Life's a beach and other wisdom from the coast

"Strand" - Bonnie Henderson

OSU Press - 216 pages - $18.95

You know what they say about one man's junk being another man's treasure? Eugene author Bonnie Henderson gives us a new take on that old saw: she considers jetsam that has washed up on a particular Oregon beach from around the Pacific Rim and writes about it in a series of jewel-like essays.

Her new book, "Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris" is a must-read for anyone interested in the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest.

A former Sunset Magazine staffer, as well as the author of an Oregon hiking guide for families, Henderson is a naturalist by avocation. For more than a decade, she has volunteered for Coastwatch, a program sponsored by the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition that tracks changes along every mile of Oregon's Pacific Coast shoreline.

Mile 157 on the central Oregon coast may not have especially distinctive characteristics - there are no creeks wending their way out to sea along this broad band of sand, no cliffs, no offshore islands. But Henderson has diligently walked the beach at least four times a year since 1995, recording what she finds there and discovering a world's worth of interesting stories washed up on her stretch of beach.

A glass fishing float, the burned-out hull of a fishing boat, a minke whale carcass, an athletic shoe - "the wrack line on the beach is a kind of modern midden," Henderson notes. And just as archaeologists have teased information and understanding out of the middens of ancient civilizations, Henderson began to probe for the stories behind the debris she came across along Mile 157.

Her discovery of the glass fishing float took her first to the Beachcomber Fun Fair at Ocean Shores to try to discover its provenance and eventually to a Japanese glass factory.

The dead minke whale prompted her to head a couple of hundred miles north to lend a hand with cutting-edge whale research being conducted in the waters around the San Juan Islands.

As for the orphaned shoe, a size 11 Reebok that was waterlogged but otherwise in pristine condition, Henderson had to summon her best investigative skills to track down and visit its birthplace in a Chinese factory and further trace its ill-starred voyage aboard the APL China, which lost more than 400 containers at sea during a typhoon-bedeviled Pacific crossing in 1998.

This leads to a discussion of the notorious "Eastern Garbage Patch," an eddy in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that contains decades' worth of debris - most of it plastic. It is twice the size of Texas.

These and other stories in "Strand" provide fantastic insights into the ocean sciences, from the nitty-gritty of evolutionary adaptation to the physics of drift.

But "Strand" has other dimensions, too. It's a terrific collection of human interest stories - people are drawn to the sea for many reasons. And it's an invaluable meditation on our place, as individuals and as a society, in the larger scheme of things.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at

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