Summer Sunday: True Summer On The Oregon Coast

IMG_0376When you go to the Pacific Northwest for a vacation, it’s best to keep your expectations low. Of course, the food will be great. The coffee. The beer. The views of fractured volcanoes looming in the distance. It’s the weather that can be the great unknown. Even in the summer when it’s usually dry and sunny. Gray and rain can come and will come at any time. Gray rules Portland’s skies. Cloaks it like a worn out security blanket wrapped around a frightened child.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but you catch my drift. (Telluride=sun/ Portland= rain.) So, when after a few days of gray skies in Portland, we awoke to a dazzling blue Colorado kind of day, we knew better than to waste it. We packed up the cooler, stole our friend’s mini-van, grabbed their older son (so they could pack for a big trip), and headed to the Oregon Coast, stopping of course, for superior pastries and coffee on our way out of town.

IMG_0395The Oregon Coast’s beaches are different from other beaches I’ve ever been to. Their waters are not the warm frothing foam of North Carolina (where I’ve spent many summers). Nor are they the tropical waters of places like Hawaii. The primary word that comes to mind when I think of them is dramatic.  The frigid cold waters are dramatic. Their ten foot tides that leave vast beach playgrounds are dramatic. Even their positions are dramatic. Steep evergreen-laden hillsides plunge to the beach, revealing an other worldly juxtaposition. One where forest meets coast, where you can smell the scent of cedar on the beach and the smell of the salty coastal air while in the woods.

We parked at Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach and hiked through the forest to the beach. The kids ran down the sand to the water, which at low tide, was about as far away as the courthouse in Telluride is from the post office. I watched my kids meet the water, which I knew they thought might be warm, given the heat of the day and given we had been in North Carolina earlier this summer. They hopped and danced with the cold and waded farther in. After, I’d set up our stuff, I joined them, and we set about wandering the beach.

IMG_0388Every coast has its unique wildlife wonders. The Atlantic’s beach is full of crabs and jelly fish. Hawaii has spectacular reefs for snorkeling in and out of. But in Oregon, it’s all about the tidal pools. Giant purple and orange starfish, magenta anemones, barnacles and mussels all make their homes in the shallow pools of water abandoned along the coastline when the tide empties. My kids and their friends delighted in the discoveries they made in those tidal zones. The way the anemones would grip their fingers. The way the mussels would do a little dance when they waved their fingers over them. The way beach became a maze of rivers as the tide poured back in, creating banks that they could jump from.

We threw a Frisbee, flew some kites until the sun leaned towards the horizon in the west, and our stomachs growled with hunger. Reluctantly, we wrapped ourselves in towels and peeled off our sandy suits. No one wanted to leave but it was time to go. Our friends were waiting to have dinner with us back in Portland.

“How was it?” they asked, when we returned.

“Magic,” we said. “True magic.”

IMG_0366I think we often struggle with summer as adults. We want to relax, unwind, enjoy summer with our kids, but there are still so many things to do. Work. House chores. Just life stuff. Boring life stuff. In us, there’s the distant memory of summer, what it meant as a kid— days uncounted for, the hours folding into one another, unspooling like a country road in Kansas. But that kind of summer is sometimes hard to find. Yet, on that day on Ecola Beach, that one day, it felt like summer, true summer. A day spent exploring tide pools and running on wide stretches of sand, kite in hand. A day spent, together.

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