Review - "The Next Tsunami" by Bonnie Henderson


The worn wood bench creaks as I sit down. I’m early by two minutes, Cannon Beach Book Company isn't quite open on this gray day in October. This particular bookstore is a favorite, from local topics to classics. It’s almost in the realm of pilgrimage when near Cannon Beach, Oregon, I have to stop and wander amongst the books.

Several years ago I started a ritual of solitude. Starting with long trips to offload in Death Valley. Alone in my Jeep, following my cousin’s Char and Patrick over less traveled blacktop and dirt roads. It didn’t take long to realize some of my best business decisions or ideas came from solitude. I still seek long Jeep trips alone for this purpose. Now, quarterly weekends at the coast support a need to be with me.

The wind whips raindrops into swirling acrobatics. With the bookstore open, I walk in and start wandering. My only quest is to find something willing to jump off the shelf and dominate my time for a few days. Contemplating current events starts to make my head hurt, so I keep walking. A new novel? No, I have so many sitting at home waiting.

"It has to be something local", thinking to myself.

"No, something on art and photography."

"Maybe I should be a good Mom and look for a local kids book on whales.”

I do a figure eight around the most popular and recommended, stopping at photo essays of the north Oregon Coast. A big blue colored book caught my eye. So did the word “Tsunami.”

Love/hate would be a good descriptor of my relationship with tsunamis. A "relationship" is also a good word. My heart skips when I see the word and then followed by fond memories. Fear of tsunamis sits in my brain on every trip to my cabin at the coast. Would we be able to make it to high ground? Would it even matter?

Ignoring the book, I keep looking. Moving my way to the back of the store, now in the science section, a book on the Geology of Oregon catches my eye. Might be a pattern. The tsunami book with its “blue hour” lighting of a marsh on the front cover, won’t let my curiosity go. No less than three times did I come back to this book. So I bought it.

With temperatures in the mid 50’s and a constant drizzle, I quickly walk to a coffee shop on the corner. With a latte in hand and goose down zipped up, I dive into “The Next Tsunami” by Bonnie Henderson.

This is what a solitude weekend is all about; coffee, books, writing, photography, my thoughts sorting and clarifying.

Tsunamis are a topic I long left behind from my undergraduate time at Portland State University. Except for the healthy fear of. I moved on to other pursuits after graduating but Geology and my time on the coast never left me. Often I’ve thought what life may have been like if I had stayed in the field and pursued Geology.

The sounds of the coffee shop lull me through memories working with graduate students and professors seeking to solve the puzzle of earthquakes, tsunami’s and our Cascadia Subduction Zone. Many days spent slogging in mud pulling sediment cores from boot-sucking mud. Not far from here, one October afternoon in 1995 I’m helping Curt Peterson - Oceanography and Geology Professor at PSU - pull sediment cores for the local news crews to video. At the time, I didn’t realize what we knew about earthquakes and tsunamis were coming to a volcanic head. New discoveries were leading to a clearer picture within the puzzle of plate tectonics. The news crews were there for one of their many news spots about the research we were doing. Local towns, like Seaside, Oregon, were finally taking earthquakes and tsunamis seriously. People were starting to fear, yet, continue to ignore.

On the day of pulling cores for the cameras, Curt Peterson and I pull up a core sample with a loud “thrup.” He hands the sample to me, and I start to walk through the marsh to the roadside. Stepping into what looked like a two-inch stream turned out to be quicksand. I sink to my waist in cold mud. Curt grabbed my shirt collar to steady me and says, “good job not dropping the sample.” And the news crews recorded the whole thing.

“The Next Tsunami” was precisely what I needed. A reminder of my love for Geology and conducting fieldwork. Hiking through muddy trails and lugging sampling equipment across sticky marshes.

Bonnie Henderson has crafted a great story around a huge topic in the Pacific NW; earthquakes, tsunamis and the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The area off the coast of BC, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California where the most significant earthquake of modern history most likely will come from for our region. Where conditions are perfect for large displacements of water as the earth’s plates collide with each other. Written in a way that doesn’t require a Geology degree.

“The Next Tsunami” is a page-turner. A well-crafted nonfiction story through the eyes of Tom Horning, a Seaside, Oregon, Geologist and the other scientists who fell into this topic. In the neighborhood of John McFee and his sweeping books of geology forming our lands over millennia.

Buy the book on Amazon or from your favorite independent bookstore, of which, there are many across the world. (Cannon Beach Book Company, Powell’s Books are a couple)