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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.

clue 1

This year I didn’t even expect anything.

Ok, so I’m a girl. Most years I think I need to have something on Valentine’s Day from my guy. Mostly I want something personalized. And chocolate.

My man has a good track record for V Day. Two years ago he was in Portland while I was still in school in Boston. I received a huge box in the mail. It was filled with… just… things. Lots of unrelated things that were physically and monetarily small, but item after item was another example of how he had been paying attention. He knew me. I pulled out my absolute favourite soap: Bee & Flower sandalwood. There was fresh brie and my fave crackers to have with Brie: pepper flavored water crackers. Ferrero Rocher, my fave chocolate and hazelnut treat. A bottle of one of my favourite wines: Smoking Loon Chardonnay. My favourite tea: Peets Jasmine Downy Pearls.

clue 3 and a back rub

Last year when I got up to get ready for work, there were boxes of all kinds of candy – chocolates and another preferred sweet of mine: Jelly Belly jelly beans. He handmade a giant Valentine card and wrote BE MINE? on it, then glued more chocolates all over it in a design, with a bunch of flower and bee stickers. It was so awesome; I brought all the boxes of candy to work and hung the card up on my cube. For the next week, I pulled off a new candy whenever I wanted one. (I actually still have the card up, with shiny irregular specks of foil still glued to the paper) My co-worker H said, “Is he really that romantic?”

This year he outdid himself.

I found a big heart-shaped box of Ferrero Rocher.  A little white folded note sealed in wax, and two pages of written words on parchment paper, in green ink. Cool.

my story


I broke the seal and found a “Valentine’s Day Coupon” for One Afternoon Alone, tucked inside the note, upon which was printed a small photo of a tiny portion of one of my pieces of artwork in the house. Of course I love the print (Six Bird Hunters in Full Camouflage by James Christensen), and the coupon is sweet because after a busy stressful workweek, my reward is usually chaotic weekends filled with my family clambering for my attention.

I read the parchment paper, which was only two pages, but at the bottom of each page it noted “page X of 13” with the “13” bolded. It was a story. Names were changed, but my daughter and myself were the key characters in a fantasy filled with danger and travel. Then, it just cut off.

I looked back at the note with the photo on it. A clue! My girl and I went to where the print hangs on the wall, and I pulled it down while Miss T checked the pocket in the back. Yes! Two more pages of parchment, and another note sealed with wax.

clue 6

Thus began my morning today. Alternately reading two pages, gaining coupons for massages, camping trips, dinner with dessert, walks and hikes, I kept collecting clues and then hunting around the house for the next part of the story. …which was very good, by the way. Exciting and dangerous, with fantasy creatures and particularly a dragon, all beginning in our back yard and ending up at a forest near the coast after a few scenes on the Oregon beach.

The last three pages had the hardest clue. It was a hint to one of his prints instead of one of mine (Frank Frazetta’s The Silver Warrior) , the dragon in the story shrinks to the size of a newt and curls around the main character’s neck (me) and begs for protection. Tucked beside the final words of the story was a handmade necklace with a serpent hanging from it. (Have I told you he makes crazy gorgeous beaded jewelry for me too?)

Sigh! Yes, he is a keeper. I told him, after the happy ending had commenced: “I am SO blogging this!”

serpent necklace

One of my many guises

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