29 March 2008

combing for agates on the Oregon coast

One is told countless times how beautiful the Oregon coast is and how one should be sure to visit. Living in a Midwest coastal town I understand the beauty and serenity the open water affords. I am used to beautiful calming vistas, unusual topography, and many natural areas protected for the use of wildlife, walking, hiking, swimming, and the like. I have visited the California coast and enjoyed its beauty. How could this stretch of beach be any different?

I was about to be awed.

To tell of its beauty minimizes the scale of its effect on your psyche. One approaches the beach and finds instant serenity in the pounding and dissipation of wide waves curling toward shore, the beach extending far into the surf, the water crawling inland slowly over flat sand. One thinks they could walk at least a hundred feet out into the water. Of course, one doesn’t try this in February.

I started my drive near Seattle, Washington wondering over small roads through logging areas making my way to the coast. The foggy bay of the Columbia River a few miles before spilling into the Pacific provided beauty that I naively thought would be unmatched for the day. The crossing of 4.1 mile Astoria Bridge provided amazing views from as high as 196 feet and as low as the level of the water itself. I feared that many sections of the bridge were floating, though later discovered that this bridge is actually the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. Supposedly it can withstand river speeds up to 9mph. Does that sound like a lot to you? Me neither.

As I neared the highway 101 exit to Cannon Beach, I decided to make a stop for coffee and get a glimpse of the famed coast. I was not prepared for what I was about to see. I parked and walked directly to the beach. Small rocky mounds jutted from the water near the shore and a few people walked on the flat sand near the edge of the waves. I enjoyed this for a moment and returned to town for my latte and to continue my trek south.

“What about Haystack?!” you might ask if you’re familiar with this coast and this famous little beach town.

As I drove out of town I swung right and down a small residential street to get one more glimpse of the beach before rejoining the highway. This is when I saw it, the third largest monolith in the world holding court over the many people scrambling about its rocky base. The Oregon coast is actually sprinkled with several and many huge monoliths representing an ancient coastline. I stopped many times to drink in the dynamic landscape and to try and burn onto my memory this beautiful and awesome place.

I made a few other stops as well to stock up on Tillamook yogurt, cheese, and curds at their visitor’s center and to get my car washed by high school freshmen raising money for a children’s hospital. When I realized I would not make my day’s destination before nightfall, I decided to stop just south of Waldport to take a walk on the beach. I parked in a tiny lot created unofficially by beach goers likely and read the posted warnings before venturing out on the beach. “Beware of unusually large sneaker waves,” was the first and most nerve racking post. Once on the beach and everywhere I looked, several people were bent over and looking for something. They carried neither buckets nor shovels, yet were very interested for what they were seeking. A few women were lying on the beach fully clothed and intent on searching in the rocky sand as well. I walked to one and asked what this was all about. They were looking for agates she explained. I had her show me her current stash to understand exactly what she meant. Now, having been a rock collector all my life, I felt like I was ‘with my people’ and found a new purpose for this afternoon walk. While many carried used coffee cups to stow their finds, I used the pockets of my vest coming home with several white, green, amber, and grey opaque stones.

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