Part 9: The Pinniped Invasion

Thursday, August 27th

Some days are made for nothing more strenuous than clambering over rocks and looking for snails in tide pools. If it’s good enough for Doc from Cannery Row, it’s good enough for us*. Such was our full day in Coos Bay. After M and P went hunting and gathered a wild latte and native pastries, we drove a scant fifteen minutes from the resort to Cape Arago State Park.

*Dear Oregonians – yes, I know Cannery Row is in Monterey, and therefore the wrong state. I’m sorry, but One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest doesn’t work as a literary reference here.

We drove along the swooping, verdant Cape Arago Highway along the bay, through the picturesque working-class harbor town of Charleston (to quote Google’s search results: “Charleston is the least populated community in Oregon’s Bay Area and is Home (sic) to a large commercial fishing fleet; it is adjacent to the ocean entrance to Coos Bay”).

My impression of Charleston? Cute. Hamburgers and fries, soda and beer, maybe fish and chips, or possibly clams. Lots of boats. I would happily go back to spend five minutes looking at the town, maybe thirty minutes if we wanted lunch.

We didn’t want lunch.

From Charleston, we entered a gauntlet of State Parks, as apparently Oregon does state parks in clusters. We passed Sunset Bay State Park and Shore Acres State Park before reaching Cape Arago, devoid of campers but with a few cars parked at overlooks.

After a few minutes exploration, we found the trailhead for a steep path down to a beach renowned for tidepools. While M’s knee prevented her from coming down, P and I marched down the cliffside, scrabbling the last fifty feet or so. Nothing would keep P from getting to the water and the tidepools; she comes from two parents whose hearts are the color of the northern Pacific ocean, shifting from time to time, but always laced with fog, quiet, and a love of the water’s edge.

It was a gray and cloudy day. For those of you who know me, you know that means I fell in love a bit with this stretch of coast. The rocky intertidal zones of Oregon are truly special, and part of why, if we were ever to move again, I would strongly angle for the Pacific Northwest as the next best thing to northern California. After all, the fog and the water and the stones are the only redeeming virtues of the Twilight movies (what was up with making Jacob ‘imprint’ on the young pasty white human-vampire baby? Gross. What a load of colonialistic garbage. #StillTeamJacob).

Finding a small corner of the Oregon Coast like Cape Arago State Park is an argument in favor of the travel trailer life. Without hitting the road with a trailer, it’s not likely we would have found our way here, to this beach, with these perfect gray, stony, quiet tidepools.

Me, Today

Alas, nature is not immune to fools.

A swarm of loud, yelling parents and loud, yelling kids came swarming down the trail behind us, masks missing, one woman pausing three feet from where M sat on a bench and seemingly oblivious to polite (and less-polite) requests to keep distance.

I get it. You’re outside, you think you’re safe. Or maybe you just don’t think. But even outside, you have to be aware of personal space. These people weren’t, and they were scrambling over the tidepools like berserk starfish in a hyperspeed time-lapsed photography gallery.

So that put a bit of a damper on things. I had to guide P away from where the other kids were, while still letting her explore freely. It worked, mostly. We saw a couple tiny crabs and some snails, and no one fell off a rock and hit their head, so we’ll call that a win.

We returned to the car and headed back north, stopping at the Simpson Reef overlook.

It was stunning.

You can’t see from here, but those rocks are loud with the barking of hundreds of pinnipeds. Photo courtesy of M. Cazorla

I’ve seen a dozen or so seals resting like sandbags on the sand at the mouth of the Russian River. I’ve seen 20-30 sea lions reclining on the floating platforms at Pier 39 in San Francisco. I’ve seen 15-20 elephant seals at a time at Año Nuevo State Park or the vista point north of Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

But I’ve never seen hundreds, if not thousands, of seals, sea lions, and elephant seals all sharing the same rocky outcroppings at one time.

“My God,” I said gravely. “It’s an invasion.” Spinning, I pointed at P and snapped my fingers. “You! Round up all the cans of herring and tuna you can. It might be our only chance of stopping them.”

Me, Not Really

I didn’t say that, of course. I, for one, would welcome our new pinniped overlords, as they would be likely to vastly simplify the tax code. Now when you calculate your annual tax return and say, “Holy mackerel!”, you would actually mean it.

Returning to the resort, we stopped briefly at a small cove in Sunset Bay State Park, so P could dip her toes in the cold water and we could throw a few more stones, enjoy the mellow waves rippling to shore as dogs and humans frolicked in the foggy chill, and the pine trees at the cove’s mouth kept watch. Just around the corner, of course, was the raw power of the ocean, just out of sight.

And that, really, was the extent of our agenda for the day. We settled back in to our site at Bay Point Landing for a quiet, windy afternoon. M took a nap. P played with her toys and on the iPad – because of course we brought an iPad, and because of course we let her play with it. No shame here.

Sometimes you just need to sit quietly and not force yourself to do stuff or go places, just because there are places to go or stuff to do. A travel trailer gives you a home base for exploration that doesn’t require that you deal with hotel staff or fellow guests unless you want. You have a cordon of space and independence that makes quiet time easy. And until you have clogged sewer lines or run out of propane at inconvenient moments (or get your trailer side-swiped), it really is a relaxing way to travel (if catastrophic for your gas-mileage stats).

I walked to look at the water, then got my book and the chair. I sat, and read, and drank a beer, and thought, and drank another beer. Oh, and I did the laundry. There’s something cozy about getting all your trip laundry done in a single afternoon while going nowhere in particular, having no deadlines. Replenishing your clean laundry while doing nothing at all feels as satisfying as filling your gas tank when you skip the first station and find a second station selling gas for twenty cents less a gallon.

Travel Etiquette Question: if someone has left clothes in the only available dryer for at least fifteen minutes after the cycle ended, is it okay to pull out the clothes and pile them on a table? What about in a pandemic? The answer to the first, in my opinion, is an unqualified yes, and based on my experiments and executive action, the answer remains the same in the latter circumstances. Just wash your hands extra well before and after. (Oh, and those clothes were still sitting on the table an hour or so later when I was all done).

Our last day in Oregon was a moment of quiet, a pause before a storm that would become far too literal for both Oregon and ourselves in the days ahead (the smoke from wildfires would cut short our trip after only more night on the road, the next night by Mount Shasta in California). But obviously we didn’t know that. We just knew it was a lovely day of tide-pools and seals, snails and sea lions, and a chance to catch our breath.

Coos Bay and Bay Point Landing were both lovely, and I would certainly visit again, perhaps for longer.

%d bloggers like this: