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: 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: 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.


Coast Road Trip: Unpacking the Pacific Northwest

For most of my life, I’ve lived near the Pacific Ocean. Nothing special about that. A lotta people live near the water, all around the Earth, some, arguably, too close. At least that’s the opinion of The New Yorker’s Kathryn Schulz, whose latest piece, “Oregon’s Tsunami Risk: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” takes aim at the new Oregon law that will allow further building development in tsunami zones along the Oregon coast.

One Oregon state senator, Brian Boquist (R 12), opposed the bill. His district runs parallel to but east of the I-5 from south of Hillsboro (which is just west of Portland) to south of Corvallis, an area covering a significant part of the Willamette Valley, and includes much of Oregon’s wine country, and, situated on the east side of the coast range, is not in a tsunami zone. Schulz mentions Boquist in her article as one of the state’s problematic republicans, but Boquist opposed HB 3309, the bill now signed into law allowing more tsunami zone development on the Oregon coast, with the following explanation:

Secretary: Vote Explanation. Thanks, Sen Boquist

HB 3309 is simply wrong. It allows local government to build unsafe facilities in tsunami zones to save them money. The deaths that will result by building new emergency services facilities that will be destroyed, with deaths, will and should make the city, county and state liable for the deaths. This started two sessions ago allowing OSU to build on liquified Newport Bay so future students will die in a future tsunami. It is clear, the State of Oregon really does not care about tsunami preparation nor the lives of its citizens. Bad policy.

Vote explanation, Senator Brian Boquist, June 17, 2019

The “catchline/summary” of HB 3309 reads as follows:

Directs State Department of Geology and Mineral Industries to study and make recommendations on provisions of state law related to geological and mineral resources of state. Requires department to submit report on findings to Legislative Assembly by January 1, 2021.Removes State Department of Geology and Mineral Industries’ authority to prohibit certain construction within tsunami inundation zone.

Overview, HB 3309

The complete bill, which is only 5 pages in length (“The hand that signed the paper felled a city,” as Dylan Thomas put it, in a different context) can be read here.

According to the Office for Coastal Management: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the coastal counties of the United States fund multiple economies: “Annually, coastal counties produce more than $8.3 trillion in goods and services, employ 55.8 million people, and pay $3.4 trillion in wages.” This helps explain why about half of the US population lives somewhere near the water. But for many, where one lives isn’t a viable choice one makes: “Approximately 40 percent of Americans living in coastal counties fall into an elevated coastal hazard risk category. These include children, the elderly, households where English isn’t the primary language, and those in poverty.” These people the OCM calls “vulnerable populations.” But Oregon’s coastal human population accounts for only about 5% of Oregon’s total population of just over 4 million. Of course that population increases somewhat in the summer tourist season. But for people living on the Oregon coast, life is rural and poor, with local economies largely dependent on tourism – which generates mostly service type jobs.

There are other reasons that might help explain Oregon’s sparse coastal population: the coast mountain range, which makes travel to and from the coast problematic; the weather, wet and wild for most of the year; very cold ocean water temperatures; a rugged coastline marked by cliffs, river estuaries, unnavigable headlands, and north south traffic limited to a single, two lane highway (US 101) with few bypasses and parts of which are washed away or closed by flood and landslide or tree fall nearly every winter.

In June, I spent nine days on the coast. We drove down to Sonoma County, spending a few nights in wine country Healdsburg, to attend a family reunion surrounding a 60th birthday celebration. We spent two nights in Crescent City, which this Slate article calls “Tsunami City, USA.” We walked along the big beach crescent out into the harbor area and ate fish and chips at “The Chart Room,” a local and tourist favorite. We shared our table with a couple of guys, one older even that us, a 90 year old gentleman celebrating his birthday month with a trip up the coast. We talked about the coast, places to stop and see, compared notes. No one mentioned the fact that we were drinking beer and eating fish and chips deep within a tsunami inundation zone. In fact, we were in what DOGAMI calls an XXL zone. That’s a tsunami t-shirt so big it will swallow a whale. From the Crescent City Harbor District History page:

The Inner Boat Basin at the Crescent City Harbor District was damaged by a 2006 tsunami, but was totally destroyed by the tsunami that struck the harbor on March 11, 2011.  The damage from both events required three years to rebuild.  (The word tsunami in Japanese translates literally as “harbor wave.”)

Crescent City Harbor District

I’m going to stop here for today. But for now I’ll leave you with this: between the devil and the deep blue sea, for most of my life, I’ve taken the sea.

to be continued: this is part one of a series that will cover our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Cliff Notes

ands all sitting
Angst I a T
hangs silently
a long ways down
High Flyer Falls
rip rap cliff walk
Do Not Look Down
Set All Alarms
Valuables
tosses bought stuff
lands rock pine tree
calmly waiting
sea craggy end.

Drizzle Rain

A trip of plovers paused wading
in the wet sand of an ebb
tide each one after another
across the sloping beach
stopped and pecked and ran on.

Up on 101 a swarm of workers
on a wet sidewalk in winter
huddled at the bus stop waiting
and each one hopped aboard
and nipped and gripped.

They feed with their eyes
and only pretend to be
where they are,
falsely brooding,
but amusing, all the same.