Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just the Goldfinches and Us

When I gaze upon the ocean and find the blending of color as water meets sky I often feel suspended in time and space. No other thoughts distract me when the ocean speaks her rhythmic language. I am completely still in that moment, content with the way my body responds to the soothing sensations moving through me. And so it is that we are compelled each July to make one of usually 2 annual trips to the Pacific Ocean. We need this retreat where we live only in the present, where life becomes simple again, filled with sensual pleasures. It is not often that we are guided so perfectly by sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

The central Oregon coast with her alcoves of natural wonder always delivers the ultimate visual pleasures. Driving south we explored old, familiar sights. Boiler Bay reminded me of our first trip to this central coast when my husband sat on a fence overhanging the Pacific while I photographed him. As we headed to Depoe Bay we noticed harbor seals lounging on the shore at Otter Rock. Sometimes they look as if they are smiling at us; other times a face will remind me of a shocked Casper, the ghost, the cute cartoon character from my childhood! We chuckled at these adorable faces seeming to express emotion. They lolled on this cloudy day, sprawled in all directions, each taking rest from the work of swimming and avoiding natural predators.

We crossed paths with our first Muscovy duck in a pond near the beached seals. Quite unattractive with his bright red wattle and large nasal opening in his beak this duck with black, blue, and white mottled feathers was nonetheless fascinating with his strangely textured red beak and head . We called him a turkey-duck for lack of knowing what he truly was. We hurried along. We had heard that Newport's Nye Beach planned a clambake, and we hoped to find clams covered in seaweed and baking in a deeply dug pit on the beach. Upon our arrival we decided to find a good seafood restaurant instead - the clams were being replaced by hot dogs! It seems in our lazy state of mind we were rather late for lunch! Sitting in a restaurant overlooking the sea I drank a frozen Margarita as we waited on our lunch and watched the fog dance across the elevated crags of the nearby shoreline. The deep mossy green of vegetation was easily contrasted by the orange raw edges of earth eaten away by wind and sea. Vaporous fog swirling across the tops of the headlands lent a mystical atmosphere to this scene and kept our attention until lunch was served. At that moment nothing competed with the grilled salmon covered in champagne butter over bay shrimp risotto (mine) and wild mushroom ravioli with a tomato cream sauce, reggiano cheese, and threads of basil (his). Freshly baked bread and butter and grilled broccoli with cheese sauce completed our meals.

Drizzly rain began to fall just in time for the 4th of July firework display, but we were happily ensconced inside a fancy restaurant on Siletz Bay, the area from where the display would begin. Dinner was delicious in this restaurant which offers a full view of the bay through its wide glass windows moving along the semi-circular wall. Residents whose homes also line the bay joined in the celebration and shot their own fireworks from locations all around us. Flaming colors lit the sky in every direction! Even the servers were mesmerized. When we returned to our room we found a few guests at the hotel busy shooting their fireworks across the Pacific Ocean from bunkers they had dug in the sand. This is a favorite beach activity every July 4th and never seems to draw attention or penalty from the local police even though it is against the law. Since tourists heavily feed the local economy we assume they ignore the infractions. I was glad the rain had come late in the evening. The smoke from the fires built along the beach were noticeable from our balcony before we left for dinner. By the time we returned everyone had gone inside but the firework enthusiasts.

Driving north the following day we followed the scenic drive of the 3 Capes leading us to Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout, and Cape Meares. We have driven north before but had only been along part of this coastal route once when we followed Hwy 101 from Tillamook to the northern beaches in 2004. This time we picked up the route much earlier and saw jet skiers splitting waves in the heavy white foam of an active sea at Cape Kiwanda and Tierra del Mar. Headlands of tightly packed orange, sandy earth jutted out into the surf, and beachcombers gathered for picnics, wind sailing, shelling, and dog walking. There was an empty beach volleyball court beside the ocean front pub at Cape Kiwanda. Further north we found Oceanside, a small beach town with no city activity, but there was a beautiful home overlooking the Pacific which I would love to own!

Cape Meares with its lighthouse and 2 vista overlooks catered to some serious bird watchers who eagerly shared their knowledge of the birds inhabiting the area and roosting on boulders in the sea. The true GOLDEN egg of this trip, however, was Cape Lookout at Oswald West State Park. We had not seen it since 2004 when I stood at the same overlook so stunned by the view I could not speak. In high elevation along a curved Cape jutting out into the surf, the vista overlooks seem to place the viewers behind the waves which move in foamy curls to the shoreline. A backdrop of mountains rise behind this coast, and Tillamook Bay can be seen off in the distance. This is one of two of the most beautiful seascapes on the Oregon coast. The other is just south of this place, a short distance from Cape Kiwanda where an overlook offers views north to Cape Lookout. (See photograph in header above.) Both of these magnificent scenes touch the senses in such a deep place that words become unimportant.

Seascapes were not our only entertainment. We did some bird watching on the Siletz River where American Goldfinches played along the banks. They are the state bird of Washington, but we always see more of them in Oregon than here at home! Often seals are seen swimming along these banks, but in the quiet of this early evening it was just the goldfinches and us. The morning skies were filled with colorful kites each day, kites which are difficult to fly. What happened to the ones of my youth, the paper ones shaped like baseball diamonds on light weight cross-bowed frames which were connected to twine we wrapped around a stick? Those flew with beautiful rag-tails sailing below them! They no longer exist! Now kites are high tech and require two hands and much steering! We had crashed ours into the sand more times than I could count during another coastal adventure so we are now kite-flying spectators. The beach always held surprises. In the stillness of a very early morning, long before the beach became alive with shell seekers and dog walkers, an artist sculpted a huge sea turtle from sand just outside our balcony. Creativity, nature's gifts, and playful strangers always kept our attention and brought joy.

Seafood became the delicacy of each day. In restaurants both old and new we ate salmon, halibut, petrale sole, razor clams, Dungeness crab, prawns, and Ling Cod, all prepared in a variety of delectable ways and served with grilled veggies. Never having eaten razor clams before we were surprised to find them the size of our palms! They were freshly dug in Tillamook Bay and our first taste insured we would eat them again! While in the Willamette Valley we stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory to buy several large blocks of cheese and to satisfy my husband's addiction to the freshly made ice cream they serve each day. My ice cream junkie made a 2nd trip to the area for a few more scoops before leaving Oregon!

As we drove toward Astoria where the great Columbia River spills into the Pacific I wondered about Lewis and Clark's trip, how they felt when they reached the mouth of this river and saw the ocean before them. Jetties divide these 2 bodies of water. They extend from the ocean's shore almost as far as the eye can see since the river is hugely swollen at its mouth. There is another place outside of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, where I once wondered what Lewis and Clark thought as they paddled through the fjords. Mountains rise on both sides of the Columbia River creating a narrow, curving passage of extraordinary beauty as the river winds through the Cascades. I learned later that this 90 mile run of the Columbia was the most dangerous part of their NW trip and was filled with deadly rapids and wild water unlike anything they had ever encountered! There was little time to appreciate natural beauty with survival the central focus.

After we had delicious, grilled salmon (his blackened) in Astoria we crossed the Columbia River en route to Washington via the Astoria-Megler bridge, the longest continual truss bridge in North America (and perhaps the world). There was a break in Hwy 101 until it was built, so it completes the highway system traveling the coast from Canada to Mexico. Our drive along the river on the Washington side was lovely. It would have been even lovelier had we not gotten a speeding ticket (hubby) and a no-click seatbelt ticket (me) shortly after crossing! I had unbuckled to get some meds from my purse and had settled back in with my bottle of water, still unbuckled when suddenly we were hit by the laser. Guilty and caught in the act, a big, fat "two for one" for the nice, young state patrolman! We have applied for deferment, an option in Washington that allows you to pay the ticket but have the violation remain unreported to the insurance company as long as you have no other violation within the next 12 months. Fortunately, we let it go as we drove home watching a beautiful sun setting on the horizon where water joined the sky. Even a $240 fine was not going to ruin our glorious day.

All photography is from our private collection and may not be used or displayed in any manner without our explicit and written consent.

The last 3 images above in order from left to right:

Siletz River Snags, July, 2008

Sunset at Lincoln City, Oregon, July, 2008

Cape Meares Shoreline, July, 2008