56605 Sitka Drive
Otis, OR 97368
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January Director's Journal

The winter afternoon is mild as Sitka colleague Nancy Newman and I set out by paddleboard and kayak across the estuary to South Salmon Spit. I am tagging along on her monthly survey of Oregon coast mile 247 as part of Sitka’s participation in Oregon Shores’ CoastWatch program.

From our first steps on the sand, Nancy sees more than I do.

“There’s so much debris and sand displacement from the King Tides,” Nancy remarks, her eyes scanning the wrack line and the dense tangle of driftwood, kelp and other botanical and human-made debris that has recently washed ashore. “I’ve never seen so much driftwood or the sand so smooth like this.”

We talk as we walk south along the beach to where the rocks form a natural arch.

“I notice more now,” Nancy reflects when I ask how her relationship with this mile of beach has changed over the last year of overseeing Sitka’s monthly monitoring. “When I started, I was focused on doing my best to understand the survey process. Now I notice smaller changes, like the quality of the sand today, or how the shoreline has been reshaped.

“I’m also more observant of details,” Nancy continues, “like how much of the rocky habitat is accessible from month to month, and I’m better at spotting things that are unusual or that I’ve never encountered before, like seeing a crab molting for the first time. I’m more aware of things specific to this beach and what is strange or wonderful, like the droves of isopods I observed this summer in the rocky habitat or seeing chitons and nudibranchs among the sea stars. I also notice concerning things that I wouldn't have paid attention to before, like dead birds or microplastics in the tide line, because the monthly practice of walking this beach has me witnessing what is different each time.”

Helping Sitka’s resident artists, scientists, and instructors orient to the Center and immerse in nature is a growing part of Nancy’s work. I listen as she describes a recent conversation with Norwegian artist-in-residence Henrik Nordhal about how strange the slow and methodical pace of his days at Sitka is compared to his life in New York, where time blurs with busyness. Once he began settling in, Nancy notes, relaying Nordhal’s observation, one small detail of the natural world can become “a memory for the whole day.”

Sitka’s call for 2024-2025 Residency Program applications is open now.

2023 Sitka Artist-in-Residence Henrik Nordhal

As we walk back along the shoreline, we discuss the year ahead and our excitement to invite practitioners who stay at Sitka to get more involved in citizen science projects. “I've lived in Oregon near the ocean for most of my life,” Nancy reflects, “but when I get to bring people with me on surveys, it never fails to restore my sense of wonder of the natural world. I get to see the way people interact with the area and what draws them in. It's especially inspiring to see how the expanse of the ocean affects people who haven't seen it before. I feel so fortunate to watch that and have a relationship with this place.”

In just a few weeks, printed catalogs will be mailed, and Sitka’s 2024 Workshop Season will open for registration. From making jewelry with and painting watercolor portraits of found beach objects to stitching images of the sea and sky, incorporating beach sand into your painting practice and painting coastal expressions, this year’s workshop season is awash with opportunities to deepen your relationship with Sitka’s coastal ecosystem.

As we continue to greet new residents this winter and look ahead to welcoming so many of you for spring and summer workshops, our whole team expresses gratitude. If you know someone who would benefit from residency or taking a workshop, please help spread the word. Together, let’s greet 2024 with a collective sense of wonder and help new friends find their way to this profoundly beautiful and rejuvenating landscape.

Happy New Year,

Alison Dennis

Executive Director