Falcon Cove

One child was killed and another is missing after being swept into the ocean on Saturday off Falcon Cove.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to say on The Ship Report about the tragedy on the beach at Falcon Cove near Cannon Beach this weekend. A dad and his two small children were swept out to sea by what seems to have been a sneaker wave. The two children died and the dad was in the hospital.

I talk about safety a lot on The Ship Report and I usually mention it when something like this happens, as a cautionary note. I hope the message of safety reaches people.

I can’t imagine the torment this father will go through in the aftermath of this event. What’s called for now is compassion in the face of unspeakable loss.

But I do have a few thoughts that might be useful, beyond the usual safety warnings: Saturday I felt distraught and sad about this, and I know from reading social media posts that other people felt it, too.

That’s the thing about living in a coastal community. We’re tight-knit here, like it or not, and we feel what’s happening to one another. When a boat goes down, or a person is lost overboard, or people get swept out to sea, we all grieve. And we’re grieving now, again. It’s a price we pay for living in this beautiful, dangerous place.

To get some perspective, I drove to Cape Disappointment on Saturday and did what I have been telling you all to do when these storms hit: I went up to the visitor center on top of the cliff and went to the big observation room where you can look out over the Columbia River Bar. I was able to sit alone for awhile and stare out the window at the mouth of the river. A line of breakers 20 feet high was creating a formidable barrier to anyone wanting to cross. No one was.

As I sat there watching the water closely, I was struck by the raw, seething, tremendous power in it. We see it somewhat in the gorgeous photos people take of giant waves exploding in the air at Waikiki Beach, or in the pounding surf you can hear for miles away. As I looked at the water roiling at the base of the cliff, and churning out on the bar, I could feel the immense, overwhelming energy there.

That force is part of our experience every time we get near the shore, or venture out in a boat. It’s the force that sinks ships and fishing boats, pounds beached vessels to bits and drags buoys off their moorings. It’s more powerful than any of us. And it’s your companion on every beach walk, every boat ride, every trip to the coast.

The confusing thing is, on Saturday, despite all the warnings, it just didn’t look that bad out there, even though it was. When I was there, there were no towering waves, like in a movie, and for someone unfamiliar with the ocean, it looked like a stormy day like many others. But out there, the ocean was full of wild energy waiting to be expressed in potentially destructive ways.

Please don’t ever forget that the ocean is there, that it’s bigger than you, and does not necessarily have your best interests at heart, or care that you came there to have a good time. The warnings are not for the timid, for those who are easily scared off. They’re for everyone, even the strong and young, and there’s no shame in heeding them.

If we have any adventurous spirit in us at all, we’ve sometimes put ourselves in situations where, had the wrong thing happened, we could have died. I know I have. If we’re still here, we’re fortunate. Dan Haag, head of the Manzanita Visitors Center, said it best in a Facebook post this weekend. Find a loved one and hug them tight. I’d add this: please do your best to keep them off the beach when conditions are severe. That’s love in action.

And, a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to our first responders who stand ready to go into harm’s way at a moment’s notice. That’s love in action, too. We are fortunate to have them — the U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement rescue personnel. They do their best for us every day, no matter what, without judgment. Another big thing to be grateful for.

That’s all I have right now. Be safe out there, and take care of each other.

Joanne Rideout is news director of Coast Community Radio and author of The Ship Report.

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