Traveling on the ground along these legs is a much different matter. Topography has a way of getting in the way of simple paths in plain/plane triangles. In Cascadia, terrain is delirious relief, and topography a wild, crazed truth.
These days it’s relatively easy gliding along highways. MapQuest, for instance, gives the road mileage from the town of Florence on the central Oregon coast curving eastward along the 44th parallel of latitude over to Yellowstone National Park as 922 miles. It’s a full two days drive on good highways, if you don’t stop to enjoy the scenery.
Again, traveling on the ground from Willits, California (just beyond the headwaters of the Eel River drainage, the southernmost tip of Cascadia), north to Alaska is a very long way indeed. For one thing there’s no direct route where you’re going-- “you can’t get there from here.” Indeed, there are no roads at all through the vast wilderness of peaks and icefields and fjordlands in that tensed knot where British Columbia, southeast Alaska, and Yukon converge. The only way there is by boat or airplane.
MapQuest says from Willits northward via Ashland, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., Prince George, Hazelton, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, and Haines Junction, to the tiny outpost of Burwash Landing on Kluane Lake, Yukon, the route to the northwestern tip of Cascadia stretches out an astounding 2,574 miles! This 2,600 miles is almost a 1000 miles longer north than the distance “as the crow flies;” and about the same distance as from Willits to Pittsburgh!
And, even at that, on this long round-about excursion, you still have to negotiate the torturous squishy deep mud ruts and wallows of the old Alcan Highway slip-siding and twisting through the heaving melting permafrost. Stopping at the wonderful steamy oasis of the lush Liard Hot Springs is your reward for perserverance. Round-trip totals over a daunting 5,000 miles, but surely is the trip of a life-time.
If travel distances from south to north seem long here, trying to track the twisting coastline outstrips the imagination.
The intricate crennelated coastline of Cascadia stands out as one of the wonders of the world. There are few other places like it—Chile and Norway--perhaps the Arctic serrated coast of Canada itself, the country with the longest coastline in the world. What’s common to each of these places is a pattern of repeated glaciations cutting deep grooves in hard rock. This northern coastal landscape is what the wracked dreams of glaciers look like.
Ground down by the glacial rasp, Cascadia’s finely carved intricately etched complexly convoluted crenulated coastline creates a huge tidal surface area, a world all its own. This inter-tidal zone generates a vast number of niches bursting with life.
When you say “coastline,” however, you need to distinguish between a “generalcoastline” described on a small-scale map (e.g. 1:250,000 to 1:1,000,000)on the one hand, and the “tidal shoreline” using a much larger-scale map(e.g. 1:50,000 to 1:100,000) on the other. It makes a big difference.
For instance, the general coastline of Oregon is listed at 296 miles, while the tidal shoreline comes in at 1,140 miles long. The Pacific coastline of Washington is listed at 157 miles, but if you include the strait, sound, channels, and islands, of the scalloped Salish Sea, the number leaps to 3,026 miles, almost twenty times longer!
Similarly, the general coastline of British Columbia is listed as 7,022 kilometers, but when all the incised islands and channels and bays and many-fingered fjords are included, the total shoreline leaps to an amazing 27,200 kilometers. A similar pattern plays out along the densely crenulated shoreline of the panhandle of Alaska. Hence, in Cascadia the tidal shoreline expands from four to twenty times as long as the general coastline.
In this way, Cascadia exemplifies what is termed the “coastline paradox.” What this means is that length of coastline is variable, not fixed, and depends on the scale of resolution of maps and measuring method used. The more complex the coastline, and the finer the scale used, the longer the distance. Indeed, islanded, steep shored, deeply incised seascapes and fjordlands, represent the most intricate and complexly convoluted shorelines, which turn out, on closer examination, to extend almost infinitely. Its like entering Alice in Wonderland, where the closer you look, the longer the string becomes.
In embodying this paradox of the ever-lengthening coastline, Cascadia slides over into mystery and then myth. We might begin to comprehend this paradox if we regard the coastline not as something static and fixed, a geometric object or inert fact, but rather as a living, swimming being.
For instance, this living world pulses in and out twice daily with its heartbeat of tides, their rising and falling rhythms so like our own pulse, this world washes through, carries things away and brings them close again, invites the wind to play, shines light night and day, ferries people across its huge sensitive skin, absorbs everything that flows into it and gives itself away, feeds life above and below on an “abundant table always set,” all while concealing hidden depths. Here the unconscious is made visible, as the world dances into being.
If the coastline is the daughter of Thunderbird, then the shoreline is the living trail traced out by Blackfish fin (orca), following the salmon home.
In more prosaic terms, if you try to tote it all up, this intimately immense seascape of Cascadia stretches out over 36,000 miles, farther around than the circumference of the Earth. Again, the distance is approximate, but this tangled line stretches somewhere in the vicinity of 36,000-40,000 miles in length, and counting….
As a result, Cascadia enjoys the seventh longest “coastline” (tidal shoreline) in the world, after Canada, United States, Russia, Indonesia, Chile, and the continent of Australia. Cascadia’s “coastline,” in turn, is longer than that of Norway, Philippines, Brazil, Finland, China, Japan, Sweden, or Mexico.
Just as measurement of Cascadia’s densely-packed surface area is scale-dependent, so, too, shoreline length is almost infinitely extended along this intricate, incised, many-scalloped coast. It’s a line whose length outstrips the imagination….
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