Nature

Sunshine and surf on the Oregon Coast

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With temperatures hitting nearly 100 fahrenheit in Portland on Saturday, June 24, 2017, you can bet everyone packed their bags and sunscreen and headed to the Oregon Coast. I joined them, but before most people were awake.

For the second day in a row I awoke well before daylight. This day, however, the surf conditions lived up to the forecast. That forecast said glass on the ocean, 1.5-foot waves, and mild wind. A day earlier, the waves were choppy and I did not drive out at 4:30 a.m. as I had planned.

Surfing is about many things. It is about understanding waves and weather. You must figure out prevailing winds, and how they impact waves at specific spots. Is the wind blocked by a point or jetty? Is a storm passing offshore, leading to bigger, rougher waves in greater frequency? What about the tide and the beach? Some beaches are bets at high tide, others at low tide.

My new board is a 9-foot Bill Stewart longboard, made for smaller waves.

Seaside, where I surf the most often, is a high tide beach. Low tide is usually in the morning, which meant I would arrive at low tide. Still, with baby waves, that meant ride-able conditions with my new 9-foot Bill Stewart longboard (an LSP).

My trip this past Saturday was its second outing. It had a trip the previous weekend at Otter Rock, where I was hammered by 6-foot waves that slammed me and the board hard into the sandbar, and I flew over the top of my board all too frequently. Today I could pop up and get longer runs, sometime catching the face of the waves for about 15 excellent rides over a nearly four-and-a-half-hour outing.

I’d say the waves were about two to three feet in height, and bigger in some sets. Despite sore ribs and a sore shoulder, I stayed in as the low tide was turning to high tide. My last three rides were really lovely. I outlasted most of the riders. Three shifts came and went during my trip. I still managed to get sunburned with a thick layer of zinc oxide.

On my last ride in I passed by a Japanese-American paddle boarder, wearing a blue wetsuit and with a blue SUP. She smiled, her hair still dry, and headed out. I would have like to asked her name.

After I got to shore and changed, I pulled out my camera and took some photos of her. She was the best rider out that day. The A-Team one can find at Seaside must have been at a different beach that day or didn’t want to bother themselves with rookie waves. After Seaside I dashed to nearby Cannon Beach to see what the Needles looked like. They looked better. I should have gone there.

I also decided before I rode my last wave of the day to name my new board “Sunshine.” Today, in the sun, it caught its first waves. We need sunshine a little more often on the Oregon Coast. My other board, a 7’6″ funboard is named “Trickster,” in honor of the coyote and raven I saw on its first day out. Both are good and appropriate names.

 

 

Foxgloves finally arrive

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We have had a wetter and cooler spring this year. That means the beautiful foxglove flower arrived late. I passed by this same spot last year, in May, when it was blooming last year. I repeated the shot. It is such an amazing plant. I love seeing them on roadsides and in scrubby, rocky soil. They are tough hombres as flowering plants go. They have toxins, but also pharmaceutical properties that have been harvested by the for-profit pharma sector. Nature is generous with beauty and medicinal plants. So I give thanks to the foxglove and nature.

Pacific City, this week in color

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Pacific City, a quiet and beautiful coastal town located off Highway 101 and north of Lincoln City, is becoming one of my new favorite places. This week, I’ll publish a photograph of its iconic haystack rock in color. Last week, I shared my story and pictures in black and white.

With the arrival of hot weather in Oregon, tourist season at towns like Pacific City is full-on. Memorial Day weekend marks the start.

In addition to being a place where the wealthy have gaudy hilltop houses and second homes and condos, the community is also home to locals. They rely on those tourists and the wealthy.

When I arrived to Pacific City around 6 a.m. yesterday, I stopped at the gas station and met the colorful local scene of charterboart fishermen and their crew. These are the folks who take out fishing charter excursions. They were tough men, who used their bodies everyday of their working lives. Many smoked and most were friendly. It was an entirely different culture than my own, which leans to the visiting surfer outsider.

Even in small coastal towns you have at least three different cultures, the rich outsider who buys the real-estate with expensive ocean views, the transplant surfer like the guys who run the Moment Surf Co., and the longtime locals who works in tourism and fishing. I guess all of us have one thing in common, a love of the ocean and its bounty.

Surf’s up at Pacific City

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Pacific City is a beautiful coastal community about 25 miles south of Tilamook. It’s renown for the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. Among surfers, it has a very good reputation as an Oregon surfing beach. In front of Haystack Rock, just south of the cape, you’ll find lovely breaks that go left and right. Today’s surfing crowd included paddleboard surfers, short board riders, and long boarders. Everyone was catching nice waves.

After a difficult winter of getting pounded week after week at Seaside, mostly, I finally learned what a calm day and clean breaks can be like. I was able to ride more wave faces than I ever have. I even was able to lean back and ride a few waves through the foam, feeling the stoke and the balance of that classic pose of just going for a ride. Sunny, warm weather made things almost perfect.

My shots includes a few remaining surfers in front of Haystack Rock in the late morning and the early morning paddle surfers before I put in.

I also enjoyed meeting one of the many local fisherman. The beach is a popular put in and take out spot for charter fishing. My fishing friend had caught his quota of ling cod and rock fish.

When you’re done surfing, you can always go for a walk up to the top of Kape Kiwanda or grab a beer at the Pelican Brewing Co. and soak up the scenery.

 

It takes years to learn a beach

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As a novice surfer, I still realize how little I know about the power of the ocean, particularly rip tides. Today, they felt like monsters pulling out from shore as the tide shifted and quickly changed between ebb and flow, and the water was sucked out of the main surfing cove at Seaside with alarming speed and force. I am breaking many rules still. I am not riding the rip out to the line up location. My dives are lousy, which is why I am not surfing near others. Also, I am choosing the wrong spots, because I do not trust my “fun board” in the rip.

Today I decided I will upgrade to larger board and start venturing out the best point at this beach, where most of the surfers sit, looking longingly to the west, waiting for their wave to roll in from the ocean and to the shore. Today’s morning crew understood the tide better than me and put in as I was leaving. My consolation prize, besides getting a few good rides, was seeing the morning light as it danced through the dark clouds and turned the ocean a translucent green. It was magical to be the only soul out there for a while.

Rediscovering the Columbia River Gorge

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The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the most beautiful river canyons in the United States, if not the world. It runs along the mighty Columbia River, with steep, forested basalt rock walls, forests, and peaks on either side in Washington and Oregon.

I never tire of visiting the place. I first came here in 1983, when I started college in Portland. I fell in love with the historic Vista House. It was built in 1916 on a rocky perch for that new breed of traveler called a road tourist. It commands has a magnificent, sweeping view up the river.

Nearby you can find multiple waterfalls that spill down canyons, including one of the most photographed waterfalls in the country, Multnomah Falls. Those two falls plunge 620 feet by the historic lodge that was completed in 1925.

Further upriver, you can spot the Bonneville Dam, created during the Great Depression as a works project to control flooding and generate cheap hydro power that supplies the Northwest region. Unfortunately, the dams on the Columbia like Bonneville Dam also decimated the salmon runs. Still the Bonneville Dam, at mile post 42 on the Gorge, is well worth a stop.

When I visited today with an out-of-town cousin, we saw one of the massive turbines on display in front of the visitors center. We also spotted some of the many now-resident sea lions swimming in the water just outside the spillway.

I came away refreshed and feeling blessed I have such an amazing piece of geology and natural beauty in my backyard. Be sure to give yourself half a day if you visit.

I never tire of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

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April in Portland means flowers are bursting. They always bring a smile to my face. They also bring back amazing memories of my first trip here as a senior in high school in the 1980s. I bought my own ticket with money I saved and visited a college, where I eventually applied and graduated. It was something I controlled from start to finish: the trip, choosing the school, and eventually paying for the school with my savings, earnings, and a little bit of support left to me from my long deceased grandfather. It wasn’t much, but college was affordable in the 1980s for those of lesser means who got good financial aid packages. I was a very lucky young man indeed.

That life choice is linked partially to one fateful decision I made on that trip. I wasn’t that enamored by the school, but Portland had me spellbound. During that trip I took a detour to the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, in southeast Portland. I was blown away. I still am every time I visit the place in April. It is funny to think what can influence your decision at certain stages of your life.

I took these shots with a simple handheld Canon, which was about as fussy as I wanted to be. I spent most of my time smelling the aroma of spring and feeling young and on Cloud 9. There is something to be said about memory linked to the senses, olfactory and visual, and what rekindling those senses do for one’s mood. For me the place brings me back to my earlier days when I chartered the kind of life I ended up living, where I wanted to live it.

Early Spring at the Missouri Botanical Garden

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I always visit the Missouri Botanical Garden, in south St. Louis, when I see my family in the St. Louis area. It remains one of the constants in life that weathers the turbulence of the larger world and my personal world. It is where my mother and I have spent some of best times as we have gotten older, together.

Things have changed for us, but less so for the Garden. I like that. Perhaps I need that. It remains a beautiful place with phenomenal displays of flowers, plants, and mini ecosystems from the world over. My favorite section of the Garden is the serene and exquisitely maintained Japanese Garden.

During our visit, my mom and I also saw the lovely orchid show. The daffodils and crocuses were blooming–daffodils being the beautiful harbinger of spring. I had never seen that many before at the Garden, probably because I do not visit just before the vernal equinox. It was really nice to see the Garden right as the season was changing.

If you visit St. Louis, this should be on your top three list of things to see besides the Gateway Arch and Forest Park/Zoo/Art Museum (all in Forest Park).

My own Shawshank Redemption tree

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I love driving out to the Oregon Coast. I have been doing that regularly since I took up surfing late last summer. My normal route, on Highway 26, passes through rural stretches of Washington County, which are not developed because of the state’s urban growth boundary rules. About 20 miles west of Portland, just before you hit the coastal range, stands one special tree that always reminds me of that mighty oak tree, in the film the Shawshank Redemption.

In the scene, the former Shawshank prisoner Ellis “Red” Redding visits a field where he finds a majestic white oak tree. Stashed in a stone wall by the tree, Red’s best friend and escaped prisoner Andy DuFresne has left a stash of money and an invitation to join him in Mexico. The scene, beautifully directed by Frank Darabont and masterfully acted by Morgan Freman, always gives me hope. When I see this tree, I  always think about hope and redemption, and those are good things.

Oswald West-Short Sands, a beautiful Oregon beach

Oswald West State Park/Short Sands beach is a beautiful coastal spot about 90 miles from Portland. The snug little cove is surrounded by giant, original old growth and coastal mountains. Three streams find their way to the ocean here. The place is exceptionally popular in the summer with day trippers and with surfers year-round.

I have made more than half a dozen trips here, lately to go surfing. Despite its reputation as a beginner surfer beach, I have rarely seen a clean wave here. I know they exist, because I have seen YouTube videos on those rare, bluebird sky summer surf days. I have only known it on rainy days, mostly, when the surf churns like a bad brew. That happened to me on Feb. 24.

A winter’s surfing trip to the coast is an adventure before you even get there. I drove through a winter storm, over the coastal range. White knuckles were de rigueur. I saw multiple trucks stuck on the higher passes. Before I reached the beach, I had two choices once I hit Highway 101: head to Seaside Cove, which has some beautiful swells and clean lines or try Short Sands, with the hope I might surf in an area covered by snow. The thought of that sent me south to Short Sands.

Well, the waves were mostly disappointing. I got my first head ding from the board and torqued my bad knee. Still, I found some lovely waves in the strong rip and currents that churn here when there is high tide. A resident bald eagle circled above and came to feast on some dead sea critter that had washed ashore. I can’t complain about seeing a bald eagle eating sea carrion. Just as I was leaving, the waves started to calm and a new set of surfers arrived. I wished them well and walked amid the druids of giant Sitka spruces, listening to the clear stream head to the ocean.