody might want the real estate to feather his or her own nest, so to speak....
 
 
So the birds were moved out, to a site down the coast considered more appropriate. But they came back. Their nests were destroyed, and nice new nestboxes were offered them at the alternative site. They still went back to the quarry. Little Blues do that. They are the smallest of all penguins, not even knee-high, and they are homebodies.
 
Unlike many species of birds, including several penguin species, Little Blues do not migrate. They settle in communities of hundreds or even thousands of birds, often building their nests within a few feet of the spots where they themselves hatched and were raised. 
 
Every morning, they gather in groups--called rafts--of a dozen or so birds that head down to the beach together and then out into the surf; they swim together for miles to their fishing grounds, where they spread out to spend the day alone, diving a few feet down to catch their favorite fish, a small, shallow-schooling variety called slender sprat.
 
Penguins have hooks on their beaks and barbs on their tongues, ideal for grabbing onto slippery fishy things.
 
Every evening, the  penguin rafts reassemble and swim back to their home beach, where the birds emerge from the sea and climb back up the bluffs to their nests.
 
 
In 1992, the city of Oamaru finally gave up on its penguin-relocation project, perhaps because people had figured out how to monetize the colony. They fenced off the old quarry, opened a gift shop, sold tickets, even built a grandstand so visitors could sit comfortably while they watched the evening parade of feathered finery.
 
The organization that manages the Oamaru penguin colony also sponsors scientific research into penguin-human interactions. They report that the colony has continued to grow and thrive despite the thousands of tourists tromping through. Breeding pairs currently number about 160, laying between 250 and 500 eggs each spring, of which about 80% will hatch; about 80% of the hatchlings survive to fledge, when they can go out fishing on their own.
 
The quarry has been cleaned of old industrial waste and outfitted with nestboxes, some of which are designed so that researchers can watch the goings-on inside. And every evening, beginning around sunset, while tour guides keeps the tourists apprised of what the birds are up to, staff members carefully count the number of Little Blues coming back from the sea.
 
Posted by Ellen

Last week, the USS Ingraham crossed the equator, somewhere in the eastern Pacific. Per centuries of tradition, this event necessitated a Crossing the Line ritual; those sailors and officers who had crossed the equator before assembled as King Neptune and his court to supervise the cleansing of the rest of the crew, slimy pollywogs all. The lengthy proceedings included green, slimy-looking food that had to be eaten without utensils or hands, and pushups on deck, attempted at the business end of a firehose.

Here, the royal court ponders the worthiness of one of the wogs. Seated in the middle in t-shirt and ball cap is the Ingraham's captain, Commander Kristin Stengel.