Coast Road Trip: Adage and Algae

The idea, now an adage, that a picture is worth a thousand words, seems to have come from early 20th Century advertising strategies. A picture might be worth more than a thousand words to an illiterate shopper, and advertising must be short and quick and hit hard enough to leave a brand image on the brain. The problem now for advertisers might be there are too many pictures. We are now uploading upwards of 2 billion photos daily to the Internet. If the early 1900’s advertising adage is true, that’s two trillion words, daily. It’s easy to see why a writer struggling to reach a goal of 500 words a day might resort to posting a pic or two. Or simply trade the blog in for an Instagram account. Digitized images are the algae of the Internet.

Mural in Harbor Zone, Crescent City, CA. Photo by Susan.

Coast Road Trip: Double Back

A reader of the Toads writes:

“Hi Joe,  I have been reading your travel posts . They seem familiar like maybe I’ve seen them before . The photos are recent , though , so I must be wrong about that.”

personal correspondence

That is precisely the problem with writing, with, indeed, life, the feeling we’ve been here before, Déjà vu, been there – done that. Yet we continue to imagine our future, awake and asleep, waiting for something new.

“I pity the poor immigrant
Who wishes he would’ve stayed home”

“I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” Bob Dylan, from John Wesley Harding, 1968.

“Make it new,” Ezra Pound said, over and over again. But if you make it too new, who will recognize it?

HAMM: Go and get the oilcan.
CLOV: What for?
HAMM: To oil the castors.
CLOV: I oiled them yesterday.
HAMM: Yesterday! What does that mean? Yesterday!
CLOV (violently): That means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day. I use the words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent.
(Pause.)

“Endgame,” Samuel Beckett, 1957.

A Google search of “Yaquina Head Lighthouse” will bring up over 300,000 results (in .78 seconds, no less). Click on “images,” and you’ll see more than 500 pics of the lighthouse. Nevertheless, I now double back and offer readers of the Toads these entirely original never seen before pics of the lighthouse, freshly taken about a month ago:

Coast Road Trip: Sans Pics

A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.

“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.

Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.

E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.

Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.

Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:

Note: Comments On for this post. Have fun!

Coast Road Trip: Cork Tree and Whale

We followed Dry Creek Road into the country northwest of Healdsburg to Lake Sonoma. Along the way, wineries, carefully cultivated vineyards, acre after acre of grapes. We stopped at the Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Dry Creek Valley, a snazzy estate with an “Italianate” villa with views of the valley and vineyards and with exuberant gardens, where we found a cork tree, this one some 50 years old, though they can age to 300 years, and one doesn’t want to start harvesting cork from their bark until they reach 50 years of age. The bark looked like cork, folds of it, and felt like cork, a hard sponge. The trunk was 4 or 5 feet wide.

I was reminded of the cork tree later when back in Depoe Bay, Oregon, we saw a whale, just off shore, bending in vertical dives, showing its back and sides, along the edge of the cliff just north of the harbor entrance. It was probably a gray whale. It was certainly alluring, and we watched for it a long time, and it came up every 10 minutes or so.

The smaller, less manicured wineries or vineyards, off hardpack dirt and gravel roads, with small wood buildings and just a few workers going about their chores – these we preferred to the larger, commercial estates.

Lake Sonoma is partially created with an earth dam over the valley, and we climbed up to the top of Rockpile Road and the bridge viewpoint where from a 3 story observation deck built with thick but old and now weathered timber, parts missing, we learned we were in feral pig country. Wine and pigs. What a life.

Sign posted above Sonoma Lake
Snazzy Ferrari-Carano Vineyards.
Cork tree.
Bark of cork tree.
Villa.

 

Coast Road Trip: Lighthouse Logbooks

At the end of the watch, the lighthouse keeper would record by hand in the lighthouse logbook activities. The lighthouse might have received visitors. An assistant had harvested herbs and onions from the garden. Someone passed away. A winter storm broke 14 windows. A dense fog cast the light in shade for most of the day. New coats of paint were finished on the window trim of the living quarters. Little Jack broke a toe climbing on the rocks down in the cove while trying to catch crabs.

Each entry in the logbooks seems akin to a kind of postcard travelers rarely send these days, a detail picture or drawing of the area on one side, a brief note on the other with updated narrative and description of activities.

We came across what looks to be a large sponge whale bone at low tide around the south end of the cove.

The tide is so low this week we are able to view sea life in all three zones: periwinkles in the splash; a sunflower star with 24 arms and a yard across in the terror zone; masses of mussels on the big rocks in the high-tide zone, and acorn barnacles.

Purple shore crabs had Aunt Hilly jumping about in her own crazy crab dance. While she yelled and blamed all of us for bringing her down to the beach to her ruin like the anti-social pelagic cormorant. She caught the bottom of her dress on a sharp rock and it ripped all the way up to her waist and she screamed and let out a bark like a seal.

Last night my lady’s malady nearly got the best of me.

A square built like Healdsburg’s, a one block square, shade tree filled park – with a gazebo bandstand – invites postcard writing.

John invited us to the outdoor Healdsburg High graduation ceremony, but we declined, opting instead for a visit to the square. Plaza Street, across Healdsburg Avenue, turns into a pedestrian walkway leading to Hotel Healdsburg, where we were headed for some happy hour jazz. I was expecting something built out of redwood around 1901; instead, we found ourselves ensconced underdressed in a modern stylish structure established, the entrance sign had announced, in 2001. No jazz, either, as we settled in to the sveldt sofas at tables in the sunken bar area. In front of a closed grand piano stood a young girl with a guitar and harmonica singing indie and classic folk songs. She was good, too. So while John was marching to pomp and circumstance in the heat and robe regalia across the sun drenched graduation field, we drank a cool beer in the posh, AC’d room of the hotel bar, listening to folk songs.

to be continued: this is part seven in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: High Water Marks

Healdsburg turned on the heat for our arrival and stay, the temperature in the 90’s. My brother’s house stayed cool though under his big California Oak trees, and we slept with the windows open and ceiling fans running. John, old surfer and teacher that he is, always awakes early. I got up early, refreshed but with that feeling you get after awaking in someone else’s bed and for a moment don’t remember where you are. No one else seemed up and about, so I took off walking. I walked to the high school and across the baseball fields. I stood at home plate, taking a couple of high and outside fastballs. Then a curve aimed at my belt broke slow in my zone over the plate and I belted it out to left center, an in the park home run, though I walked the bases, and after touching home declined the interviews with the excuse I had to get back to John’s place.

John and I drove out to Jimtown Store, east of the Russian River, which half circles Healdsburg, for some coffee. A small bridge crosses the river, the road falls suddenly like the Pike roller coaster at Long Beach, a panoramic view of a wine valley flashes, and you’re on the valley floor heading east.

Seems everywhere we went around Healdsburg a former student of John’s said hello. John was just awarded teacher of the year for this past session, but the tall fellow working the Jimtown store today was a former field and track star who quickly recognized his former coach.

I was eight and a half years old when my brother John was born, the fifth in a family of ten kids, the first to be born in California. I was in the front yard playing when Dad walked Mom out to our 1956 Ford wagon, parked in the driveway on Mariposa, to tootle off to the hospital. Mom was never in labor for more than a couple of hours. Some girls have all the luck.

At Jimtown we drank some ice coffee and climbed back into John’s rig and headed back to Healdsburg. Grapes growing here, there, and everywhere. Some old, some newly planted. Up hills, down into valleys. And where no grapes, oaks, a few redwoods still, pines. Bay, willow, maple. Grasses, yarrow. Shrubs. Wineries. At a crossroads signs pointing this way and that to this or that winery. Not by bread alone. Bread and red, white, and rose.

Near the Russian River to the northeast of Healdsburg, John pulled over near an old barn off the side of the road and pointed out the high water marks folks had painted on the siding over the years. Historic floods. Several years where we were now standing we would have been more than 20 feet under water. The homemade historical markers seemed more dramatic and effectively sobering about man’s indifference to nature than the new tsunami signs we’d seen up north near the ocean on Highway 101.

to be continued: this is part six in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: Inland Slant

South of Eureka, Highway 101 again turns inland, curling through more redwoods, passing through a few small towns. The road curves and curls through the tall woods and slants south-southeast away from the ocean, the trees gradually grow smaller and more sparse, the land opens up into rolling hills, and you enter wine country. Travelers wanting to continue hugging the coast cut over from Leggett to Fort Bragg and continue down old Highway 1, through Mendocino, and can roll and stroll on down all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Travelers wanting more Pynchon can spend a few nights in Garberville. But we were on our way to Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, in the heart of wine country, though we’d only be about 20 miles from the ocean as the crow flies, about an hour from Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock filmed “The Birds,” and on the south side of the bay, Dillon Beach, where my brother John likes to go surfing.

Alas, we would not go surfing this trip, in spite of the fact my brother has enough surfboards in his garage to supply a squad of dolphins, and Kevin had brought along his wetsuit. Healdsburg was a happy happening hive: a wedding was being planned though a couple of weeks out yet and anticipation was high; more immediate, a birthday gathering weekend was bringing California family coming in from all directions; Healdsburg High was holding its annual graduation ceremony; there was a jazz fest blowing in the downtown square; and at John’s place there were guitars enough to equip a choir.

After the long drive down the coast, getting lost upon arrival in tiny Healdsburg trying to find John’s house, and the excitement of seeing folks we’d not in some time, we slept like sloths.

to be continued: this is part five in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: Trinidad

Leaving Open Toe Beach, southbound, we climb again up into the redwoods, and come down near the water again at Orick. We’re on the Avenue of the Giants. That’s not a reference to the travelers or the locals. We slow down and check out Orick, where the highway becomes an alley passing through someone’s backyard. Shacks, old motels, a few cars and a few more pick up trucks parked this way and that, a snack place. A market, a school, an abandoned gas station on the way out of town.

“Uh-oh. Wasn’t there supposed to be some logger’s bar around here someplace? Everybody knew it was high times for the stiffs in the woods – though not for those in the mills, with the Japanese buying up unprocessed logs as fast as the forests could be clear-cut – but even so, the scene in here was peculiar. Dangerous men with coarsened attitudes, especially toward death, were perched around lightly on designer barstools, sipping kiwi mimosas.

from “Vineland,” by Thomas Pynchon, 1990

Highway 101 turns west, continues to follow Redwood Creek out to the ocean, where it turns south and crosses a series of lagoons (Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon, Big Lagoon). Not quite a bridge, not quite a road, it crosses over or passes near the marshy inlets in the longest series of tsunami inundation zones we’ve yet travelled through. The zones are introduced with new entrance and exit signs: “You are now entering a tsunami inundation zone…You are now leaving….” Basically, if the road is dropping, you’re entering. You know when you’re on the bottom. When climbing, you’re leaving. What you might do if a tsunami should occur while you’re in a zone is left up to your imagination. Turn the car east and try to surf your way back up into the redwoods. We pull off for a rest and to check out Trinidad.

We were not looking for kiwi mimosas, but coffee. The entrance to Trinidad, just west of the 101 entrance and exit, is deceiving. A gas station, a market, a surf and bait shop, and straight ahead, Trinidad Bay Trailer Court. But stay right on Main, passing by the Court, until you come to Stagecoach Road. Left there and on your left, across from the elementary school and next to the volunteer fire station, you’ll find Beachcomber Cafe. We got some coffee from the counter and took it out to the courtyard where we stretched and sat in the warm morning sun. We could hear the kids out playing at recess in the schoolyard across the street. An onshore breeze and a few gulls suggested we were close to a beach, but we’d not seen the water yet.

After coffee we walked down the street to the cliff overlooking Trinidad Harbor, a natural harbor formed by Little Head, which projects a short distance into the bay and is protected by the much larger Trinidad Head. On the cliff, the breeze became a wind, but the water below was still and smooth. A cluster of small boats, mostly fishing, were anchored off shore. There was a pier, but the view was mostly blocked by Little Head, but access to the boats in the harbor appeared limited to small, ship like dinghy crossings. The water down in the cove below the cliffs was translucent turquoise blue-green. The tide was out, and there was no surf, given the position of the beach which faced southeast and was protected from ocean swells by the big head to the west. We watched a fishing boat coming in. We climbed a trail a short way down the cliff to view a small memorial to folks lost at sea over the years. A landmark proclaimed Trinidad to be the oldest town on the Northern California coast.

No idea who might live now in the designer view homes up on the cliff overlooking the harbor or around the hill open to views of the ocean to the west. Not much of a neighborhood vibe apparent, but you can’t tell about a place unless you walk and talk and live and let live in it for a time. Some of the houses looked new, but a few appeared to be hanging on from the days of small beach cottages with yards still filled with wildflowers, seagrasses, surrounded by white picket fences and studded with beachcombing finds. There didn’t appear to be much industry in the small town. A commercial tour fishing boat was unloading at the end of the pier, a worker wearing a slick apron slicing the catch into fillets. Humboldt State University maintains a Marine Laboratory a few blocks up from the old Trinidad Lighthouse. But we didn’t stop in Trinidad to look for a place to live or even stay the night.

On our way out, we stopped at “Salty’s,” the bait and surf shop we’d seen on the way into town. I asked the young man holding a baby behind the counter what life was like in Trinidad, who lived there, and what did they do. He mentioned the changing demographic economic environment of the general area, focussing on the disruption to an established system prior to the legalization of marijuana. A lot of people now have to wear several hats, he said. And of course there’s the college, he said, referring to nearby Humboldt State, about 20 minutes farther south, just off the coast highway, in Arcata.

Back on 101 headed south, I started thinking again of Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland.”

“The jukebox once famous for hundreds of freeway exits up and down the coast for its gigantic country-and-western collection, including half a dozen covers of “So Lonesome I Could Cry,” was reformatted to light classical and New Age music that gently peeped at the edges of audibility, slowing, lulling this roomful of choppers and choker setters who now all looked like models in Father’s Day ads. One of the larger of these, being among the first to notice Zoyd, had chosen to deal with the situation. He wore sunglasses with stylish frames, a Turnbull & Asser shirt in some pastel plaid, three-figure-price-tag jeans by Mm. Gris, and apres-logging shoes of a subdued, but incontestably blue, suede.”

from “Vineland,” by Thomas Pynchon, 1990

to be continued: this is part four in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: Up Through Some Redwoods and Down to Open Toe Beach

Maps can’t find Open Toe Beach. No sign points the way. Likewise, one doesn’t feel any different having crossed the border from Oregon into California. Nature’s borders are difficult to see, to define, to mark:

“The immense sea, the ocean sea, which runs infinitely beyond all sight, the huge omnipotent sea – there is a point where it ends, and an instant – the immense sea, the tiniest place and a split second.”

from “Ocean Sea” by Alessandro Baricco

South from Crescent City, Highway 101 turns away from the ocean and climbs up into Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Parts of the road narrow through the giant trees and begin to switch back and forth like a steep trail through woods. The trees have grown so close on some curves that the trunks have been trimmed back with flat scraping saw cuts to allow for cars and the big trucks to pass. Traffic slows, or should slow, to no more than 20 miles per hour, and even that seems here and there too fast as the curves rise sharply and fall swerving like a ride in an amusement park. You are in a massive forest at the end of the continent, climbing above the ocean, now out of reach. The dappled light coming through the branches thins then goes dark and you need your headlights on to continue. You are an oily steely slug crawling along the floor bed of an emerald rust forest. Here the sea continues too, in the form of high and thick fogs that water the redwood trees from the top down.

But we fall quickly to an elevation of about 30 feet, where the road crosses a bridge on the approach to False Klamath and again touches the water at DeMartin Beach, which we renamed Open Toe Beach for the various abandoned sandals we came across as we parked and walked down to the water barefoot and open toed. Where were the people belonging to all these sandals? The tide was out, and we walked along the cove, the beach covered with small pieces of driftwood. The water was cold but not burning cold. The surf was not big but it was loud as the swells broke on the big scattered rocks out in the cove. It felt good to be back in the open and on the beach and out of the forest. There is a boundary between redwood forest and ocean beach that can be measured or felt in scent and smell. The forest is loamy, quiet, the scent pungent like a snorted mint, the floor softer than sand. The beach is breezy, salty, and your tinnitus becomes more than mere suggestion. It disappears as the surf does in the sand.

“…you see there, where the water arrives…runs up the beach, then stops…there, precisely that point, where it stops…it really lasts no more than an instant, look there, there, for example, there…you see that it lasts only an instant, then it disappears, but if one were to succeed in suspending that instant…when the water stops, precisely that point, that curve…this is what I am studying. Where the water stops.”

from “Ocean Sea” by Alessandro Baricco

to be continued: this is part three of a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: A Body on the Beach

From our motel room, looking south/southwest, I could see Crescent Beach. A few surfers were out, but the waves looked very small, 1 or 2 feet. The water was glassy. There was no fog, the sun was coming up, and I went down to the lobby where I filled a paper cup with coffee and water and headed out for an early morning walk on the beach. We were staying at the Anchor Beach Inn, located on the west side of 101, at the southeast edge of the harbor. Tommy and Barbara were in the room next to us. I knew Tom would be awake, and from the street I tried to yell up through his open window to come down and join me. I didn’t want to sound an alarm, though, and he didn’t hear me. I walked on alone and crossed the street where a path led through the deep sand out to the beach area. I had thought the beach empty, but at the far end of the path a young woman came walking toward me.

“Are you staying in the motel?” she asked, as we approached one another on the path.
“Yeah. Good morning.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t want to ruin your morning.”
“What’s the matter?” She was wearing beach combing clothes, barefoot, looked like she had just awoken. I thought maybe she was about to ask for a handout or some coffee.
“Well, I’m sorry, I don’t know if I should say anything, but, I don’t know, you know, but there is a body on the beach. I almost stepped on it. And I don’t know if its alive or do they need help. I don’t know, maybe we should just leave them be. I don’t want to ruin your day.”
“No, that’s fine, if they need help we should try to help. Where?”
“Over there,” she turned and pointed.

We were at the end of the beach, where the sand is deep and windblown into small dunes and strewn with driftwood and beached logs and trees of all twisted shapes and sizes washed ashore in storms, beach debris people like to comb through. Here and there smaller pieces of wood and log had been stacked or piled into fire pits. Long, thinner pieces were stood up into teepee shapes but with no covering. There were a few of these built along the outer beach edge. I didn’t know if they were meant to be works of art or something practical, shelter or bonfire starts.

“Where is it?” I asked.
“Right there,” she pointed.

I had thought we would find the body out on the open beach, washed in maybe, but there it was, against a big log, covered with a thin blanket, stretched out but elbows and knees and feet pointing this way and that as happens when people move about in their sleep. The head was covered. The feet stuck out. It was right there, maybe five feet away from where we had stopped short. There had been a sign at the entrance to the path. A city ordinance prohibited camping on the beach.

We were both watching the body for the same thing. We watched and stood staring for about a half minute.

“Oh,” she said, breaking our silent watch. “There.”
“Yeah. He’s breathing. Probably just someone spent the night on the beach.”
“You think he’s ok?”

The tide was very low, the edge of the water over a hundred yards out. A small creek flowed from out of the beachgrass and meandering stained the beach like a tiny river all the way out to the water’s edge. The beachgrass and sedge stuff held quickly and piled up and across a kind of no man’s land up to the highway, which took off at a southeast angle away from the beach. But there were few cars and trucks and you could hear the waves as small as they were and I walked on down to the water and the girl walked off back up to the road. I spent maybe half an hour walking at the water’s edge, rolling my pants up to my knees, walking out into the thin soup. The water was cold, but not so cold it stung like bees. The sand was smooth and worn fairly hard. There were no shells or agates or rocks or driftwood down at the water’s edge. The beach was all wet sand and low tide and shallow water for a long ways out.

I walked back up the beach and had another look at the body sleeping in among the driftwood piles before climbing the path back up to the road.

Later, before leaving Crescent City, we drove back up through town around the harbor and out to Battery Point, about a mile and a half diagonally across the harbor as the crow flies from where we had spent the night and in the morning I had encountered the body on the beach. At the point, the tide was still low enough that we were able to walk across the tide pools and out to visit the Battery Point Lighthouse, located on a small, rocky island at the end of the breakwater structure built up to protect the harbor from the open sea. We walked and climbed the trails up and down all around the lighthouse on the island, watching the water, the small swells breaking up on the rocks, listening to the sea birds, their open air market rife with the shrill economy of their language, calling out finds and deals and steals, calling off and calling to, calling, calling.

to be continued: this is part two of a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.