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Wednesday, May 5, 2004

By the beautiful sea

The family and I had a nice little four-day weekend over in Manzanita, Oregon last weekend. It's our favorite Northwest beach location, and it didn't disappoint. Not by a longshot.

The weather was great all four days, ranging from crystal clear to mostly sunny. There was a chilly west wind when we arrived on Thursday afternoon, but Friday was practically calm -- a rarity at the Oregon beach, especially when the sun is out -- and Saturday and Sunday saw only friendly southerly breezes, not the northerly bluster that will arrive along with the summer. I got a little sunburn, which for April/May at the Oregon coast is pretty special. I wear it proudly.

Sometime in the past few weeks, the tide in that part of the world must have been frighteningly high, because there was packed damp sand nearly all the way to the ocean road. For our stay, though, there was a wide expanse of beach, with tides that left long stretches of water only a few inches to a couple of feet deep. Not only was this perfect wading depth, but the constant sun actually warmed the shallow water to the point at which you could stay in it up to your calves for a long stretch.

This in turn allowed my three-year-old buddy and me to explore the wonders of the waves. It seems that even at my age, I'm always learning something new at the beach. This time around, I observed a couple of critters that I didn't expect to see in the shallows.

First off, there were literally millions of tiny, nearly transparent fish swimming in and out in the shallowest parts of the waves. These guys weren't as long as your forefinger, and skinny as a toothpick, but they were legion. We captured a couple in a plastic beach pail and watched them flit around before returning them to their kin. We decided that they were too small to make a sandwich.

Then there were the sand crabs. At least, I think that's what they were -- roundish critters about the size of a grape that floated along on the waves in about an inch or two of water. In they'd glide on the wave, and when the water rushed back out, they'd glide back out, too. But just before the wave outraced them and left them high and dry, they'd dive into the sand, to hide from whoever is out to get them -- gulls, I guess. An amazing act to catch -- maybe two or three at a time in your field of vision every few minutes, when the water depth was just right.

We headed up to Hug Point for some tidepool action, but the most amazing site there were the sand dollars. There were quite a few big, round ones, fully intact, sitting in the sand on the water's edge. We've been known to collect their shells, and I picked up a really big, beautiful specimen with the intent to take it home. But when I turned it over to inspect its underside, I found its little tongue-like "foot" sticking out of the hole in the center of the shell. After a second or two, the foot moved! And slowly withdrew into the shell.

At that point, I couldn't end its life just to have it displayed in my bathroom, and so I put it back where I found it. Somebody else probably came along and snagged it right behind me, but I wasn't going to be the one.

In town, the main street of Manzanita, Laneda Avenue, was in the process of being re-done, with wide, modern sidewalks already installed to replace the old narrow collection of walkways. For the vehicles, a newly graded street was covered in fresh gravel and getting ready for paving this week. Part of me was sad to see the charm of the older, funkier walks disappear, but I suspect the goal is greater pedestrian safety, which you can't help but applaud.

I hope it works. With the street so cleaned up, there might be a temptation for drivers to go even faster than before on Laneda. I hope people behave behind the wheel before somebody in City Hall decides that the dreaded speed bumps are needed.

As I've mentioned here before, one of the great things about Manzanita is how little is really going on. Particularly now, when my life is centered around home and hearth, that's a real gift. After an hour or two of digging in the sand and splashing in the surf, you head back to the beach house, maybe get a nice glass of wine going, help the kids wth their pretend play, fix a little supper or order in a good pizza from Marzano's up the street, and screw around with a jigsaw puzzle for a while. Catch up on some reading before crashing to the sound of the Pacific breakers just a few hundred yards away. Nothing's better.

One final note: Back in February 2003, an otherwise fine Manzanita trip was darkened somewhat by our discovery of zillions of tiny shards of blue plastic washed up on the beach. I speculated that it would be impossible for human hands to clean it up. But I underestimated the cleansing power of nature. Here, 14 months later, there was no blue plastic to be seen.

Thank the Lord.

Comments (10)

There's a neat little airstrip at Manzanita with a campground within walking distance of the beach. I think it's just south of the town. Did you notice much light airplane activity? I've flown in there a few times but never camped.

I saw one small plane use the airstrip. And a couple of military jets made a low, loud pass over the breakers on Sunday afternoon. That was it.

The airstrip is actually part of the Nehalem Bay State Park (http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_201.php), which is actually my favorite beach spot in Oregon. It is a great State park with both excellent beach access and access to the beautiful Nehalem Bay. I have kyaked in the bay a couple of times and it is just wonderful. There is even a elk heard that can be seen around the bay. Also, I think it may be one of the only fly-in state parks in the state (and maybe the nation).

I spent part of that same time period at my favorite Oregon coastal spot preparing for your test that I took this afternoon. The test, by the way, filled the two hours completely though I am bummed you ended up testing on subject matter covering the one lecture I missed this semester.

But back to the beach. I have to reccommend Oceanside as a great getaway though maybe not for little kids. There is nothing in Oceanside (beyond the amazing beach) besides a cafe, a pub, and a wonderful restaurant, Roseannes. I agree with Jack that the weather was amazing on Saturday. And we got a great low tide late Saturday afternoon. That was one of my few breaks I took from prepping for finals.

I'm heading back to the same spot in late July, the week before the bar exam, for some isolated study sessions and walks on that magnificient beach.

Too bad you don't have DJ's across the street on Ocean Ave. I bet you couldn't find a good sausage and peppers sandwich for 50 miles.

I went to Manzanita this spring with my family too and enjoyed it, though it rained mostly...did when 20 bucks playing video poker in one of the main street taverns..

What I think I've noticed mostly when traveling to the coast (twice so far this year) is that the roads/highways are in such good shape until you get to Multnomah County then they are in terrible shape. I know our transit officials say that mass transit dollars (i.e. lightrail/streetcar) are not connected to highway dollars (so having one does not subtract from the other) but it seems odd that once you hit Multnomah County, the highways are signficantly worse for wear...

Noah's right. I saw the elk one time when I was hiking there. Sure, I'd seen them before at the little feeding sites they have around, but this was my first "in the wild" encounter. Amazing. By the way, Jack, was this the thing you saw in the water?


Gary: 50 miles? Try 500 (at least).

Alan: That might have been it, depending on the scale.

Sounds like a wonderful weekend - but I couldn't help but comment on the sand dollar. By the time you found it, the little fella was probably too far gone to be saved (not that you should have hastend its passing by pocketing it). Sand dollars live standing up in the seabed. When healthy they are covered by a layer of fuzzy follicles. Occasionally the surf uproots them and they end up washing ashore, but apparently by the time the've arrived at the beach they have usually suffered so much trauma that even if they're still alive there is really nothing much that can be done for them.

I'd head a bit further south to Gold Beach, myself. Probably the most beautiful section of coastline in the world...

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