Home > Uncategorized > Blackberries, starfish and nice real estate

Blackberries, starfish and nice real estate

August 22/Day 36. Along Highway 101 in Oregon there are so many state parks they do the familiar brown park signs in plural like this: “State Parks Next Right—->” instead of “So and So State Park Next Right—->.” There are so many of them there’s no room on the sign to put all their names.

Note the people for a sense of scaleThere’s something called the Oregon Coastal Trail, which runs the full length of the state. Hikers can walk the entire coastline and be assured of a park to stay in every night. Even when a campground is marked “Full,” there are always special sites available for hikers, no reservations required. Same for bicyclists using the 101.

After a slow start this morning, I drive south on 101 to the nearest town, Bandon, which is six miles and one drawbridge from Bullard’s Beach. An moderately sized village, Bandon sits on a ridge about 200 feet above the ocean and has some of the most breathtaking beaches I’ve seen anywhere. Every few hundred yards are stairways leading down for public access. I become completely mesmerized, wandering up and down the fog-shrouded beach for several hours lost in thought, the only constant being the rhythmic roaring hiss of surf upon the shore.

In a cave

There is a number of huge jutting rocks just offshore as well as some, at low tide, that seem fixed between the world of water and land. Many sea caves, grottos and shoots lend themselves to easy exploration—while the tide is out. But around here they have a saying: “Never turn your back to the ocean.” It’s printed on a sign at the access way to every beach, along with such encouraging warnings as, “Watch out for sneaker waves,” and “Beware of strong undertows.”

The water is so cold—upper 40’s I’m told—that  my feet ache when I stand in it only ankle deep. I see two surfers, both wearing body suits, but I can hardly imagine anyone getting pleasure from being immersed in this cold broth. And yet, life abounds, in perfect harmony with death. For every starfish I see clinging tightly to a barnacle-encrusted rock, there’s the carcass of a dead seagull being picked at by turkey vultures. For every piece of translucent green seaweed holding fast below the waterline of a rocky giant, there are thousands of crumbling shells littering the sand. I can smell it on the air—life in death, death in life—the pungent ocean odors of decay and rebirth.

Another planet?

But a while longer and I’m lost within myself, or rather…the boundaries of my self melt away and I feel a surreal sense of calm and oneness, the likes of which are only experienced in the most rare and precious moments of a hectic life. A wave of cold water washes across my feet and I’m jolted back to this world. I leave the beach slowly, with the sense of having experienced something extraordinary.

I continue driving south a mile or two and pull into the drive to Bandon Beach State Park. It turns out not to be so much a park as an overlook to a part of the beach that’s a nesting ground for an endangered species, the plover. The plover is a bird that has the bad habit of laying it eggs, plop, right on top of the dry sand above the tide’s high water mark, making them vulnerable to all kinds of misfortune. At this beach, a retired couple, volunteers for the park service who receive a free camping spot for their services, watch over the sandy field of plover eggs, gently reminding visitors to cross the dry sand in a straight line, to keep their dogs close-leashed, and generally to be aware until they’ve reach the wet sand at the surf’s edge.

Seaside cottagesThe couple is a wealth of knowledge about the area and I learn much from them, including where I’ll probably go tomorrow: Simpson’s Reef. They’re from Missouri, but have volunteered in Alaska, in Texas (Rockport) and will volunteer this winter at South Padre Island. North in the summer; south in the winter. It’s become a lifestyle with them. They study and learn all they can about an area so they can be good interpreters and guides. I can see by their eagerness to overwhelm me with information that they love what they’re doing.

Among other things, they show me the basket of wild blackberries they just picked this morning, offering me a handful. They’re more than willing to tell me exactly where the bushes are and what to look for. I linger and talk with them for almost an hour before bidding farewell.

On the drive out of the park I spy a thicket of tangled, leggy bushes with reddish woody stems and enormous thorns. Blackberries! I pull over and carefully (I’m wearing shorts, a T-shirt and slaps—inappropriate gear for such prickly work) reach in among the thorny branches and pinch off a dozen berries, sunwarm and juicy.

It’s been a good day in paradise.


See the starfish. These are large, meaty fellows, all at least 14 inches across. Click to enlarge.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Olivia
    August 23, 2011 at 7:17 am

    I love the starfish Brian. Take care.

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