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If you watch the video, at first it seems like it’s a shot of a peaceful and beautiful tidepool. But as you watch, a variety of different life forms become evident. Two crabs, urchins, anemones, a fish. Can you spot more? You can also hear us talking. I’m the one who can’t pronounce anemone, ha ha. This is some of what Jim and I did at the beach at Yaquina Head: we would find an interesting pool, and then hold still and quiet and watch. It is better than TV!

Parking is at the top of the bluff holding the Yaquina Head Lighthouse that I talked about in my last post, and we followed those stairs down to the beach.

Jim stands at the top of the stairs surveying the tide pool scene below.

From the stairs we could see how the shape of the rocks in the water created tide pools. We also saw that lots of other people thought it was a good day to be at the beach.

LOTS of other people.

When Jim came out to the coast to visit from his home in Minnesota (halfway between the two US coasts), he had his hopes pinned on tide pooling. For those who haven’t done it, tide pooling means finding a beach that has pools left on shore when the tide drops. After the tide is out, you can explore the pools and see ocean wildlife up close and personal. I told Tara our plans, and Tara enthusiastically suggested Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. The U.S. Burea of Land Management oversees this natural area, and interpretive guides were on site to keep people out of restricted areas, but also to answer questions and help us get the most awe and wonder out of our day.

On our way down the steps we could hear a raucous cacophony of bird colonies. Then we spotted them atop the rocks.

A gulp of cormorants clustered atop a rock. Can you even guess how fun it was for me today when I researched what to call a group of cormorants and learned that the proper term is “gulp?”

The beach had no sand but instead these small round rocks that were hard to walk in, but beautiful.

We hit the beach at about 20 minutes before lowest tide, which is perfect. The weather had improved all day and became warm down on the rocks where we were protected from wind. The bright sky did provide a serious photography challenge. I was pleased when I could find rock shadows to counteract the shine on the surface of the water.

This anemone is exposed to the air, now that the tide is out.

The two anemones on the left have closed up to wait for incoming tide. I’m guessing this must be for protection.

Ocean grass beneath bubbles on the surface.

A brave girl showed me how to touch them.

Jim at the beach.

It was hard to find good shots that weren’t washed out due to glare on the water. But look through the glare to see the pink and peach colours of some beautiful coraline algae.

Fascinating sea communities were dulled in the brightly reflected sky.

I know I already showed you the Giant Green Anemone, but they are SO COOL!!

We had a blast and played with little sea critters for a long time. We had a hard time finding starfish, but finally Jim found one and then climbed precariously to a spot to get a photo. When he was done I made the same poor choice, because climbing around sketchy rocks to get a photo is pretty much my MO.

Jim catches a photo of a starfish while trying not to fall into the sea.

This is the sad result of when I climbed out there and did the same thing. At least the starfish is visible, its legs all curled up.

One of the larger pools filled with entertainment.

“Dragon Claws!” I exclaimed when I saw these. But upon investigation, found that they are called Gooseneck, or Leaf Barnacle. I like my idea better.

A gumboot chiton. Yes, that’s an animal.

A relative chiton. Sadly, we were told by an interpretive guide that this one is dying, or dead, and that’s why it’s riblike structure is exposed.

The mood on the beach was effervescent. I think that was because so many kids were there, genuinely enjoying the outing, and so many adults were allowing themselves to get into the spirit of discovery and delight. Even teenagers in packs were climbing around the rocks, discovering things and calling their friends over to see. It made people talkative with each other, while we shared the common experience. I asked a mom if I could photograph her daughter’s little hand with white fingernail polish while she showed me how to touch an anemone. The mom gave permission, and then remarked at how it had not even occurred to her to be protective of her child in that environment. “I think people are safe here,” she decided. I agreed.

A family looks out across the water.

The ocean swells eventually began carrying the tide back to us.

I finally found a section of the beach where there were copious shadows and I could finally take clear photos of the tide pools.

I don’t think I know of a more gorgeous shade of purple than the colours the Purple Sea Urchin wears.

It looks like a mermaid’s toybox.

Here’s a close up.

We sated our bouldering and sea creature desires after a few hours, and headed back up the stairs. The lowering angle of the sun gilded the hillside.

Goodbye cormorant gulps.

Goodbye sea stacks.

Goodbye glowing hillside of purple fireweed.

It was a beautiful day as I waited for Jim at the Portland International Airport. So beautiful that I waited outside under the covered approach lanes, instead of inside PDX.

In July I got to meet a friend in person that I have known for years online. Just over two years ago, I spotted a profile photo that I loved, on a dating website. It was of a man with red hair and beard, holding the outstretched paw of a statue of a red dancing bear. The man appeared to be dancing with the bear. Jim, who lives in Minnesota, agreed that we are not a good match for dating, but I couldn’t resist writing to him to tell him how much I loved that photo.

We’ve been writing to each other ever since. We’ve shared our dating woes and successes, our complaints about work, photos from our travels, stupid jokes we found online. We do not see eye to eye on everything, but we do recognize in each other that there is a person somewhere in the world with the same drive to be good to others, to have adventures, to poke irreverent fun at sacred things, and challenge the status quo.

Jim was about to take an Alaskan cruise with his family and they would be leaving from Seattle, two hours north of me. So he flew in to Portland early, and I hosted him until it was time to drive him to Seattle. On one day we explored Portland and on the other we went on a road trip.

One of the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from Highway 101.

We stopped at Tillamook Country Smoker to buy jerky snacks and pepperoni sticks. Then we stopped at the Tillamook Creamery for ice cream.

For the road trip we went directly to the coast, because – duh, he’s from Minnesota. We left my house for Astoria, then turned south along the coast highway. We stopped for overlooks and we stopped for a train! An honest to goodness steam train parked in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. We snapped photos and asked questions and found out it’s the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, a tourist train that runs a 5-mile route between there and Garibaldi, the next town south.

A restored steam train in Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

The conductor takes a break.

The grate is real wood.

The other side. (You know you wanted to see the other side.)

Our goal that day was tidepooling, and I got so many photos that I’ll include them in a separate post, but at at the tidepooling location was the eye-catching Yaquina Head lighthouse that we explored when we were done pestering sea creatures in the tide pools. The lighthouse has a white 1000 watt bulb in its first order Fresnel lens, and the light pattern is 2 seconds on, 2 seconds off, 2 seconds on, 14 seconds off.

I thought I was being very clever: catching the sunlight through the Fresnel lens.

The evening weather was clearly more lovely than it was in the morning, making the tower glow.

View of Yaquina Head Lighthouse as we walked from the parking lot.

Look how happy I get when I see a lighthouse!

Upon leaving Yaquina Head we drove due East, inland, until we reached Interstate 5 and turned north, which took us home for the night.

Our day in Portland was mostly occupied with a tour of the Pittock Mansion. I’ve talked about it before. This is a beautiful old mansion on a hill overlooking the city of Portland that has been turned into a museum. I love this place so much that I go there about once a year.

The outside of the Pittock Mansion.

View from the second floor balcony.

Furnishings in the curved hallway.

Henry Pittock was born in 1834 in England but raised in the United States. He and his wife Georgiana came to Portland at a time when many news publications had been started and it was a competitive business. He worked as a typesetter for The Oregonian but the business was not thriving, and he eventually was offered ownership of the paper in lieu of back pay. Pittock kept the paper alive, and then some. Today, The Oregonian is the largest newspaper in Oregon and the oldest newspaper on the West Coast.

The success of the paper allowed Henry and Georgiana to build a remarkable home when they had reached their later years. The couple was able to occupy the residence in 1914, and sadly died four years later. Family lived there until 1958, when it was put up for sale. It sat empty, got damaged in a storm, and then slowly fell into disrepair until the community rallied and brought it back to life in 1965 as part of the Portland Parks and Recreation system.

Great efforts have been made to fill the house with original furnishings when possible, such as this photo of a Mansion party.

When people in the community discover they are in possession of a piece of Pittock furniture, they will sometimes donate it to the museum.

I really love this kitchen made to look as though it’s in use. I would recommend a remodel to open it up though. Talk about a galley kitchen.

I get a kick out of the bathrooms here. They are truly wonderful.

What the heck do you suppose this was for? Sitting in, I guess. My feet would get cold. I think in this curved tower room I would prefer a tub.

The medicine cabinet is stocked with period items.

Look at the crazy old pipes for this tub and shower.

Array of pipes in the shower.

A direct line to every room.

This is the dumbwaiter, and buttons for each of the four levels of the home.

After we were done wandering all over the house into every room we were allowed to enter, and that includes the basement, we then walked around the grounds. The old coach house is now the admission and gift shop, and the groundskeepers home has been restored and is open for touring as well. From this magnificent estate on a hill, we gazed out across the city of Portland at the peak of Mt. Hood rising as she does.

View of the valley from the Pittock Mansion.

I then turned the tables on Jim and enlisted his help with my own project. I needed to rent a car because my Jeep was scheduled for some repairs. I don’t often have a second driver in my home, but Jim’s visit was perfect timing. Before we went to the rental office, however, we had time for one more important stop: VooDoo Doughnuts.

The logo for VooDoo Doughnuts, a Portland original that has now spread across the country. A friend of mine posted this summer from VooDoo Doughnuts at Disneyworld in Florida!

The inside of the shop is so wild that you can stay entertained while you wait in line. There is always a line.

We then picked up a rental car, and each drove one of the vehicles to the repair shop. I dropped of the Jeep and Jim drove us both up to Seattle as it got dark. We found his hotel and said goodbye after two super fun days together.

We live close to the Pacific Ocean, so that destination had to be on our itinerary.

For our last day of mini road trips, my friend Vladimir and I headed to the coast. Isn’t it wonderful how many different kinds of experiences we were able to have in only five days of travel? Almost each day began at our own doorsteps. It is like living in Paradise.

Vlad is new in the area and doesn’t have a car, so we made a plan to do a week’s worth of mini-road trips so he could see where he lives. Since I have the car, I got to plan the trip. Monday we went to Mt. St. Helens to see what the volcano looks like 38 years after an eruption (hint: it’s beautiful). Tuesday we drove into east central Oregon to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to explore desert geology and the history of that particular region which holds an exceptional collection of Cenozoic Era fossils. There were many places to explore in that region, and it is a four-hour drive away, so we stayed the night out there. That allowed us to hike and find fossils for two days. Thursday we drove out to the most commanding volcano in the region because of its proximity and its beauty: Mt. Hood.

Friday morning we drove out highway 30 in hopes of catching a ferry across the Columbia River. I have not taken the ferry before and thought it would be fun. Since I live on highway 30 and Vlad hadn’t been to my house in about a year (because he has no car), we stopped by “real quick like” and see the latest changes at my farm. It was a fun visit, Racecar said hi to Vlad, and off we went.

But it was 5 minutes too late, and we arrived at the dock in time to see the ferry tenders locking the gate and the ferry departing. Bummer.

I had the idea of making a loop, so I thought we could reverse direction and if things worked out ok, we could just catch a return ferry from the Washington side into Oregon on our way back.

It was a short drive to Astoria from there, but it was midday and we were already hungry. We decided to eat first before anything else. While at the Hotel Condon, we spoke with other guests who raved about the fish&chips place across from the Astoria Maritime Museum. That was as good a reason as any to go find it.

A line of people faithfully waits to buy food served from a Columbia Bowpicker.

The Bowpicker was easy to find as our friends had described it: in the shape of a boat, with a line stretching down the block. Turns out, the eatery occupies an actual converted gillnet boat, which makes it a great tourist draw. By the size of the line, I was anticipating the best fish&chips of my life. There are four menu items, but three are merely a variation on a single menu item. 1) whole order (5 pieces w/fries) 2) half order (3p w/fries) 3) fish only 4) fries only.

The line to buy fish for lunch did indeed stretch quite a distance. I appreciated the information sign to entertain me for a few minutes:

    You are standing next to what was known as the Columbia River Bowpicker. These boats were 28 feet in length. They were planked with Port Orford Cedar, oak frames, and Douglas fir cabin and deck. These boats evolved from double-ended boats from the 1870s that used sails as their power source.

By the 1920s, all boats were powered by 6 to 10 hp single piston engines. By the 1940s and 1950s these boats became the modern version you see here; square stern and powered by V8 marine engines. During this period, there were hundreds of these boats anywhere on the Columbia River.

The Bowpickers fished for salmon and sturgeon on the Columbia and other waters of the Northwest. They employed long floating gillnets, hundreds of feet in length, that were retrieved from the bow of the boat. The fish were then picked out of the net. Thus the name Bowpicker.

Peep into the kitchen

Lunch! Note persistent seagull in background.

We finally got our meal of fresh Albacore tuna and thick slabs of potatoes. We tasted them while fighting off a pigeon and a seagull. I’d give the meal a B+. Definitely fresh. Clearly real fish steaks. Cooked at the proper temperature, so not greasy at all. The batter was too bready and seemed heavy, and not very flavorful.

Satiated, we took off for the Astoria Column. We traveled in to Astoria from the east, so were still miles from the beach itself. I know, it’s not original, but for anyone who has never been here, it’s a must-see to get your first views of the ocean from the column and its astounding vantage.

City of Astoria in the foreground, bridge across the mouth of the Columbia River, Cape Disappointment in the background.

We crossed the bridge of another tributary river (just out of sight to the left of the image above), and went to Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens was once part of a military defense installation at the mouth of the Columbia River. The fort saw service for 84 years, from the Civil War to World War II. Today it is a park with multiple camping options and fun stuff for day visitors.

The remains of the old fort are still here (in fact, we saw military remnants at many stops in the area today), and visitors are allowed to climb all over them at our own risk. “Caution: beware of unprotected drops and open pits.” haha. We poked around, trying to identify what each structure was for.

Standing atop what’s left of the main Fort Stevens structure. There are many small bunkers scattered in this area. The trees are newly grown and when the Fort was in use, it had a clear view of the Pacific Ocean.

The original earthen fort, completed in 1865 to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Confederate gun boats and the British Navy during the Civil War, was named for Union Army Major General Isaac I. Stevens, first territorial governor of Washington, who died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly. The post later served as Oregon’s only coastal defense fort during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.  The fort has the distinction of being the only military fort in the United States to be fired upon by an enemy during time of war since the War of 1812, when it was attacked by a Japanese submarine on June 21, 1942. ~

Next stop was finally the beach itself. We parked and walked out onto the sand, being drawn to a shipwreck, as many people are. The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran ashore October 25, 1906, on the Oregon coast en route to the Columbia River. It has been slowly decomposing and generations have returned to walk around it and climb upon it at low tide.

I love that I captured the boy in mid-leap. The kite also adds to the scene.

The Peter Iredale ran aground October 25, 1906. Now it’s a playground for boys in uniform.

Beach at Fort Stevens.

Looking north along the beach we could actually see the jetty at Cape Disappointment, in Washington.

Vlad and I walked up the beach a spell, spotting fishing vessels on the horizon, enjoying the smells and sounds of the sea, then turned back to the Jeep. It felt strange getting to the beach and then leaving. But this was not a beach trip and rather a Let’s-get-a-look-at-the-land trip.

We crossed the magnificent Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington state (that’s the one you see in the photo above). The southern part of the bridge is extremely high to enable free passage of any kind of ship up the river. And we do get everything in Portland: enormous tourist cruise ships, tall-masted sailing ships, Navy ships, and every kind of ship and barge for commerce. The bridge has no means of opening or lifting, and rather is built very high, which is exciting for motorists! It is just over 4 miles (6.55 km) to cross the river.

On the Washington side we turned immediately for Cape Disappointment, named when an explorer had tried and tried to find the mouth of the Columbia River and was forced to admit defeat. Ironically, at the mouth of the very river.

My Discover Pass came in handy one more time this week. I purchased it in October to park at the trailhead when I hiked the Enchantments. Anyone who lives around here and does some exploring in Washington state should have one. They’re $10 for a day pass, but only $40 for a year. Many of the parking lots to recreational areas require one, so it pays for itself easily if you get out of the house. We had free admission to Mt. St. Helens observatory, and now free parking at Cape Disappointment.

We hiked the first trail lined with informational signs about weather in the region. For two people with a weather background, the signs are interesting for different reasons than most people I imagine. Personally, I like to see how weather is explained for the layperson. But also, knowing weather, I skim through all the facts and see what is impressive based on my own knowledge. For example, coastal wind speeds can exceed the minimum requirement for hurricane wind speeds. That’s a fun perspective.

The end of the informational weather trail.

Trail to North Head lighthouse. Can you see it, smack in the center of the photo?

This is a view of the jetty looking south from Cape Disappointment. The mountains in the distance are Oregon.

North Head Lighthouse.

I then gave up my plans to head along the smaller road in Washington and catch the ferry back to Oregon. We had been out all day. We had been out all week, actually. My vote was to cross the bridge back to highway 30 and head home by the quickest route. Vlad agreed.

All in all it was a successful week of exploration. I hope my friend now feels more keenly his place on this particular spot of the Pacific Northwest.

There's my little home town of Rainier in the foreground, on the Oregon side, and Longview across the river on the Washington side. In the center is the Lewis & Clark Bridge across the Columbia River, that helps me get to work (and more importantly: home) each day.

There’s my little home town of Rainier in the foreground, on the Oregon side, and Longview across the river on the Washington side. In the center is the Lewis & Clark Bridge across the Columbia River, that helps me get to work (and more importantly: home) each day.

Saturday I turned 46 and went down the road apiece to Astoria, Oregon. I stopped right away at a viewpoint and looked down on our rural valley, about an hour drive north of Portland, Oregon. From there I could see the industrial mechanisms of the local economy, in the form of lumber and pulp mills, and the Port of Longview.

The next thing that caught my attention was a sign that pointed the way to a toll ferry. I did not need to go wherever the ferry would take me, except that I have been randomly discovering quite a few small ferry crossings on the many Oregon rivers, and it’s become a new interest of mine. Sadly, I did not ride a ferry that day.

Ferry was closed for repairs, but now that I know it's there, I'll go back and try again.

Ferry was closed for repairs, but now that I know it’s there, I’ll go back and try again.

The water beside the ferry launch was picturesque.

The water beside the ferry launch was picturesque.

In no time I was in Astoria, the city built at the mouth of the Columbia as it pours into the Pacific Ocean. I took a few photos near the mouth of the river, which is filled with sea faring ships, of course, since it’s a safe harbour when the ships are not en route. Then I stopped for lunch at the Rogue Brewery on Pier 39. I drove on the pier to get there!

Ships appear to be moving along a track in this photo. But they are in the distance, and a man is walking his dog along the path.

Ships appear to be moving along an earthen track in this photo. But they are in the distance, and a man is walking his dog along the path that follows the narrow piece of land.

The "road" to the brewery. One will also find shops, a museum, a law office, and the original cannery building for Bumble Bee Tuna.

The “road” to the brewery. One will also find a coffe shop, a dive store, a museum, and a law office.

Bumble Bee Seafood Company started right here. Can you sing the tune with me? "Bum Bum Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna."

Bumble Bee Seafood Company started right here. Can you sing the tune with me? “Bum Bum Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna.”

At the Rogue Brewery I veered away from the “Dead Guy Ale,” and the “Yellow Snow IPA,” and tried the “8 Hop IPA” and some homemade clam chowder (fresh clams, obviously). I somewhat recklessly agreed to become a citizen of the Rogue Nation and raised my right hand and took the pledge. I got a card that entitles me to a free pitcher of beer on my next birthday, but not this one. I talked with another woman traveling solo who is from Idaho like me, and has been roaming the West Coast since November, she said, trying to decide whether or not to retire. When she left, I talked with the couple on the other side of me, who were having a great day because the grandparents had the baby and they were free for awhile. They were both Air Force veterans like me and I quickly gave my VA-is-the-best-thing-ever spiel, and answered some questions and gave them my contact information.

Next I went to check in at the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. This place looked great online, and is *so* much better in reality. The service was personal and genuine. They learned my name in the first greeting, and from then on never asked again what room I was in. I told them it was my birthday and they wished me a happy birthday every time I passed the front desk (and even checked in with me the next day at breakfast, to see if I had enjoyed my birthday. I had.) I took a dozen photos, and I’ll share them with you in my next post.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

The Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa at the end of a pier into the Columbia River.

There were about two hours of daylight left, so I left the place and went to find the sea.

First I got distracted by this garage covered in scavenged buoys. The woman who owned the home there said the garage was built at the same time as her grandmother’s home, which had been where we were standing before she tore it down to build her new home. “But Grandma loved her garage and it reminds me of her, and I just can’t bring myself to take it down yet,” she said. “We had a pile of these buoys that we had found, and one day we hung them up. Now people drop them off and we keep hanging them up.”

Grandma's garage covered in buoys

Grandma’s garage covered in buoys

Then I was distracted again by a sign giving directions to the Army Cemetery. The road passed through what had clearly been an Army outpost years ago. Though it is entirely civilian now, one can’t ever erase the stamp of the federal government. It had the feel of a military base still. At the end of the road I found the humble Fort Stevens Post Cemetery, founded in 1868, according to an informational sign, when the first burial was Private August Stahlberger, who fell in the river and drowned while under the influence. It was also closed for repair.

The road to the cemetery.

The road to the cemetery.

Past the guardhouse

Past the guardhouse

U.S. Army Cemetery, Fort Stevens

U.S. Army Cemetery, Fort Stevens

Doing repairs carefully

Doing repairs carefully

Finally I found the beach. I honestly tried to pick out just the good photos, but… I fell in love with them all. It was an exquisite view in the January afternoon, as the sun shed her last rays on us ocean-loving humans.DSC_0191DSC_0189DSC_0198DSC_0195DSC_0194

On the way back to the hotel for their 5 pm wine, cheese, salmon and crackers, I had to stop again for photos. These reflections were still discernible in the very last vestiges of light at about 4:40 pm.

Branches stretch across a swampy bay.

Branches stretch across a swampy bay.

My camera makes it look rather light still, but it was pretty dark at this point. Still, the reflections were worth stopping for.

My camera makes it look rather light still, but it was pretty dark at this point. Still, the reflections were worth stopping for.

I went up to my room and changed into my new Christmas dress that I had only worn once so far. I enjoyed the treats downstairs, then came back to my room to try out a new whiskey that I received as a birthday gift. Have I mentioned that I’m a whiskey drinker? A co-worker has been lauding this Japanese scotch for the longest time. I was skeptical that such a good whiskey could be from Japan. I am no longer skeptical. Then, since I wanted to get a photo of my dress for Tara, I took about 75 photos in the bathroom mirror and failed them all. By the time this one was taken, I was totally cracking up at my own ineptness. But at least I got a fuzzy picture of my dress. It’s a sweater dress, so fuzzy is appropriate.

Auchentoshan pours out like syrup

Auchentoshan Three Wood pours out like syrup

Cracking myself up while failing at a selfie.

Cracking myself up while failing at a selfie.


Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, in North Bend, Oregon

Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge, in North Bend, Oregon

This is day two of our coast vacation. Day one is here.

We are staying at SeaQuest Inn Bed & Breakfast, and it is a story in itself…so you’ll have to wait and I’ll talk about that wonderful place and its spectacular hosts in my next post. I will say that our Christmas Eve gourmet breakfast was worth raving about. Stephanie and Sherwood prepared a two-course breakfast that began with a fruit and nut granola, orange juice and coffee. The main course was egg and cheese baked onto an English muffin (I do not recall the proper names for the dishes – apologies to the chefs.), with a potato pancake and caramelized bacon. It was totally delicious and I ate every last bite.

Unfortunately, our first plan of action for the day was to meet for lunch, and I was stuffed! My Great Aunt and Uncle live in North Bend, Oregon which is south of the B&B. We had been hurrying up the highway the night before, and didn’t stop. Christmas Eve was a good time to head south again and see all the things we missed in the rain and in the dark.


entrance of Siuslaw River Draw Bridge, designed by Conde McCollough

Climbing. Again.

Climbing. Again.

The weather cleared up and warmed up. We stopped for photos of bridges. Arno climbed one. I can’t take that man anywhere…

It was a perfect day for visiting, too. The best part of the visit was hearing some old family stories that I didn’t know about, and seeing photos of my Great Grandfather William Wells Haley (and realizing that Great Uncle Dwight looks just like him) and photos of my Great Grandmother Mabel Redman looking very Indian. I trace my Cherokee heritage through William.

We were treated to lunch at a favourite place of Great Aunt & Uncle’s, and the staff all came out from the back and said hello. That was pretty special. We managed the meal as gracefully as possible, and turned around once more to head north while there was still daylight.

Umpqua River Lighthouse

Umpqua River Lighthouse

Our first stop was the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which is a lovely old lighthouse but an active Coast Guard Station. So, as scenic as it is, it’s behind a chain-link fence and there are ugly military buildings packed right up next to it and that made it difficult to get a nice photo. A map of the coast showed how all the lighthouses are still in use and how their ranges overlap so that mariners can always have an eye on a lighthouse in the night. The Umpqua lighthouse is small, and not set very high compared to others, so its range is not as far as others.

An informational sign told us about whale-watching. Arno had his binoculars up and had already been gazing out to sea, when I began reading the instructions for spotting a whale. About the time I finished reading out loud, Arno said, “Oh, hey! I saw one!” He saw the puff of spray blown above the water as the whale came up for air, and he also saw the dark shadow of the whale’s body. It turns out that it is peak whale-watching time. I tried a few times to see something, but never did.

Memories were recounted along the highway. We were long overdue for a visit to this part of the country. Arno’s main memory was of a bicycle trip he made from Portland to Florence when he was 17 years old. Mine was dune-buggying with my dad when I was very young…perhaps 8 or 9. I remember reading the Wizard of Oz and Nancy Drew to my Pa and my brother around the campfire at night.

We continued along the road past the lighthouse, and came to a large parking area for a huge section of sand dunes. No one was there, which was nice. The sand dunes were remarkable, and beautiful. They rise as high as 500 feet above the sea and stretch for 40 miles along the Oregon coast. It’s a famous recreation area for off-highway vehicles (OHVs), and practically every square inch of dunes in front of us were beat down with vehicle tracks. But at least no one was there on Christmas Eve, so it was quiet. We hiked over a couple of sand peaks, wanting to know what was on the other side. The answer: more sand.

Unlike other images of dunes I’ve seen, this one is interspersed with clumps of pine and fir trees. The deep green oases of evergreens are an unexpected sight when everything else is suggesting Saudi Arabia.

Sand dunes and tree islands near the mouth of the Umpqua River

Sand dunes and tree islands near the mouth of the Umpqua River

A high dune beside the sea

A high dune beside the sea holds unexpected tree shadows

Sun sets behind a tree island

Sun sets behind a tree island

Too soon, the early winter sun dropped from the sky and things got chilly. We left the dunes and returned to the car and found our way back to Highway 101. It was nearly dark on the highway, which at this section is too far away from the beach to see the sea.

Arno wanted to find a beach from which to watch the sunset. I skimmed the map but didn’t see any obvious place to pull over. I told him there was nothing, and we should just head north. He began to get a little insistent. In my mind, I chalked it up to his sappy tendencies. Arno is such a romantic. I’m more practical: it’s late, it’s dark, let’s roll. He wouldn’t let up and I could tell it was important to him, so I took a good look at the map, and found a spot we could pull off. It was a small road from the highway that led out to Siltcoos Beach, which we had never heard of.

We parked behind a bluff, where the sky still looked dark. Arno hurried me up the sand dune so we could see the sea on the other side.

And I was astonished! “Oh! Oh! Oh my gosh look at the colours!” It was magical. It was a Christmas gift. I don’t know how close I came to not seeing this amazing sight out of pure unromantic stubbornness, but thank goodness it didn’t happen. I simply could not limit myself to one or two sunset photos, so you’ll have to endure a whole string of them.

This is what we saw when we hiked up the dune from the parking lot.

This is what we saw when we hiked up the dune from the parking lot.

through the grass

through the grass

Romantic enough for a Hallmark card

Romantic enough for a Hallmark card

Waves crash into the air in front of the setting sun

Waves crash into the air in front of the setting sun

A seagull contemplates the likelihood that I am holding something good to eat....

A seagull contemplates the likelihood that I am holding something good to eat….

....and when it turns out that I am only holding a camera, she leaves us.

….and when it turns out that I am only holding a camera, she leaves us.

Arno and I playing in the Pacific

Arno and I playing in the Pacific

Somehow Arno’s boys and my girl are on the same visitation schedule with seeing their other respective parent. It’s lovely to have that convenience, since we can get all the kids together during the holidays we have them, and then they all leave at the same time too, so Arno and I get our grown up time together. This week, for example, the boys left PDX airport Sunday morning, we all piled into the car to head south to drop Tara off with her dad in Humboldt County, and the rest of the week would be ours. Blessed stress-free, kid-free week of camping in the desert.

Burst of daffodil yellow in the median strip.

Burst of daffodil yellow in the median strip.

Two years ago I took a solo Spring Break trip south and noticed the daffodils. They caught my eye again this year. It is really a delight to see them splashed in the freeway median and beside the road. I was reminded that there are few freeways that are as scenic as these parts of I-5 through Oregon. From around Salem through Roseburg, I am often impressed by the view. I can think of I-89 in Vermont that is a gorgeous freeway, but nothing else. Leave a note in comments if you have your own favourite beautiful stretch of freeway in the U.S.

Our first glimpse of sea as we moved south of Crescent City.

Our first glimpse of sea as we moved south of Crescent City.

For Tara and I, the thrill of Sunday’s drive was arriving first in the redwood groves and then at the coast. I lived in Humboldt for over 7 years and Miss T has been coming back to see her dad her whole life. So the redwoods and the northern Pacific are home to us. She ran barefoot down the beach and splashed in the waves, getting wet sand all over everything (as is proper at the beach). I put my fingers into the cold water and tasted the salt. The salt in my mouth makes me think of the days when I was surfing a couple days a week with my friend Chad, back when we were students at College of the Redwoods.

Me in the driver's seat, goofing with Tara as we waited at a stop light.

Me in the driver’s seat, goofing with Tara as we waited at a stop light.

We dropped Miss T with her dad and step-sister, and then hit the highway south again for Fortuna. My dear and long time friend Margaret had welcomed us to stay at her place for the night. Her partner was there too, and they served us a fabulous dinner. We drank entirely too much wine, but we all got to know each other, since we ladies had not met each other’s men. Finally, though, we were fast asleep.

Miss Tara splashes through the waves in a skirt.

Miss Tara splashes through the waves in a skirt.

Me and my Arno

Me and my Arno

We got a late start Monday morning because Margaret and I were still catching up. We hadn’t seen each other for two years. Once we did get on the road, I probably annoyed the hell out of Arno for the next few hours with my incessant stories triggered by memories of living there. I was reminded of a hundred excellent days, like the Avenue of the Gods 10K (through the redwoods; my first serious race), the world’s largest Reggae festival in Piercy, outdoor Shakespeare at Benbow (no longer an annual summer event), the organic sandwich shop in Garberville, Ren Faires in Willits (terrible review), and the remarkable wines I discovered, quite by accident, stopping in at wineries that caught my eye in my many wanderings through the northern California countryside.

Sadly, all the beauty of northern Cali must eventually come to an end, and we hit the end once highway 20 took us back onto I-5 in the central valley of California. Yuck and yuck. I feel sorry for people who have to live there. We ended the night in Santa Nella and got to try a bowl of Pea Soup Andersen’s split pea soup before sleep grabbed us again.

Mural in Eureka

Man, what a great trip to Cali on several levels. I’ve speckled the writing with just a FEW of the amazing murals in Eureka. Many of them courtesy of beloved Humboldt artist Duane Flatmo.

A friend of mine named him Barney at one point, and it works for me, so I’ll call my daughter’s father Barney. Well, as I so dramatically pointed out earlier this year, Barney decided to move back to California. His original intent was to take our daughter with him. I fought it like a wildcat, and thousands of dollars and six months later, Barney is in California, and she is back in Portland with me.  We had decided to split the summer. He got the first half so that she could move down there with him, and into the girlfriend’s house. She got to set up her room and visit her old friends in Eureka and get a sense of where her dad would be. My half of the summer began Thursday, and I was there at 9:00 am to pick her up (yes, I was a bit eager).

girls in the sea - too much fun!

Because of such an early start from Portland, I rolled into Eureka Wednesday afternoon, and as I passed beneath the familiar stands of eucalyptus and breathed in the wet salty air coming across the bay and brushing through the leaves making the most delicious smell, I realized that I had happened upon a rare gorgeous day on the North Coast. My girl had been texting me about every 5 minutes since Crescent City, so instead of heading to Margaret’s, I went straight to her house. I asked Barney if it was ok to take the girls to the beach and everybody was game. The girlfriend has a daughter the same age as mine. We played on the warm sands at Samoa Beach and had a grand time. I took them to Pachanga for dinner, then dropped the girls off at Barney’s.

Mural in Eureka

I made my happy way on over to Lost Coast and some free WiFi and picked up a case of my fave beer: Downtown Brown, complete with wacky label art from aforementioned Duane Flatmo. Down the hill to Fortuna in time to take a shower before Margaret and John got home. I had a lovely visit with my old friends. Margaret is as amazing as ever. Effervescent even in times of some life challenges right now. She is beautiful and generous and always a kind friend and excellent hostess. While I was chatting with John, she got a phone call from a Mexican friend, and we listened to her giddiup her way through a phone call in someone else’s native language. She laughed when she hung up, “She barely speaks English and I barely speak Spanish, so we have funny conversations.”

Margaret and me on her deck. When there is no fog, there is a stunning view of Fortuna and the sea beyond.

When I met Margaret, she did not speak Spanish. The next morning there were lots of hugs and best wishes and Margaret was in her UPS uniform. She started a brand new UPS store in Fortuna less than a year ago, and it’s going gangbusters. She said it’s hard to manage the store and also teach four days a week at College of the Redwoods, which she also just started. What a woman.

what a smile

I picked up my girl from Barney’s and off we went. First order of business: get some new surf gear to fit my growing girl. I needed new gloves too, because my old ones were wearing thin. We headed up north to Trinidad beach despite the gloomy fog which I knew would hit – to make the locals pay for the gorgeous sunshine the day before.

my girlie and me

We stopped for a quick hello to Bob at the Tribal Offices at Cher-ae Heights, ate at the Trinidad Bay Eatery and made our way to Moonstone Beach. Trinidad had a little magic in store for us, and by the time we hit the beach we were blasted with sunshine and blue skies, while Eureka remained socked in. We played in the water about two hours. Near the end, a seal came out to play with us. We were the only two in the water with the seal. It was the first time I had seen a seal so close while surfing. At one point, she blasted through the water right between my daughter and me. I didn’t see it, but she did, which is better. How exciting. I had a heart-thumping thought in the back of my head that when the White Sharks up here accidentally bite people, they’re really after the seals, but I was wise enough to keep that in my own head, and let my girlie just experience the thrill.

Red dawn through smoky skies from forest fires in Canyonville, OR

It’s been so long since I surfed, I had lost touch with the sea. It took a long time before enough of that salty water pounded through my hair and tumbled across my body, that finally the worries washed away too. Seagulls swooped across the sky, the seal kept popping up – her black shiny nose covered in long whiskers – and the sun lit up white froth in the crashing waves. If I stare out west long enough, my world gets simpler. The only critical data coming in is the quality of the swell, and maybe how cold my toes are. Other than that, I feel blissful joy in that my whole world becomes the feeling of bobbing in the cold water, the blue-green stained glass of sun through the peak of a wave, the salt in my mouth, the scratchy neoprene of my glove when I brush hair out of my eyes, and sparkles everywhere. Sparkling jeweled water. Sparkling squeals of delight from my daughter, Sparkling cries of the gulls. Sparkling joy inside me.

A mural at Pierson's hardware on the south end of town

We hit 101 south again and spent a great visit with my dearest friend. I first met her online, and it was love at first type. Her online name was Ophelia Red, and now I’ve even got her in my address book under “O” for Ophelia, even though neither her first or last name begin with an o. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy. She said she doesn’t think she’s ever felt so happy in her life. That is a great thing to hear from a friend. She was full of smiles and love and peace. Ophelia and I shared some wine while she made a gigantic batch of enchiladas in order to have food in the house in the coming week. Her daughter was mostly quiet but when she did open up, showed that she’s a lovely young lady inside as much as out.

Mural at the Courthouse Market downtown

Ophelia’s house is packed with art. She says what gives her joy is that her living room is mostly art given to her by friends. Yes, there is something of mine on her wall too: a cast of my face, so I can be with her always, and trimmed in dried plants because I’m an Earth-girl faery sprite. She talked about her work with Humboldt Pride and mostly her work in the Impropriety Society. One of her ongoing projects is The Yoni Endeavor, in which she works with women to build yoni sculptures as part of both a healing exercise, and also a way to love ALL parts of our beautiful female bodies. With dozens of ceramic yonis on the walls, in paint, in sculpture, and in metal, there is no way not to be in love with being female there.

female ostrich ignoring us

The last time I was at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, it was midday and hot, and I didn’t get to see many of the animals. I thought if we hit it in the morning we might have better luck. In any case, that thought led me to hit the road directly after leaving Ophelia’s. My girlie got into her jammies and off we went. I was doing some serious nodding by Grants Pass, so I found a road out of the way, and pulled over to zonk out for awhile. We got into Winston in time for breakfast, and I pulled into a little café that looked perfect because the parking lot was jammed and there were a bunch of white caps in there. It was exactly as expected: many old crusty dudes who all knew each other, and a friendly waitress named Dee who hugged everybody who walked in. While we sat there, new people would mosey on in the door, and people in beat up ballcaps would barely nod as the newcomer would drag out a chair and move in on their table. “Mornin’ Merl.” “Howdy Ted.” Man, I love that stuff. We got pancakes, hash browns, an omelet, some more eggs, bacon and a Belgian waffle. Ummmmm. The bathroom in the back was at the edge of the A-frame, so one wall sloped and did not allow me to stand erect. My daughter was impressed with all of it, “This restaurant is perfect!” she announced.

giraffes at play

We pulled in too early to Wildlife Safari, and my kid read from her new book while we waited. It’s to help answer questions so going into Middle School isn’t so scary. It’s sort of a weird concept to me: Middle School. There was no such thing when I was a kid in Idaho. We had Junior High, which was 7th and 8th grade. Sixth graders were elementary school.

Finally! We had access and were delighted all the way through. Wildlife Safari is sort of like a zoo, but there are no “cages” per se. It’s gigantic, and the animals roam the hills and forests. It’s divided into portions named after the continent the animals come from: Africa, Asia, the Americas. We saw so many great creatures, and my girl helped by taking most of the photos.

One of our first sights was of giraffes at horseplay. They stood right next to each other with feet splayed, and pushed their butts up against each other, trying to shove each other aside. Sort of like you might see siblings in the back seat of the car do. Then they would swing their long necks down hard and ram their heads against each other’s chests. We were so close we heard the thump! each time they did it. Very funny.

bears horsing around

There was a lot of horseplay going on in there. A baby Bison was butting his momma, thump thump thump, and she just dug in and leaned back at him, pretending not to notice, so she wouldn’t encourage the behavior. I could imagine her thoughts might be similar to many other mothers of boys. The brown bears were rollicking down by their pond. One had its paw around the other next to it, and they wrestled and bared their teeth at each other. It was priceless when the one got tired and rested his big bear head on top of the other’s head.

This is how close we were to the animals!

Lots of babies too. We saw a baby zebra, and lots of baby cattle- and deer-cousins (sorry, can’t name all those critters). Our favourites were the baby rheas who ran into the road after their mom. She is eight feet tall; they are more like eight inches tall.

Ahhh, such a rewarding stop. We piled into the car again. My girl laid her seat back and took a nap, and I stayed awake all the way home. I love it that when I come home, I come to Portland.

Placid beauties. White deer in a lavender field.

Rhea babies and their momma

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