Take A Moment On The Oregon Coast

Early in the spring, H and I spent some time on the coast in northern Oregon. We did this every so often during our time in Seattle, and especially during the pandemic. We’d sneak our names onto the schedule and avail ourselves of the famous beach cabin. We’d drive down in the night, bringing work computers and wetsuits and comfy clothes, then sit on the porch overlooking the wild Pacific and feel incredibly grateful. 

The woods in the Pacific northwest mask the ocean, even when you’re very close. The forest is so dense and mossy, padded with enough dead needles and ancient logs and alien fungi to muffle the world’s largest ocean crashing against black rocks just a few hundred meters away. 

One of my favorite places in the world is on the Oregon coast, a small beach nestled between a pair of long headlands. On a sunny weekday, the car park by Highway 101 is packed with trucks and Subarus, surfing dudes and dudettes hanging their feet out of ancient Econoline vans or carving up the smooth asphalt on their skateboards. At the edges of the parking lot, enormous Douglas firs loom over the scene, with stern signs that forbid the humans from littering. 

A trail at the end of the car park ducks under a highway bridge, and then you’re following a trail along a dribbling creek. This is a patch of old-growth forest, one of the only pockets of thousand year-old trees spared from the manic logging that consumed Anglo settlers here throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Gigantic firs and cedars coated in moss act like pillars in a cathedral, supporting vaulted ceilings of green. If there’s wind — hopefully an offshore, for I am usually carrying a board under my arm as I trot impatiently down this trail — it has to be pretty strong to set the firs a-dancing, teetering back and forth in a slow groove. You probably wouldn’t notice the wind at all, but for a tuft of air-light moss dancing on an undetectable draft. 

There used to be a campsite on a bluff above the beach, with patches of grass in between the spaced-out spruces, your first glimpse of the grey or green Pacific beyond. But it has been closed since 2008 when a tree trunk fully 11 feet (almost 3.5 meters) wide fell across several campsites. Nobody was hurt, but the rangers aren’t taking any chances. 

The water is freezing at this beach, because the creek runs straight out through the lineup. On big days the creek forms a rip at the southern end of the beach, and you can paddle out at the feet of black cliffs. Icy water filters in through the pinholes in your aging wetsuit, burning your skin like acid. A seal might pop its head out of the deep green water to say g’day, then go back to fishing.

Seals aren’t the only critters braving waves for a meal.

The surf is never fantastic here, but as long as you avoid a sunny weekend in summer, the crowd is usually mellow enough for everyone to get their waves. The westering sun dips toward the water, and everyone raises a hand to shield their squinting eyes, watching the horizon for movement. 

Once, I was out at the beach on a day of big swell. It was only me and a single other surfer, a lanky guy with a big, goofy grin. He was one of those rare surfers who complemented strangers on their rides. After I’d successfully survived one particularly ugly wave and paddled back out, he told me, “you made that drop like butter.” He was a good surfer — much, much better than me — so I felt pretty chuffed. 

He had a small waterproof camera fixed to the nose of his board, pointing back at him. At one point, I looked over to see him talking to it. Snatches of his monologue drifted to me over the wind: “…total conviction… -eed and jealou-… elevated mindstate… telep-…” but soon it was just babble, unintelligible.

I remember a line of pelicans approaching from the north, tilted against the wind and riding the updrafts from steepening swells. They glided in single file, and as they shot low overhead I thought I caught eye contact with the last in line. I was calm and relaxed, untroubled by the lull, just waiting for a wave to take me to the beach and back into the world. 

Anyway, enough memories. Here are a few more photos that I took during that early spring trip. 

This is a grainy one, but I’m still including it for those sunset colors.
Bonus shot of H on a beach for everyone who stuck around.

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