Reflections Along the Oregon Coast

In Travels With Myself on July 23, 2013 at 2:22 am

Every state I have visited on my trip thus far has had its own character, and I can feel it almost as soon as I cross the state line. I am amazed at how true this has been. I would think that the central plains would be the plains, the Rockies would be the Rockies, and the Pacific coast would not respect man-made boundaries; although I would not be as surprised to see that each state has its own response, its own attitude, to what nature has provided; but both seem to change all at once.
The Northern California coast is wild and open. The beaches stop going on forever and begin to nestle into rocky coves and little bays, but the sand remains flat and soft, sloping gently out to sea. As soon as I got into Oregon, the beaches became rugged and stormy. Wide dunes and incredible sand hills stumble toward the Pacific from the coastal mountains wherever the mountains themselves do not plunge right into the ocean. From the dunes, a hard, dark sand, glittering with mica flakes sits in great tidal plains. And the wind suddenly comes roaring onto the shore, 35 to 50 miles-an-hour. Even when the road cuts back behind the dunes and hills and sections of forest, the wind gets through and rocks Taliesin as I drive along. Walking on the beach feels like flying, especially when the morning clouds still cling to the rocks and sand. Nobody seems to swim here, they wade and splash in the shallow tides, and sit huddled on logs along the beach.
Along the back of the beach, in the dunes or pushed up against the hills, are seemingly endless tangles of grey and white driftwood; from twigs to great stumps, a testament to the power of the sea and the wind. At the tops of the hills the trees all lean inland, their hair permanently blown back. A redwood slab cut from a tree brought down in the 1990s, and displayed at a state park visitor center shows an oval shape, with the seaside rings crushed together and the inland rings spreading out as the tree grew against the wind.
The Oregon coast inspires something of the romantic in me. I could walk these beaches for hours, stopping to look at the sea birds, scanning the outer rocks for seals (which never came in while I was there), letting the waves roll in from a great distance to lap across my bare feet. I could dance across beach floor, stopping only to draw hearts in the sand, and sit a long, long time on driftwood logs thinking of my love. If I were an artist, I would paint these shores as Maxwell Parrish fantasies, but put real people on them, wading in the waters, playing catch with their children, calling to their ecstatic dogs, eating their cold lunches, laughing and playing. If I were a poet, I would write free verse, as free as the wind and waves and sand; I would write metaphors that dipped and soared like the sea birds or stood majestic like the cliffs; they would seem solid and unyielding until the reader could see that they, too, are changed inevitably by the wind and the sea.
But I am an actor, so I see the character of the coast, and as I walk the streets of the coastal towns, now teeming with the itinerants of summer (myself included), I think I can see that character in the shop owners, the people who live here and are part of the scenery, as natural in these hills and coastal plains as the elk and the seals and the sea eagles. They are bemused by the people passing through, but separate from them.
The change in character is shown, also, by man-made objects, such as road signs and the ways that people and places present themselves. In California, I was asked by a blue sign every ten miles or so to report drunk drivers; shortly after I crossed into Oregon, one white sign politely asked me to please not drink and drive. In California, everything is famous; in Oregon, they are historic: historic views, historic beaches and coves and ports, historic landmarks. The Northern California coastal highway is tie-dye and bright colors and a public radio station in Redway that broadcasts the Cannabis Report every morning. The Oregon coast is solid and patient; it takes itself seriously, but with a quiet sense of humor about it all.
Tomorrow I turn inland toward Portland. I will miss the Pacific coast. I have stopped frequently to look, to walk, to rest, to be refreshed, and to wonder. I cannot imagine rushing up and down this coast without paying attention to it. Maybe that’s why the major north-south highway is at least 50 miles inland, away from the distractions, so people and commerce keep moving.
So far, I have passed through at least a little bit of fourteen states. I will pass through at least six more new ones as I head east again. I can’t wait to meet them all.

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