Tag Archives: coast

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.


Filed under ecobiography, memoir

Beachcombing the Coastal Edge

Almost moon sand dollar. Striped brown limpet. Rainbow cockle. Lacy ribboned cockle. Pink whorled cone.

These are the names I’ve given the shells I found last week on the Oregon coast, treasures now kept in an old creamware vase, ribbed like a shell itself.

I don’t know the scientific names of shells and am still learning the common names like cockle or conch, so I make up names for my shells to distinguish them and the travels on which they they’ve been found.

A shell on the beach is always a surprise for me, a child of the mountains and midlands. I was practically an adult before I glimpsed the sea for the first time, and that occasion only a ferry crossing from one wharf to another. I didn’t really see the ocean until I moved for a summer to the Maine coast, which was rocky, windblown, and cold—not at all the swim-worthy beaches I’d imagined.

My first shells came from that coast, along with a purple sea urchin and several slender starfish that I pulled off the rocks without understanding they were still alive. I wanted to take some home to Colorado where we didn’t have starfish so I could remember that summer and that coast. Only when they took a long time to die, lifting their arms for days to find water, did I realize the starfish should have stayed by the sea.

Now I beachcomb a cove on the Oregon coast each summer but am still delighted to find a shell or other artifact of ocean life. I like to walk out first thing in the morning alone or with John to find what the tide has left before others are searching too. We walk the high tide line where left-behind shards of driftwood lay tangled in seaweed and shells are caught between sea-thrown debris. Sometimes we find small bits of sea glass hidden between stones and broken mussels. Once we came upon a whole pool of perfect sand dollars as the tide rolled back the sand at just the right moment. Because the ocean never rests, each trip yields new discoveries amidst familiar sand and waves.

When the tide is out, we head for the end of the cove where we know we’ll find thick orange or purple starfish hugging the boulders now exposed along the shore. Sea anemones too live in crevices between those rocks or overhang tidal pools like stalks of rubbery plants.  As much as I’d like to take a starfish home, I leave them to their watery world. Now I see how alive they are, almost human in their postures as they cling contentedly to the rocks. Are they waving to us from the sea’s spray? Or beckoning us closer than we should venture in the returning tide?

I leave behind the purple and orange starfish, but I do bring home shells and sea glass, driftwood and stones, wrapped carefully in my suitcase. Each collection finds its own vase or bowl in our house, artifacts of our brief time by the sea. From this distance, we forget the pull and roar of waves from before our time began. The ocean’s ceaselessness fades and our lives are measured by a different rhythm than the tide’s highs and lows. With shells in a vase on a shelf far from the coastal edge, we look for life in comings and goings less dramatic but easier lived than at the sea’s horizon.

With inspiration from “Architecture of the Soul” by Terry Tempest Williams

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Filed under ecobiography, memoir