A Heart Like a Stone

We’re into our third week of high 90s on Colorado’s Front Range and I’m not getting much done these days. We went to the Oregon coast for the week of the 4th, where a couple cold, windy days deterred our swimsuit-on-the-sand time, but led to more long walks along the shore than usual, the hoods of our windbreakers drawn up around our faces.

We came home to a few days of monsoon rains but soon the heat moved in, more humid than usual because of the accrued moisture, perfect growing conditions for the weeds that normally slow down in the July heat. I’m enervated by noon and don’t gain momentum again until the next morning because the nights are almost as unpleasant as the afternoons. Only early morning brings relief, but the scattered clouds burn off by lunchtime and the heat swells relentlessly, cooling long after midnight and barely enough to sleep. We don’t have air conditioning or a swamp cooler in our century farmhouse, relying instead on old-fashioned methods like keeping the house closed up during the day and opening windows after dark. When we can’t take the heat another minute, we swim in our irrigation ditches, the shock of the water welcome but brief as the pressing air dries our skin.

To get my cool back on, I thought I’d share an entry written at the beach on the only day warm enough to sit on a towel with my journal; I’ll share too some pictures to remember the beautiful coastline edging the inlet of Neskowin where Hawk Creek meets the ocean, pushing and pulling the fresh water back and forth along the shore.

 

Hawk Creek, July 5, 2011

One day after the 4th of July celebration. The beach is quieter now after fireworks and Tuesday jobs marked the holiday’s end. A few lucky vacationers remain on shore, flying kites and throwing Frisbees to ever-present dogs. Seagulls parole Hawk Creek for sandy leftovers as low clouds drape the wooded hills ringing the inlet, but the sun is warm enough at midday to discourage the cold wind that blew earlier this morning.

Yesterday we rose early to stroll the beach before the crowds arrived and to take a few photographs of the newly contoured sand that has narrowed the beach as we’ve known it for the last decade. The tide comes much higher than before so that one part of the beach is cut off from another, creating a mini-inlet in the middle of the larger bay; we’ve never seen the waves edge this close to the houses before and wonder what conditions have caused the change in the surf. The tsunami, perhaps, that devastated Japan and ruined the Fukushima nuclear reactor, the radioactive water still flowing into the sea? Residents tell us that the shoreline erosion started before the March 11 disaster but no one has much of an explanation why.

Two couples walking their dogs stop to show us a bald eagle perched on a pine high on Proposal Rock, a promontory at the confluence of creek and ocean populated only by trees, seagulls, and eagles. The rock is steep, which discourages many would-be hikers, as does the incoming tide that could strand unsuspecting tourists. A few years ago, a sudden wave swept a woman away from the man who was proposing to her on that rock; she was drowned, a sad and cautionary end to a romantic retreat.

As I snap a few pictures with my not-telephoto-enough lens, one of the women approaches again to announce a second bald eagle on a similar tree lower on the rock. Two bald eagles on the 4th seems auspicious, so we mention them to other beachcombers as we continue our way to the end of the cove.

We’ve exploring the petrified trees known as “stumps of mystery” that are occasionally uncovered along the shore. Looking like rounded stones jutting from the sand, some even hold starfish and anemones in their sea-hollowed cores.

Today, most of the folks on the beach are young parents with small children and babies in strollers, perhaps reliving their own childhoods by teaching their kids how to skip stones, throw Frisbees, fly kites, or dig a big hole for the ocean to fill.

Whack! An errant Frisbee thrown by an unpracticed mom nearly hits me in the face as I sit on the beach against the rocks. I’m not hurt so I laugh and advise her son not to throw like his mother, but I think it’s nice for a mom to teach her son such an important skill rather than suggest he wait for his father to do it. People without children throw sticks for dogs to splash and retrieve in the middle of the creek.  The day unfolds slowly this way, with just enough breeze to move time from one moment to the next.

I’m searching for a heart-shaped stone, something I do from time to time. I’m not an avid heart-stone searcher like some people I know, but it does seem the right gesture today as I walk the beach and scout the tideline where the rocks are thrown onto the sand by the waves.

In this stretch of the Oregon coast, the shells aren’t unusual or plentiful but sand dollars are common, most shattered like porcelain plates in shards along the shore. I’ve found a few whole in the years we’ve been beachcombing this shore, and a couple times have stumbled upon spots full of sand dollars rolling in the surf.

But stones are more numerous than shells here; most are flat, hard, and gray, but some are porous like circles of pumice. I pick up one small, soft stone and press it to my lips to absorb its warmth. Sun-drenched, it holds its heat for nearly a minute before the wind cools it against my skin.

I don’t find a heart stone today in my ten or fifteen-minute stroll. Lots of triangular stones scatter the beach, but none that part and curve in proper heart shape along two sides.

I pick up a stone that looks more like whale fins than a heart because its bottom point is too blunt, but I tuck it into my pocket just in case. I also save a lava-ish rock ribboned in white crystals of quartz, like a geode split open by the sea. Another stone is round and flat, with one side calcified like a shell; I ponder how this stone/shell synthesis could occur in the ocean waves. One special treasure is a flat, round shell the size of a nickel, smooth on one side but like eyelet lace on the other, with a small hole ready for stringing. The last rock I keep is a round, fat rock with a belly button center, a naval of the sea.

I don’t find a heart rock that day, but several days later, when I’m not even looking, I spy this one.

It’s not perfect, but it will do. I’ll place it with the shells in an old pottery planter, a memento of time well spent doing nothing more than strolling, observing, and wishing for more time to do the same.

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6 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, memoir

6 responses to “A Heart Like a Stone

  1. Ellen Mendoza

    Very evocative of the place. Don’t you think it is the riprapping that is accelerating the erosion? We finally had a warm day here. I could take a walk in a sleeveless shirt. I try to remember Oregon is lucky, but it is hard to give up on the concept of summer including being hot.

    • I’ll bet the riprapping is a factor, which would put the bay in a loop of riprap/erosion. I wish I knew more about the ocean and could spend more time there. I’m glad to hear you got some sun! We would have loved to send you about 20 degrees of ours when you needed it–but our tomatoes were happy with it so I guess we shouldn’t even consider it.

  2. ariane

    What a peaceful post! I could hear the waves coming in and out! Makes me think of the beach with fond memories…

  3. Lorna Yoder

    Love the coast! Great shots. Rich swears we were at some of those places…lol I think he is dreaming. Nice post.

    • Rich would’ve gotten a great shot of those eagles! The starfish and anemones inside the stumps were really cool too. You’ll be happy to know yesterday was cooler here–but still a little humid and buggy. Some leaves are even starting to turn.

  4. johnmmartin

    In addition to the photography career, you can consider writing titles for a living.

    So sorry about the mosquitoes coming to those delightful early morning hours.

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