Katie No Trees

katie trees
Photo: Don Frank

EVERY SUMMER our Oregon Coast towns are swarmed with visitors. We see them gathered cozily around evening bonfires, frolicking in the ocean, building sand-castles, searching for seashells, and standing in awe of our pink-orange sunsets. These same adoring visitors are hiking our mountain trails under the canopy of huge old-growth trees and abundant greenery. They are walking the banks of our rivers and investigating the array of bird species inhabiting our beaches, estuaries and woods. Millions of dollars are spent every year so that people can escape their traffic jams and concrete to seek renewal in the ocean air. The natural beauty of our own backyard is what many people consider paradise.

Photo: Don Frank

As full time residents it is easy to forget the significance of what surrounds us. Katie Trees and her daughter, Ara, are two people who have not forgotten how blessed we are living here on the North Oregon Coast. They moved out of apartment living and into a Seaside home three years ago. The draw of their current residence, tucked back off Wahanna Road, was the natural beauty of the land surrounding it. They were immediately enchanted by the magnificent Cedar, Hemlock, Spruce and Fir trees encircling the neighborhood. Although much of the land comprising their yard is not actually owned by their landlords, they have been caring for the untended land for the last three years. Katie and Ara planted and maintained a variety of ferns, plants, bushes, shrubs, and flowers. They watched the visiting deer munch from the thriving elderberry, huckleberry and blueberry bushes. They lovingly planted an Andromeda tree and an Escallonia shrub. They created a bark-chip pathway weaving around the perimeter of their house so that they could move about the yard in winter without getting muddy.

Their yard was home to a plethora of wildlife. Bird feeders and wind chimes hung from tree branches and a bird bath serviced many a flighty friend. Ara is a photographer. She has been ill and homebound for seven years, and her yard has been a sanctuary, a place of healing and tranquility for her. She has spent hours photographing her wildlife friends. Her protected yard and the forested land surrounding their house provided her with the opportunity to experience the outdoors in a safe and beautiful environment.

fallen tree
Felled tree. One of the older trees in the 1.5 acre demolished urban wood.

THE OWNERS of this abundant and lively land are members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Neighboring Tree’s home is one of their Mormon churches. Trees was notified in July of this year by the church elder overseeing the Northwest branch that they needed to enlarge their parking lot from 70 to 143 parking spaces to accommodate their growing congregation. Trees requested that the 20 feet of existing land between the end of her deck and the pre-renovated parking lot – the piece of land that she and her daughter had so faithfully maintained – be left intact as a buffer between her residence and the new parking lot. She also made pleas to save some of the old-growth trees, offering ideas on how to incorporate the trees into the new parking lot. This suggestion was reiterated by Planning Commissioner Tom Horning when the plans were submitted to the council for approval. Horning requested that they adjust their plans in order to save some of the trees. These suggestions were turned down, but Trees’ request to keep her small piece of yard was granted with a promise from the church elder.

In the following weeks Katie and Ara watched as the forested land surrounding their home was bulldozed and trees were uprooted. Within the 1.5 acres of urban wood that was demolished, some of these trees were dated to be 100-years-old after they came down. Most of them were at least 50-years-old. The ground was cleared and preparations were made to pour the concrete. As the women stood watching they noticed that the foreman and workers were careful to stay away from the 20 feet of land that was promised to them. It was clear that the agreement between Trees and the elder had been communicated to the men doing the work. Although it was painful to watch the beloved trees come down, the mother and daughter found comfort in knowing that their 20 feet of yard would be untouched.

before destruction 1Given the promises that were made to her, you can imagine Trees’ shock one afternoon during the demolition when she received a text from her daughter informing her that the 20 feet of buffer land was being destroyed. The trees, plants, ferns, bark-chip path…even the birdbath, were being torn down. Trees rushed home from work at her lunch break to find that everything once living on the 20 feet of land was gone. In her bewilderment she went immediately to the foreman; he told her that he was just following orders. According to the supervisor of the project, they had decided to change their plans and push their fence line back to follow the property line exactly. “Weren’t you notified with a phone call?” the foreman asked Trees. “No,” she replied, “I received no call.” She wasn’t even given the chance to dig up and replant her plants.

Trees went to the Planning Director of Seaside, Kevin Couples, and requested that he come to her house to assess what had happened. He walked the land with her, and upon seeing the new fence line only inches away from the end of her deck affirmed that it was not in the original plans. According to Tom Horning, former chairman and current member of the Seaside Planning Commission, Seaside has no official tree ordinance. It is the responsibility of the property owner to act in a neighborly fashion. “As members of a community it is expected that property owners will act responsibly,” states Horning. Unfortunately those old trees were not protected by the city of Seaside and so they came down without protest. The church has promised to replace the old growth with 22 new plantings of their choice. At this point it is unknown what the final landscape will be, but as far as our wildlife friends are concerned, their home of indigenous trees is gone.


before destruction 2
Katie and Ara’s backyard sanctuary before its destruction.

Those trees and that unattended undergrowth were precious and it was hallowed ground. Some of the grandfather trees were counted at well over 100 years old after they were felled. Even the scrubby elderberry served a banquet of berries to the flighty community and provided nesting and resting places. The grander trees, the alders, several holly trees and even the blackberry provided a buffer for sound and a barrier for the wind. We all know that a mature tree produces oxygen, but did you know that a leafy tree produces enough oxygen for 10 people to inhale for a year? Yes. The runoff to our streams are cleaned by the absorption of pollutants. There was precious top soil under that hemlock needle carpet we walked on in that small wood.
– Katie Trees on the land that she and her daughter lost.

Unfortunately, the felled trees were not the only issues of concern when discussing the new development. According to Horning, the commissioners got a little sidetracked from the trees during their meeting because they were dealing with the pertinent problem of drainage and storm run-off. Doubling the parking spaces also means doubling the amount of auto toxins that the land receives. Horning’s concern was for the vitality of nearby Coho Creek, and the negative effects that the toxins from storm run-off would have on salmon runs. To deal with this problem a suggestion was made during the meeting that the church put in a bioswale to filter the added toxins. A bios wale is an underground media filter, water quality treatment box. This suggestion was rejected on the basis that it would impede on the 30 foot buffer land surrounding the parking lot. The drainage for the property currently flows directly into Coho Creek.

The elderberry show... birdy delight.
The elderberry show… birdy delight.

Tom Horning was the only member of the 7-member Planning Commission to vote “no” on the plans that were presented. He made a last request that the church replant half a dozen Sitka spruce trees within the 30 foot boundary so that the indigenous trees would fill in the area and eventually turn it back into a forested area again. His request was not granted and the plans were passed 6-1.

The rare hairy woodpecker who visited often.

Katie Trees has been made painfully aware of how fleeting words and promises can be as she awaits the future of her demolished yard. The property line is only inches from the end of her deck and she dreads the possibility that a fence will be built along that line. For now, the sounds of excavators and dump trucks have replaced the sound of bird songs and woodpeckers. The view from her kitchen window is cement, turned-up land, and an 8-foot-high wall with 6-foot-tall fence posts on top of that; the purpose, she is told, is privacy.

birds 2
“My daughter loved tose sweet babies. She was able to get them to eat out of her hand. They slept in the snag right off the back, There were holes pecked out by the woodpeckers that they nestled in.” – Katie Trees

This is a story of loss. This is Katie’s story, but as a community, this is our story. Within it are broken promises and irreverence for the precious resources that we all share. We forget that with ownership comes responsibility. Within a community we are responsible to each other and to the earth that gives us life. In the end, if we do not have this, then what do we have?

Editors Note: This story as pointed out by contributing writer Erin Hofseth, is a story of loss. The owners of the land, The LDS Church, were well within there right to utilize their property. There was no reply to Hofseth’s queries to LDS representatives. Planning Commissions are the interpreters of ordinances, codes, standards to interpret and enforce. They are also empowered to forge compromise, and today the great opportunity exists to enlist counsel of conservation organizations in place, such as watershed councils and organizations like the North Coast Land Conservancy. Public input also plays a viable role. We hope that this story spurs consideration by our readers to the matters of impact of land development presented.


Spirit in the Waves – Women Who Surf The North Coast

Sydney Nelson rides the clear blue Pacific.

THE WATER is ice-crystal-blue and the waves are breaking hard against the rocky shore. It’s raining sideways, I am shivering under my wool hat and fleece jacket; the sky is a typical Oregon-coast-grey. I watch my husband, a black neoprene figure with a scruffy beard, balancing over the slippery rocks leading down to the ocean. There are a handful of other surfers already out there. They are harmoniously following an unspoken pattern of turn-taking as they paddle, one at a time, into the oncoming swells. Some are skillfully scaling down the face of these mountainous waves; others are being spit out from the barreling mouth, board soaring through the air, body dropping into the mass of turbulent white water at the bottom. Most of the black-suited bodies are masculine figures; but every once in awhile I detect a feminine silhouette gracefully gliding down the enormous face. I watch in awe, as my heart vicariously skips a beat, who is that?

Anyone who has visited our open beaches on a sunny, summer Saturday has witnessed how much joy the ocean can bring people of all ages. You can find people riding waves using everything from their own bodies to kayaks, but these “weekend warriors,” as passionate as they are about the ocean when they are on vacation, may not be aware of what surfing means to the year-round local surfer around here. While some were born and raised here, others migrated to our coastal towns years ago for the sole purpose of surfing. What most established local surfers would say they have found here is a tight-knit community of surfers, who protect what they love with a vengeance. Localism is heavy, especially in the winter months when the waves are large and the coveted surf spots are working. Given the intimidating conditions, one may assume that all of the year round ocean dwellers are men; that assumption is far from true.

There are many awe-inspiring female surfers in our community that, with steady commitment, charge our icy-cold waters year round. They are of all ages, walks of life, and skill level, but they are united by a common bond: a love for the ocean and the willingness to face whatever She throws their way.

I hail you back to that cold, rainy, winter day, when I stood watching a female figure gracefully cascade down the face of a giant wave. Who was that woman? Her name is Sydney Nelson.

Sydney Nelson
Seaside, Oregon

How long have you lived in Seaside?

I came to Seaside 16 years ago, planning to work, just for the summer, at Cleanline Surf Shop. I was living at Mount Hood at the time, but I fell in love with it here; all aspects: the beauty, the surfing, the community, and I never left.

How long have you been surfing?

18 years. I was a sponsored, competitive snowboarder for 15 years, but I got injured and couldn’t do it anymore. After that, I got serious about surfing.

Did you have a teacher, or are you self-taught?

I am self taught, I learned completely on my own. I was on a mission to learn and I was determined. The local guys befriended me when I moved here and we would all surf together. I’ve been obsessed with surfing for as long as I can remember. Even when I was living in Arizona as a kid, I knew surfing would become a huge part of my life, I just didn’t know when.

How long did you co-own the Seaside Surf Shop?

I co-owned Seaside Surf for 10 years, but it was time to make a change. Doing what I loved for a living was hard, it added an element of stress to my surfing and it was starting to change surfing for me.

How was your transition into the surfing community when you first moved here?

I got some grief, but I was determined, and you have to earn it. I understand the localism here, it’s necessary. I don’t think violent or destructive localism is necessary, but we’ve got to protect and respect this area, in all ways; picking up trash on the beach, shopping locally, and respecting the beauty of this place. All the locals are really good guys, with huge hearts, but this is where they were raised, it’s their backyard, and they want respect for their backyard.

Do you think that women treat each other differently than men treat each other in the ocean?

Women are much friendlier to each other. There are times when we are edgy, but for the most part we are more accepting by nature.

What role does surfing play in your life?

Surfing is my whole life. I plan my days around what the surf is doing. I can’t do anything with my day unless I know what the surf is doing.

What’s the one thing you would tell a woman interested in picking up surfing around here?

No matter what you think, or how un-cool it seems, do not start on a shortboard. Learn to surf on a longboard and your frustration level will be so much lower. Also, you’ve got to be a good swimmer, because you can’t just rely on a flotation device.

Born and raised in Cannon Beach, Julie Nelson has taken her love for surfing across the nations. For the last two years, she has dedicated her life to the non-profit humanitarian surf organization, Surfing the Nations. Now based in Wahiawa, Oahu, she travels around the world working with underprivileged children, forming relationships with them, and teaching them how to swim and surf. Here’s what she had to say about growing up as a female surfer in this area and how it’s evolved into what she is doing now.

Julie Nelson
Wahiawa, Oahu

How long have you been surfing?

10 years, I started when I was 14.

Who taught you?

I sort of taught myself, but I was always in the water with my dad; my dad is a natural fish and I’m a daddy’s girl, so I was always with him. My best friend, Micah Cerelli kept me surfing in High School, and Mark Mekenas (owner of Cannon Beach Surf Shop) poured the culture of surfing into my life, and that was really what led me to what I am doing now.

With both the extreme elements and the heavy localism of this area, have you always felt comfortable in the water?

Yes, because my dad had me in the water from day one, and that gave me a lot of confidence; the consistency of being in the water all my life took away the fear. I also always stuck with a crew that included guys; they would block for me, cheer me on, and make sure I made it out every time.

In what ways has surfing impacted the direction your life has gone?

It has allowed me to realize how far I can go using what God has given me. I’ve found that it’s hard to find a surfer that doesn’t believe in something bigger. Surfing opens your eyes to the power of creation; it makes you realize that there’s something greater.

Surfing is a common language no matter what culture I am in. It’s an instant connection with people who don’t’ speak the same language as I, and that serves to further our relationship. Surfing has allowed me to reach the nations, the surf board is simply a means of my day, but the culture is what makes me who I am.

Do you have a surfing mentor?

I’ve had several at different times in my life. When I was learning how to surf, it was my friend Micah; she always pushed my skills. Later, it was Mark Mekenas, who helped to develop the professional side of my surfing. I began teaching lessons for him at Cannon Beach Surf, when I was 15, and now I am the department head of the Surfing the Nations Surf Department. Right now my mentor is Charis Ifland. She influences me in every way: skills, passion and professionalism.

Do you see yourself ending up back here on the Oregon coast?

Yes, definitely. Growing up on the Oregon coast is the best blessing, but also a curse, because you can never stay away.

My next interviewee, Beth (Gergick) Catt, is as dedicated as they come. She is 7 months pregnant and still riding waves. Originally from Florida, she spent time in both California and Portland, before moving to the Oregon coast 5 1/2 years ago to surf our much colder Pacific Ocean breaks.

Beth (Gergick) Catt
Seaside, Oregon

How long have you been surfing?

I started 19 years ago in Florida.

Did you move to Seaside for the surf?

Yes, I was living in Portland and driving to the coast every week to surf. I decided that I needed to just move to the ocean.

Have you been surfing consistently throughout your pregnancy?

Yes, but I have to be more cautious now of what conditions I go out in. I also have had to alter my paddling position. I have to bend my knees and put my butt up in the air to take the pressure off the baby. (Beth gets down on the floor to demonstrate and it’s quite entertaining.)

Who taught you how to surf?

Ever since I was a little girl I had been drawn to surf culture. Growing up in Florida I was always playing in the ocean and I have always felt really connected to the ocean. My brother surfed and I begged him to take me out but it never really happened.

At the end of High School I decided to stop waiting around for someone to teach me, so I bought a board and went out on shore-pound waves, clueless about what I was doing. My friend, Joanna, was my only friend who would do it with me, we were addicted. Finally, my friend, Shawnie, started taking me out to the official local breaks at New Smyrna Beach Inlet.

How was your transition into the local surf community when you moved to Seaside?

To this day, I feel extremely lucky that I had an easy transition. People have been nothing but welcoming and supportive in the water. At times I had to make the first effort with some of the women in the ocean to show that there was no competition with me and that it was all about camaraderie. I was always just so stoked to be surfing with other women. I use to feel like I had to prove myself up and down the Oregon coast, and it was actually pretty freeing for me when I surrendered that ego and just surfed when and where I wanted. I got better and started having that fun stoked feeling again that I originally had when I first started surfing. I have a humble respect for the women around here that I see charging bigger surf than I am comfortable with.

What role does surfing play in your life?

Surfing has changed the whole course of my life. I have only allowed myself to live in places where I could be near the ocean, which has shut out many opportunities, but opened up many opportunities as well. Surfing has taken me through Central and South America, to Indonesia, Canada and Mexico; a lot of that traveling was by myself. It has thrown me into new cultures, which in turn has molded me into a much more open-minded person. It has changed what’s important to me. I would much rather live in a shack near the ocean than a mansion in Ohio…no offense to Ohio.

I had the realization one day that I use the same words to describe God, Love and the Ocean.  I need them, I crave them, I am in awe of them, but I know that if I don’t respect them, I am in trouble.

Judi Lampi began swimming competitively when she was 14 years old. She’s a two-time All American Swimmer, with 4 years of collegiate swimming under her belt, and over 15 years of competitive swimming through Masters Swimming Club. She began surfing a year and half ago. At 53, she refers to herself as an “advanced beginner.” To say she’s inspiring would be an understatement. I had the privilege of sitting down with Judi to talk about what inspired her to start surfing, how it has impacted her life, and what her future goals are as she continues to pursue this enlivening sport.

Judi Lampi
Warrenton, Oregon

How long have you lived in Warrenton?

I moved here from Portland 9 years ago.

What inspired you to start surfing?

When I moved here in 2003, I took part in Northwest Women’s Surf Camp with Lexi Hallahan and I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t get passionate about it yet. A friend of mine started surfing and he and I got into it together a year and a half ago. We would go 2-3 times a week. We hired Lexi and did semi-private lessons with 2-3 people. Then my friend moved away and I started surfing by myself. I hired Lexi for private lessons; she’s my “surf coach.”

In what ways has surfing impacted your life?

It has put excitement back into my life; it energizes me and gives me something to look forward to. I have lost 27 pounds since I started surfing and now that I feel energized, I want to be in better shape. I started taking a yoga class and that has really helped with my balance. Surfing has inspired me to be a healthier person; when you are on the beach and in the water, you feel good about yourself.

As a new surfer, how have you been treated by other surfers in the water?

Everyone is really nice. They answer questions for me and I get to visit with some really interesting people in the parking lots. Now that I have been surfing for awhile, I find that I start to see the same people. They recognize me and say hello; that’s really nice when you are surfing alone.

How has your history of competitive swimming influenced your surfing?

It has given me a lot of confidence in my swimming abilities when I surf, but I know that I still have to respect the ocean.

What are your personal surfing goals right now?

I still have a lot of work to do, especially dropping into waves. I am out past the break now and learning how to angle my board on my drop. I am focusing on turning my board into waves and riding down the line. With Lexi’s guidance, I set goals for myself and once I achieve those goals and gain the confidence I need, I tackle the next ones. One thing that I really want to learn more about is how wind direction and tides affect the swell.

Do you see yourself surfing for the rest of your life?

Yes, definitely.


A Contented Form of Feminism

So, two things got me thinking again.  I finished reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and I received the December edition of Victoria’s Secret catalogue in the mail (I am apparently residually on their mailing list after buying underwear there a few times).

I have refrained from mentally engaging the complexities of gender related issues since I graduated from college.  I had a feminist professor who had a knack for getting me all riled up.  She was a beautiful combination of high heels and tri-athlete, challenging every societal norm that slightly marginalized women.  I couldn’t even sit through dinner with friends without finding myself hot and agitated, having been referred to, throughout the night, as a “chick,” a “hey man,” and a “you guys.”  They say “ignorance is bliss,” and I agree, because enlightenment sure is exhausting.

Tired of always being mad at my male friends, father, brother and anyone who accidentally called me a “girl” instead of a woman, or referred to God as a man, I decided to give up the feminist act and just live my life.  I have since shied away from gender discussions and turned my critical attitude inward.  Trying to make societal changes through argument and accusations only leads to frustration, which only leads to bitterness; this just keeps a person down.  Since college, in lieu of stirring up gender related conflict, I have instead gotten married, traveled, bought a house with my husband, worked a variety of jobs and given birth to two beautiful boys.

When that Victoria’s Secret magazine landed on my front step, I opened it up, furrowed my brow and flipped through the pages mindlessly.  “Cute underwear,” I thought.  “That would be a great nursing shirt,” I found myself saying out loud.  My husband and my two-year old came beside me to peer over my shoulder and check out the goods.  Asher, in all of his beautiful two year old innocence, said, “Mommy?” pointing at one of the Barbie Doll models with breasts three sizes larger than mine and much “less nursed” looking.  Breasts, to him, still solely signify nourishment, and any woman with breasts, is without a doubt a “mommy.”
“Look at these models!”  I said to my husband, “they are tiny!”  I have said this before many, many times.  This used to be one of my favorite hot topics, ranting about how ridiculously unrealistic underwear model’s bodies are, but in this particular moment, with my two year old staring down at the page and my husband smirking over my shoulder, I felt that familiar agitated burning feeling sneaking up on me.  Some of the women were literally made to look plastic; their skin iridescent and shiny, slightly bronzed and glimmered.  Others were so disproportionately small in the hips in relation to their breasts that I felt actual pain in my lower body just thinking about the simple mechanics of walking up a stair case with these measurements.

“No baby, that’s not Mommy, Mommy is real.”

The Help got me thinking in a whole different direction.  Since finishing the book, I had spent hours sitting, watching my babies, thinking of how my life has changed since becoming a mother; thinking about what it means to be a woman and a mother right now, at this time, in this country.  In what ways are we similar to the characters in this widely read novel set in 1960’s Mississippi that grapples with issues of racism, sexism and human cruelty?  In what ways do we bring our fellow females down in our actions, speech or judgments?  How are we making conscious efforts to lift each other up?  During an era when half naked Victoria’s Secret models seductively stare my two year old in the face and pop culture continues to promote derogatory, over sexualized messages about the female body, what are we doing to support and encourage one another?

I realize now that angrily picking apart the overuse of generic masculine pronouns in our language gets me nowhere on my quest towards encouraging other females to embrace who they are.  In fact, it demonstrates nothing supportive in my cause.  Instead of portraying myself as a victim-like, uptight female, I would rather be perceived as a woman who is comfortable in my own skin.  Now a mother of two boys, I find that I am faced with a huge responsibility.  I want my boys to be vessels of change in this world and I believe that it starts with teaching them how to love and trust themselves so that they may have the capacity to love and accept others.  I believe that teaching through demonstration is the most effective way to pass on knowledge.  My first goal is to be overtly respectful and loving towards my own body.  One way I have chosen to do this, is to openly breastfeed my babies.  I do this because it is a way that I can publicly embrace my valuable role as a mother and a female.  The more women who are made to feel comfortable doing this, the more mainstream this significant act will become.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the next generation of little boys could grow up appreciating breasts as something more than sexual objects?

I am also on a quest to be purposeful with my language.  The subtleties of language can have a dramatic impact on children as they learn about the world around them.    It means speaking in uplifting ways about both males and females, and in ways that don’t blindly categorize.  I always appreciated my Grandfather, who without a doubt, assumed that I would be running the motor and pulling shrimp pots every time we went out on his boat.  The confidence in his voice when he said, “Alright Erin, you’re up,” said, you are just as capable as the boys.  When he stood in the kitchen with an apron on and helped my grandmother make raspberry jam, he was demonstrating to me, at an impressionable age, that kitchen jobs were not gender specific, but dependent on an individual’s interests and hobbies.

Men like my Grandfather are the reason that I have decided not to be an angry feminist.  I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, or force people to change their ways.  I just need to be happy being me; pursuing my life without self inflicted limits and preconceived notions, embracing my individual female identity, and encouraging the women and mothers that surround me to do the same.  After all, being a contented feminist is much less tiring than being an angry feminist, and it may be more influential as well.