After the planning, the waiting, the prepping, and the packing, driving out to the Oregon coast from Portland is a dreamy transition. Cares drop by the wayside as I navigate unfamiliar ground over the mountains, from city to farmlands to forest to coast.
We cross and re-cross the Willamette River as well as scores of creeks – Salt Creek, Mill Creek, Gooseneck Creek, Jackass Creek, on and on. Each little bridge crosses an unknown story, a path not taken, another border crossing. We pass Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, go through Tillamook State Forest, and meander alongside Yamhill River and then Little Nestucca River (again and again) finally emptying into Nestucca Bay along the coast.
Five days away leaves behind familiar predictability and moves into surprise and novelty. At the fall equinox, autumn changes are just beginning; that first tinge of red and yellow, and the first scattering of brown along the roadside, not yet mush. A welcome surprise is seeing fire danger signs change from summer’s red high danger warning to a lovely green LOW risk, truly a border crossing from the summer of hell in much of the west.
Pacific City is two hours from Portland, a little further to the south than the more “crowded” beaches closer to the city – though all of the coast around here is, as we say, Oregon crowded, not California crowded. That is to say (mid-week post-Labor Day), not crowded at all. Each day we are the only non-surfers in the water as far as the eye can see, otherwise it’s just us and people walking by in ones and twos, with or without dogs, some on fat tire bicycles, and even a pod of horseback riders.
Warm fall sunshine and warm fall waters don’t pan out as I’d hoped, but still, it’s the beach. I’ll take it any way I can get it. The seven year old can’t get enough of the waves, no matter the temperatures, no matter how wild. And it is wild. After rescuing him several times when he topples over, I let him fall and struggle to get himself back up. Tough love. After that he is more cautious and braces himself against the pummeling the way I show him, with one foot planted forward, arms braced as well. When he tires of the water he digs a deep hole in the wet sand. Every. Single. Day. And watches it melt back into nothing.
His Zen approach is marvelously infectious, and I am out there with him every day for hours while the others come and go, taking shelter from the elements indoors (drawn to the hot foosball table competition). That suits me fine. I spend more time in freezing water up to my knees than I might have by myself.
Standing on the shore soaking in the magnificence, Haystack Rock looms, and pelicans and seagulls soar in their continual search for food. Haystack Rock was once connected to the shore at Cape Kiwanda, but the sandstone in between has melted away over time. The remaining basalt sea stack remains a beacon of awe, and protects the Cape from further erosion from the continuous onslaught of wild waves.
One afternoon at the main city beach, the kids want to climb the towering sand dune, 240 feet at the top. Neither Alan or I are in any shape to climb with them (geezer body parts), as the climb up the dry loose sand is laborious. All who ascend spend plenty of time sitting, crawling, leaning over, looking like they might give up at any point.
So we send them on up, not thinking to tell them to come back down when they reach the top, because of course they would, right? They make it slowly to the top… and then disappear over the crest, as we wait below with growing unease. Finally the nine year old comes down saying she can’t find her brother, and our alarm bells go off. We ask other climbers to help, and one returns saying he didn’t see him! Yikes. Another returns (anxiety off the charts now) saying Ezra won’t come down with him. (Good stranger danger/covid training there, or perhaps an independent spirit.) Alan makes the arduous climb up and brings him down, a harsh finish to the day, but ultimately no one harmed.
Another afternoon we hike around Nestucca Wildlife Preserve where the endpoint looks out over Nestucca Bay, the confluence with the Pacific in the distance, and Haystack Rock beyond. There aren’t many bird sightings, but plenty to look at when you take the time to look closely.
On the last day of ferocious winds, after abandoning the chaotic kite flying, I wrap myself in a blanket to keep the flying sand from filling my clothes and pores, and let the seven year old get his beach fill. Finally he says, “I’m ready to go whenever you are,” as if I’m the one keeping him out there.
On our drive home we stop at Cape Lookout, the next cape up the coast (part of a 3-cape 40 mile scenic drive). A high narrow path offers views looking south to where we’d just spent the week; concentric white lines of waves, long empty beaches, and the backside of those dunes where we almost lost the kids. It’s all mighty small from this distance, burnished and raw, a beautiful jewel.
Our last quick stop is at Netarts Bay, before turning east toward Tillamook and then home. I need one last look at the glorious waters, and watch herons, egrets, pelicans, and seagulls graze the huge bay. Signs explain how to identify and collect various crabs and clams.
Looking north toward Cape Meares and Three Arch Rocks in the water, I promise myself not to wait so long for the next trip. I always say that, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that time is short, life is short, and there’s so much to see.