I must indeed be a hardy Pacific Northwesterner if I can sit outside in January at sunset on a Pacific Ocean cliff to write. It’s as if I need to keep convincing myself, and will say so over and over I suppose, until I don’t have to anymore. I will just be one.
The sun sets at 5, and the fog has rolled back home some miles offshore, waiting for the invitation to roll back in. The thick bank has blue sky above, and wispy clouds above that. The slight breeze blows my tendrils of hair, and I sit happily in layers of fleece, flannel, down, and some weird strangely named close-to-the-skin layers, cozy.
The spray from the waves dances wildly about the crests and the sound of breaking and crashing start far out at sea, a continual soothing callback to the happiest times of my life: on the beach, at the shore, on the cliffs, in the sand, immersed in freezing water. It’s a salve to this wounding life, a balm to the spirit, an eraser for thoughts that have a groove too deep to clamber out of on my own. Somehow the beach is always the answer, whatever the question is.
We took our time getting out the door this morning, a lazy time of reading writing eating drinking coffee. After all, we are on vacation, though I still ponder what that means to a retiree. Maybe just leaving our aches and complaints at home and forging ahead with something new and different.
It was a balmy 51 and climbing, mild winds out of the south. Tomorrow may be rain, so we wanted to make the most of our day. Setting off southward, we drove and stopped and drove and hiked and drove and stopped some more. That’s the Oregon coast, thick with rest stops, viewpoints, waysides, memorial state parks, regular old state parks, city parks, preserves, campgrounds, trailheads, state beaches, natural sites, picnic areas, bridges, caves, lighthouses, day use areas, sloughs, and estuaries. I may have missed a few. You can’t get far because you want to stop at them all.
We arrived at the Hobbit Trailhead, noticing first the rules on the signs. Rules are good to have I know, but I am annoyed by being hit with long lists of them as I set out. I don’t read them, and the idiots don’t read them, so who are they for? Don’t litter? Well ok.
As we follow the half mile hike downward, the smell of forest hits you first, damp and earthy, the trail soft with years of mulched needles and leaves. The trail wound through a delightful shady tunnel of salal and moss covered Sitka spruce, interspersed with large rhododendrons. You can’t help but think about hobbits as the trail ends in a deep crevasse, the head height earthen walls decorated with crab shells, mussel shells, clam shells.
The beach was a surprise, so hidden and wide even at a fairly high tide. We were alone except for a young couple, their two tiny humans, and a happy labradoodle, who all stayed put as we wandered along the great expanse. I thought, how lucky those kids are, and then thought, how lucky we were that our parents took us four kids to the beach so often though an hour drive from home.
I don’t remember many specifics of those hours at the beach, just one long immersive memory of sand and sun and wind and fog. I spent hours diving through waves until I shivered and shook and my lips turned blue. Then I lay on a sun warmed beach towel or sat on the black and white plaid wool blanket, eating from the large wicker picnic basket – tuna or egg salad sandwiches and potato chips, a package of Oreos, drinking sweet lemonade, sometimes yellow sometimes pink, poured into wax paper cups from the spigot of a large round green Thermos. My mother made many great meals in my life, but those beach meals I remember with special fondness; I was hungry, and didn’t mind the gritty sand that snuck in. Everyone was relaxed and mellow, so part of my beach love stems from that. Just as likely, saltwater runs in my veins and I am part mermaid. I never cared what the weather or the tides, the beach conditions, rocky or sandy, a narrow cleft carved from cliff, or wide and open.
At Hobbit Beach we strolled over the firm sand, admiring the decor – rocks and shells, bullwhip kelp, enormous logs (do these trees fall down from the cliff above or float in from the sea?), patterns the water makes as it drains prodigiously from cliffs to sea, the spraying crash over rocky shores. The day was half sun and fog – a distant fog, not shrouding your shoulders fog. The sea and sky had the muted monochrome colors of winter, steely blues, bluish grays, silvery white. Later, as the sun rose brighter, the light added greens to the water’s color spectrum, and waves rolled in in rapid succession.
As we entered the forest for the hike back up I left a few tokens of my gratitude to this remarkable place.
Next stop was a view of Heceta Head Lighthouse from a distance, and a view of a big pod of sea lions who bask and fight and love and fish and loll on the rocks, perhaps year round. The highway is perched between vertical rocky cliffs above and below, with blue tsunami zone sign warnings along the way. We’re dead if that happens.
We continued driving and stopping, driving and walking, as far as Florence, where cliffs gave way to sand dunes. The wind and fog livened up the air, and the dunes were covered with tire tracks, something that people I don’t know do for fun. Nearby, the graceful Siuslaw River Bridge dominates the town.
Ever covid-cautious, we picked up some excellent sushi to go, and found a picnic bench, at Darlingtonia State Natural Site, admiring the carnivorous collection of Darlingtonia (cobra-lily, cobra orchid, Pitcher plant) which bloom in spring, but were still delightfully alien looking in winter.
Back at the hotel we ventured down the precipitous cliff trail, a narrow and terrifying descent hanging onto loosely nailed together railings and a rope tethered to the rocks, onto Tokatee Klootchman State Natural Site beach.
Safely back on the narrow bluff, sunset.
I’m almost done with the 580 page Crossroads, by Jonathan Franzen, a reluctant read – so male, so Christian, so dysfunctional family. But the ending has the book growing on me. This is a good place for reading. Or writing. Or gazing off into the distance and remembering, or not remembering.