Slipsliding away

2020655261 Did the full moon and high tide have anything to do with the the massive landslide yesterday on Whidbey Island in Washington State? #whidbeylandslide

Not only was there a full moon on March 27, but an extremely high tide of 8.9 feet (the record tide height for this spot is 9.8 feet) peaked at 4:44 a.m. — about 30 minutes before a 700-foot section of cliff tumbled into Puget Sound. (Also of note, the tidal coefficient was a “very high” 103, and it was an excellent day for fishing.)

The Whidbey landslide occurred a few miles down the beach from one of my favorite hiking spots, Fort Ebey State Park. The bluffs there are spectacular, almost spiritual; I often visualize them when I’m swimming laps or doing yoga.IMG_3826 IMG_0885It’s humbling to remember that these remnants of ancient glaciers are works of erosive art in progress, continually buffeted by the elements, undermined by underground springs percolating through pockets of gravel, and at the mercy of “earth tides” caused by the moon’s gravitational pull. The human impulse is to climb them, build our houses topside, pretend these great earthen plinths will last forever.

Growing up on Whidbey, I often witnessed micro landslides on the beautiful bluffs as I played on the beach: sudden dribbles of loose earth trickling down, small bursts of rocks bouncing down the slope. Apropos of nothing, it seemed. My parents now live on a nearby island, in a house a few hundred feet from the edge of a cliff. As they gaze out at their awe-inspiring view, they seem unperturbed by what might lurk beneath them. This, despite a slow landslide in 1990 that did a number on a neighboring beach community up the road. (A local blog, Fidalgo Island Crossings, recaps that geologic event nicely.) Their attitude seems to be, hey, why worry? It’s not like we built our house over some sinkhole in Florida.


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