Portland, Oregon, is infamous for interminable stretches of dense, wet weather. What nonresidents don’t realize, though, is that every year that hose shuts off around July. Suddenly, clouds part, the sun bursts forth, and we all marinate in our own hot sweat for two or three months of Death Valley dryness. By September, we’re huddled around the weather report again, listening for the magical phrase “Chance of Rain.”
I’d been cowering indoors for 63 days straight under the full and constant blast of dual air conditioners (mounted at opposing ends of the house in order to surround the enemy), rebreathing my own air and staring hopelessly into an unrewarding refrigerator (too hot to cook anything more demanding than oatmeal), and a depressing computer screen (dancing cat videos can only do so much to perk the psyche) until my brain screamed, “Enough!” I powered down my You Tube addiction, started up the 4 x 4, and made a beeline for Away From Here. It felt so good to be out of the confines of a climate controlled house and safely ensconced in the confines of a climate controlled truck that I just kept driving until I saw sand.Hug Point, approximately six miles south of Cannon Beach as the crows flies and the Winnebago trundles, is my go-to destination for a quick seawater fix. It’s got everything: easy access, year round restroom facilities, mermaids and pirates….Okay, the mermaids and pirates were actually models in mermaid and pirate drag that just happened to be gathered there that day with a slew of professional photographers for some sort of unnatural annual beach fantasy thing. I hadn’t seen that much glitter and body paint since Portland Pridefest 2013. I hadn’t seen that many IT professionals in thigh-high boots and pirate beards since…well, um…Portland is a unique community. But the hordes didn’t arrive until later. In the morning, the place was wonderfully empty, cool, and thought-unravelingly quiet.
What Hug Point actually is can be described by turn of the century wagon drivers in one phrase: “Damn, that water’s cold!” They used the beach as a highway before anyone got around to inventing one and at this particular spot, they industriously blasted a bit of road right out of the rock so they could all sneak around the tight corners during not-so-low tides.
You can see the road bed they created at the very bottom of the hill in the photo below. That little bump on the far left forms a fine promontory relatively free from pants-shredding barnacles that is suitable for groups of up to four to engage in simultaneous navel gazing, whale spotting, and pelican sighting. It’s BYOB: Bring Your Own Binoculars.
Looking at it from the other side, you can see how far out the tide really is. I’ve never seen it so distant. Usually, the waves are breaking against the base of the rock and you have to keep a close eye on your watch and a tide table chart lest you return to your vehicle soaked to the bone, or not at all. Much signage appears back in Cannon Beach alerting you to the constant possibility of becoming trapped and turned into another putrid, bloated statistic on the six o’clock news. Words like Beware! and Tsunami! appear in large block letters and there are lots of arrows.
The promontory is prime seating for meditation and, apparently, comes with a bonus reflecting pool during extra-low tides. I’ve been here four times previous and never witnessed such tranquil beauty. A hundred years ago, the wagons passed on the other side of this rock. Today, the highway is far enough up the forested incline above that a dozen Hell’s Angels could rumble by on Harley-Davidson Panheads and you’d never hear a thing over the crashing waves. Unless one of them missed the turn and sailed over the edge. Even big guys scream.
Mussels are naturally jet black but barnacles frost them here like super-crunchy cornflakes. Like, put-your-dentist-on-speed-dial crunchy. The fluorescent green color is due to a squishy queue of Giant Green Sea Anemones just below the water line.
Patient sea stars cling to the sides and count down the minutes to the next high tide.
“Hey, guys, wait for me! I’m suctioning myself through the sand as fast as my little arms can go!” (Which is apparently about 0.3 millimeters per second or approximately one decimeter per dancing cat video; which is more than my ass has ever moved during a You Tube marathon, so bully for you, little guy.)
Everywhere on the exposed rock is a seafood salad of sea stars, mussels, and gooseneck barnacles. I think you have to bring your own tartar sauce, though.
Maybe some butter for the escargot. (Probably a striped dogwinkle.)
Okay, fancy escargot. (Nucella ostrina?)
Ship wrecked jellyfish may look like sweet, caramel-flavored Jolly Ranchers but do not be fooled….
On the way back, I encountered a nefarious gang of hungry seagulls attacking something small and helpless and fuzzy. I charged them until they burst into the air with frustrated screams and squawks. Their prize was now mine: a cute bundle of baby Murre.
He wasn’t too jazzed about me picking him up–after all, the last group of strangers that violated his personal space tried to eat him–but we reached an agreement wherein I cradled his warm little body in my palm and he left his sharp-clawed feet dangling out of reach of my tender flesh.
We traveled about an eighth of a mile that way (getting him past the mermaids and pirates was interesting; they all had that “I didn’t see THAT in the gift shop!” look on their painted faces), then another five miles with him in a box and a towel with me behind the wheel. A bit of detective work uncovered a wildlife rehabilitationist in Cannon Beach on a Sunday who just happened to be home and available to receive him. Here he is in safe hands, literally and figuratively.
I had to wait until someone else was holding him before I was able to snap a few. It’s hard to unzip your camera bag when your hands are full of Murre. He looks ready for a snack and a nap. Come to think of it, that’s my plan, too.
UPDATE: As of 9-5-13, I’m very pleased to report that the baby Murre is alive, well, and thriving with other rescued baby Murres at the Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria, Oregon. Thank you, Sharnelle and rehabbers!
August 11, 2013