Siuslaw News | Quicksands


October 8, 2021 – In 1957, Frank Herbert was a North West-based freelance fiction, non-fiction, and speech writer living paycheck to paycheck. He had published a book called “The dragon in the sea”, a novel about futuristic nuclear submarines. It was a moderately successful novel but one that did not do enough for Herbert to provide for his family. Although he made a foray into science fiction with “Dragon” and some short stories, in Herbert’s mind, that wasn’t where the money was.

Herbert had sold the film rights to “The dragon in the sea” to Universal Pictures for $ 4,000. Soon that money was almost gone. With countless projects half-finished or sent to publishers and awaiting their decision, Herbert needed to find a financially lucrative project that would have guaranteed interest for publishers.

A friend of Herbert’s, Phil Hitchcock, a professor at Lewis & Clark College and a former Republican Senator from Oregon, had heard of an interesting project undertaken by the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and Lane County in a small town. town on the Oregon coast called Florence.

The sand dunes threatened the entrance to Siuslaw Harbor, encroaching on Highway 101 and reducing the area of ​​valuable timber in the Siuslaw National Forest. Nothing could stop them. No cement. No wood. Not from the trenches. Nothing. Something must be done.

At the time, locals thought they were literally in a race to save their city and their livelihoods.

In the late 1940s a solution was found – European Beach Grass, or Poverty Grass as it was mostly called at the time, would be planted along roadsides, streams, along property lines, wherever it was deemed necessary to stop the dunes.

The project has been undertaken. Large amounts of funds have been allocated by state senators. The project has started. Using various methods, beach grass has been planted liberally, everywhere.

It worked… well.

By the time Herbert heard about the project, it had already been considered a success and was being emulated by communities facing the invasion of sand all over the world.

During the early years of the project, visitors came to Florence from Israel, Chile, India, Pakistan and Great Britain to view the project in hopes of bringing the idea back with them. The idea intrigued Herbert and seemed like something others would be interested in, especially magazine editors who would pay him for photos and an article on the project.

“The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

-Frank Herbert, “Dune”

In June 1957, Herbert chartered a Cessna 150 single-engine aircraft and piloted and flew to Florence. There, he spent a day taking notes, photos and videos of the dune and beach grass planting project.

His “tour guides” were Tom Flippin and Wilbur Ternyik, both employees of the Soil Conservation Service.

Ternyik spoke to Siuslaw News in 2001 about his day with Herbert, whom he remembered as one of the many interested parties, from around the world, that he had shown around the dune restoration project.

“We spent the whole day together,” Ternyik said. “We didn’t touch on all of these fantastic books that he was going to write. He had a request. He wanted to see deer in the dunes. Luckily I took him to the Goosepasture and we saw a doe and a few fawns.

As he flew off the Oregon coast and gazed at the dunes, Herbert left knowing two things – that they had, in fact, stopped the sand and, more importantly, there was something about it. of those sand dunes that he couldn’t get out of his head.

Herbert’s visit to Florence was made public in the June 21, 1957 edition of Siuslaw News.

“Highly organized research is guaranteed not to produce anything new”

-Frank Herbert, “Dune”

Herbert returned to his family, who had just moved from Portland to Brown’s Point, Wash., Just north of Tacoma, and began work on his essay which he titled “They Stopped the Moving Sand.” Soon he realized, albeit interesting, that this non-fictional exploration of man’s attempt to reclaim what nature was trying to take back was just the tip of the iceberg of his imagination.

In an interview in 1969, Herbert described the moment he realized he had something bigger than a test in his hands.

“The way I accumulated data is that I started creating file folders and quickly saw that I had way too much for an article and way too much for a story, for a short story,” said Herbert said. “So I didn’t really know what I had, but I had a huge amount of data and avenues to explore from all angles to collect more. And I followed them. … I finally saw that I had something extremely interesting for me about the ecology of deserts, and it was, for a science fiction writer anyway, an easy step to take to think: and if I had an entire planet that would be a desert?

“During my studies of deserts, of course, and my previous studies of religions, we all know that many religions started out in a desert atmosphere, so I decided to put the two together because I didn’t don’t think a single story should have a single thread. I rely on a layer technique, and of course, by putting religion and religious ideas together, you can play against each other.

Herbert eventually finished “They Stopped the Moving Sands”, although it was not published until many years later in a book called “The Road to ‘Dune’”.

Ultimately, Herbert changed direction and began the long, arduous process of writing what many consider to be the greatest sci-fi novel of the 20th century, perhaps the greatest of all time. “Dune”. For five long years, Herbert worked on his opus to which he was able to devote all his attention because his wife was employed as a copywriter.

“Deep in the human subconscious lies a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is still a step beyond logic.

-Frank Herbert, “Dune”

Perhaps because he was unable, as is often the case in the human condition, to find any logic in this “real” world of ours, Herbert created, in “Dune”, a fully autonomous universe. like never before in science fiction writing.

It was like something never seen, heard or read before.

“Dune” is considered by some critics to be the greatest work of science fiction ever written. It has been translated into a dozen different languages ​​and has sold over 20 million copies.

Scientist Carl Sagan, who found most science fiction unrealistic, said the “Dune” stories were “so well constructed, so full of accommodating details from an unknown society that they carried me away before I ‘have the chance to be critical “.

“Dune” was a resounding success.

However, the success of the dune reclamation project is not so obvious. There is no doubt that the beach grass actually stopped the sand. The problem is, once the grass was planted, it didn’t stop.

First, beach grass began to take up the space initially occupied by native plants. Then beach grass began to fill the nesting areas of native birds, such as the western snow plover.

European beach grass has continued to spread. For some, that meant the plan was a success. The sand has been stopped, after all. The local infrastructure has been protected and, for those interested, the project has been a success.

For those who understand what dunes need to survive, European beach grass was a death sentence.

“For dunes to exist, the sand has to move,” said Bill Blackwell, an Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative representative in 2018. “If you’re there you can see it will be different from day to day. The other. With the vegetation stabilizing things, the sand cannot move, which stabilizes the dunes and simplifies the processes.

The debate continues in Florence to this day. Some people think the sand should be stopped. Others believe that the priority should be to maintain the delicate balance between man and nature. Finally, there is a large group who believe that European beach grass should be eliminated altogether.

“Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere. Climb the mountain a little to test that it is indeed a mountain. From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain.

-Frank Herbert, “Dune”

Like any great novel of the 20e century, it was only a matter of time before Dune would appear on the silver screen. With a novel as complex as this, easier said than done.

The first attempt was made in 1984 by director David Lynch, known for films such as “The elephant man ” and “The heart that is in the Desert. ” The film was a box office bomb, grossing just $ 30.9 million on a budget of $ 40 million. While there is a cult following for the film, most critics believe it hasn’t aged well, as indicated by the 48% positive rating on

In 2000, the Sci Fi channel produced a three-part mini-series titled “The Dune by Frank Herbert. For Herbert fans, it was a much better portrayal of the novel than Lynch’s film. It received much better reviews from critics, although some felt it might be too close to a portrayal given the intricacies of the 500+ page novel.

Emmet Asher-Perrin, reviewer of, an online sci-fi and fantasy magazine, commented: Explained in an effort to make sure no one is watching is left behind (sic). “

“The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”
– Frank Herbert, “Dune”

With the third film attempt “Dune”, due out on October 22, 2021, there is hope that this is the film that finally captures the spirit of the novel. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, four-time recipient of the Canadian Screen Award for Best Direction, the first reviews were good. currently assigns it 89% on its “tomatometer”.

“Watching the clouds of hope.”

-Frank Herbert, “Dune”

A lot of “Dune “ was prophetic.

Many believe that Herbert saw the future of war, politics, environmentalism, artificial intelligence, fossil fuel exploitation – this list goes on and on.

One thing he didn’t see was the cost that would be paid to “stop the sand”. It is likely that he was simply in awe of man’s ability to control nature he witnessed here in Florence.

City Lights Cinemas and the Siuslaw Public Library District present the ‘Frank Herbert’ Dune ‘Celebration, honoring the historic links between the dunes of Florence and the sci-fi classic that influenced a generation of books, music and music. movies. Learn more at


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