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Fun Activities Abound During Busy Fall Season
By Tom Baake
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Seaweed workshop participants hear from group leader Anders Hansen on a previous outing in Charleston. The next session is this Saturday.

The first rains brought a collective sigh of relief here on the South Coast, signaling the beginning of a season that will eventually see the forest fires snuffed out, the air clear again, the dust washed off, the rivers full of salmon, and all those other things that happen during this special time of year.

Late summer and early fall really is the best. The wind dies down, the fog isn’t quite so tenacious, the tourists have mostly gone home and the sunlight takes on a mellow golden glow as it angles over land and sea.

There are still a few weekend fairs and festivals – the Myrtle Point Harvest Festival this Saturday, Sept. 23, about which find more elsewhere in this edition. The Stand Up! For The Bay event celebrating National Estuaries Day is Sept. 30, and local favorite Octoberfish in Charleston is Oct. 7.

But let’s say you’re not into any of these things. You don’t like the crowds at festivals, you don’t go fishing, you’re not going to tromp through the woods looking for mushrooms.

Don’t give up! There’s still an amazing variety of activities going on.

Just peruse these pages to see some of the fun you could encounter. For example, beginning at 9 a.m. this Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston you could attend one of their semi-regular workshops on the art and appreciation of seaweed. Yes, you are reading that correctly. Seaweed.

Well why not? Heaven knows we’ve got plenty of it.

For 100 percent journalistic accuracy, I attended one of these sessions held previously so I could file this first-hand report. It was, in a nutshell, just about 100 percent fun. Plus each of us ended up with a unique masterpiece of weird art “suitable for framing,” as the press release promised.

The session began with a crash course from knowledgeable workshop leader Anders Hansen on the fascinating world of what is more accurately called algae. “It’s a broader term than seaweed,” he said, and includes other species than just the kinds that grow on rocky shorelines.

There’s also freshwater algae. In fact, “algae’s everywhere,” he said, from zero-degree temperatures of the arctic, to 140-degree water at Yellowstone National Park.

It’s not all benign, however. Anders noted runoff from agricultural products full of nitrogen enters fresh water and literally takes over, producing a toxic algal bloom potentially exacerbated by hydrogen sulfite in the air. Said Anders: “It can be deadly.”

Still, he noted, “35 percent of world’s oxygen is provided by algae.”

Although seaweed often superficially resembles a plant, Anders noted it has no vascular tissue, no roots, no flowers and no seeds, so “it’s not a plant.” It reproduces by spreading spores, not creating seeds. And while plants have roots to extract nutrients, seaweeds are “bathed in nutrients” which it absorbs.

Another intriguing tidbit: the planet’s fastest-growing organism is bull kelp, which in times of peak sunlight can grow up to 2 feet per day!

Like many other kinds of seaweed, bull kelp is edible and packed with nutrients, especially minerals. It can be consumed raw, dried (in powder form) and pickled. Other edible seaweeds found on the Oregon coast include alaria, laminaria, and porphyra. There’s no poisonous seaweed on the Oregon coast, he said, although the ominously-named acid kelp can cause stomach upset. He also suggested “being careful with sea lettuce” as it can thrive in toxic runoff.

Seaweed collecting is prohibited in some places along the coast, such as the state parks at Sunset Bay, Shore Acres and Cape Arago, but bayshore collecting is allowed.

And so off we went to pluck some specimens along the shoreline near OIMB. Then it was back inside to rinse off our finds and arrange them in shallow trays of water at the bottom of which was a sheet of thick absorbent paper formulated for pressing specimens.

Once satisfied with our maritime masterpieces, we slid the sheets carefully out of the trays and  placed them beneath another sheet of paper and put them into an oversize dehydrator with a cinderblock placed atop the stack to provide the “press,” and in a couple of weeks . . . well, art is in the eye of the beholder, but I have to admit some pretty interesting patterns and effects were the result.

And yes, I even framed the thing and everyone who stops by has to hear all about it.

(For more information about the seaweed workshop, which costs $20 and includes all materials, call 541-888-5558 ext. 126.)

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.) 
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