Question: What's the most memorably creative use of kelp you've ever witnessed on tan Oregon beach?
- Jump rope
- Photographic subject for greeting cards
- Harness for a driftwood sled pulled by huskies
- Rotunda fort
- Whip for practice S&M
- Teenage fashion statement
- Dog toy
- Riding crop
- Percussion instrument
- Coiled decoration on a pagan monolith
- Typography for a love letter in the sand
- Pointing directions to a secret hideaway
Excellent candidates all of these, but none of them compare to the wonder I discovered not long ago.
It was a rare rainless afternoon in late November, and I was walking my neighbor's dog, Crazy Country Maddie, down the beach after a big storm. We dodged dozens of huge entangled piles of kelp at the wrack line and they vaguely reminded me of creatures from a Jules Verne novel.
A quarter mile into our jaunt, something distant to the north captured my attention: a strand of kelp originating at the base of a cliff that snaked 75 yards westward to the ocean before ending atop a drift log partially submerged in sand.
Curious, I jogged over to investigate. Five minutes later I found myself sprinting back to the house with Maddie to retrieve my camera. I simply had to document the most marvelous engineering project I've encountered in all my 15 years of relentless rambling down Oregon Coast's publicly owned beaches.
It was a magisterial work of public art, a fountain made entirely of kelp that must have taken all day to conceive and construct, cost nothing, and had approximately 15 minutes left to survive before the incoming tide demolished it.
How many people noticed the fountain that afternoon? I might have been the only one.
Thank the spirit of journalism and behold:
Water collects in a catch basin at the base of the cliff.
Pipe lengths cut from kelp.
Water flows downhill through pipe.
The pipe ends at a drift log.
Water spurts out of the fountain.
Up close on the fountain.
The fountain's maker leaves a signature behind.
Not long after a version of this story appeared in a coastal magazine I write for, I was ordering a beer at the Salty Dawg bar in Waldport when a man from my neighborhood came up and said, "The guy that made the Kelp Fountain is here with me."
"What? Here? I've got to meet him," I said. I don't think I've ever wanted to meet a living Oregonian more.
Every once and a great while, a writer is fortunate to unravel a beautiful mystery by virtue of writing about it for publication.
Such is the case with the magical Kelp Fountain.
I walked up to a table decorated with Bloody Marys and gentlemen fishermen. Outside, all things crabbing on Alsea Bay were going down in noisy, colorful splendor. My neighbor introduced me to Geof, and I learned the inspiring story of this magnificent work of public art that the tide swept away 15 minutes after I viewed it. To my total astonishment, Geof wasn't a former engineer and didn't claim any special sensibility for aesthetics.
An hour later, I opened an email at home and read:
We read your article about the kelp fountain constructed on Thanksgiving Day by my husband, son, daughter and grandchildren. The fountain was the concept of my husband, Geof, who enjoys using whatever is available on the beach to create a project that our family can do all together. Construction required about two to three hours and everyone contributed, even our littlest guy. We want our grandchildren to enjoy their time at the beach and their Grandpa's imagination makes it happen. The kids wrote their last name in the sand to sign their work.
We loved your article and thanks for appreciating a project that made our Thanksgiving special.
When I received this email, which also included a photograph of the construction crew, Geof had not yet told his wife that he had met me in the bar. There was a synchronicity about all of this that frequently happens to me in connection to my beach adventures. I have no explanation for them whatsoever and don't know why they keep occurring.
I do know something, though. I know that every family that finds themselves celebrating Thanksgiving (or any holiday, for that matter) at the Oregon coast after a big storm should eat a hearty meal, give thanks to Oregon's unprecedented legacy of publicly owned beaches, and go build a kelp fountain or driftwood fort together. You can always watch televised sports later... or not at all.