Exploring the wild Oregon Coast with an old friend from Georgia, who used to work alongside me in my improbably tiny restaurant over twenty years ago. We caught up with another old friend, from Athens, GA who splits his time in Eugene and doing plays for the Shakespeare Festival way down in Ashland, then headed on a gorgeous drive winding through the Cascades until we puttered along the lazy river, here called the Suislaw, that reminded me of trips where I’d follow lazy bayous, creeks, tributaries, and the like towards the oceans that embrace these waters.
The beach, the coast, the edge where we furious folks re-calibrate our senses in a glorious overload of beach kitsch and timeless wonder held by the embrace of the waves whispering sweet nothings, the lullaby of the sea, the end of the world. The coast of Oregon is both dramatic, and wild, rocky, then hidden, gloomy and chilly, like a place that seldom meets summer yet swims amidst the illusions of the sweet sea in a place that reminds me of Dylan Thomas’s doomed, cold beaches of Blackpool than the sun-drenched exuberance of Pensacola and the Gulf Coast I’m used to calling home.
We landed at the mouth of the Suislaw River in a coast of shifting sand dunes, which we explored just a bit as plants scruffily seek to tame the wandering sands that were spread like a desert forty miles long. I wondered if setting the scrubby sea pines and grasses to fire wouldn’t be best, or is the tug of war between sand and grass just a geological ballet we aren’t allowed to root for one side over the other? I am for the sand, the shifting silence, the vista that towers over the senses like a citadel of sand castles that build themselves according to a dream logic, a place that eludes humanity’s blueprints.
As we turned north, the cliffside bastions escaped the rolling dunes. The road unfurled like a thin ribbon, a gift of strong land which the immense sea caresses in morning fogs, in playful winds that sing or that roar, a road that we ride like seaside ghosts so certain of our meanings that we can’t know, unless we slow down to marvel.
In 1932, a family saw the business opportunity to preserve a cave, a strange cave perched 500 feet below the headlands where the thin ribbon of highway sails. Like my favorite outlook on Appalachia, the fairy art of See Rock City, this Oregon roadside attraction known as Seal Rock isn’t about the sea lions that may or might not be lounging there, the whales that perhaps will cavort, or the popcorn and Caribbean seashells for sale that are not native to these windswept shores. No, Seal Rock is a cave we humans can descend, leaving our buzzing earthly cares behind (even me with my pitiful knees that have given out) so we might visit a place where an old friendship can be carried forth a little deeper, where these edges of the world that we discover to steal time for our own souls, for respite, for relaxation, for the building of poetry sand castles, for realizing that this planet is truly the place that wonders never cease, and why we are so lucky to call her our roadside attraction…