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Wipeout

Henderson’s book explores the thrills and chills of Oregon’s pending tsunami

On a summer day, standing with your toes in the sun-warmed sand of an Oregon beach, you’d be hard pressed to look out across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and feel anything resembling danger. But out in that ocean, where the water turns from glassy green to dark blue, lurks something powerful — and if you listen maybe you can hear it in the roar of the waves. 

In her new non-fiction book The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast (Oregon State University Press, 322 pages. $19.95), local journalist and author Bonnie Henderson creates a comprehensive look at the fault line located just off Oregon’s coast, known as the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and the destructive potential it poses for the future.

Despite including all the requisite scientific research and analysis for a dreary textbook, Henderson’s book instead reads like an adventure novel — it’s a rich, character-driven look at the Pacific Northwest and its relationship with those massive waves.

The complicated science Henderson presents in Tsunami is framed by the stories of the men and women who’ve dedicated their lives to unearthing it. She sprinkles insightful details in nearly every paragraph while relating events such as the 1964 Alaska Good Friday Earthquake, and oral histories from native cultures that should have enlightened us to the threat of tsunamis decades earlier had we listened. The resulting work is thrilling and filled with vibrant descriptions, and it sweeps away the reader into its narrative depths with the same power — but not violence — as a tidal wave ripping away bridges and beach houses.

The Next Tsunami provides a compelling look at the science and geology behind earthquakes and tsunamis, and it reminds us that, despite seeming like a phenomenon that only happens to people in distant lands, it is not a matter of if but when a substantial earthquake emanating from a point just off our coast will send a merciless wall of water speeding towards our coastline. 

But Henderson’s intent is not to incite her readers into frenzy but to show us that tsunamis are an integral part of our environment, and that the forces that created the postcard-perfect Coast and Cascade mountain ranges are the same forces that send tsunamis hurtling towards it. 

The Next Tsunami doesn’t tell us to run away from beaches and seaside towns, but instead shows us how to understand our coastline and enjoy it with a sense of caution and respect.

Catch Bonnie Henderson at the Eugene Public Library 6 pm Thursday, July 24.