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.