The day dawned wet and blustery. All night long the wind howled around the corners of our hotel at Cannon Beach in Oregon, while the rain was hurled in great sheets against our window and upon the roof. I had walked along the bluff overlooking the beach the night before and could hear the waves being flung against the shore by the winds that presaged the storm that would later accompany my fitful sleep throughout the night. I have not been a good sleeper in my later years and frequently spend large parts of any given night revisiting old daydreams or creating new ones, trying to get my mind off of the fact of my sleeplessness so that maybe, just maybe, I will drift off to sleep. That night was such a night, but the surge and play of wind and rain with their power, which men covet but which is only possessed by nature, sang to me a lullaby that loosened the grip of wakefulness and carried me away to a sleep which lasted until almost nine in the morning.
We lingered at breakfast until after ten. Our master of the breakfast bar had a wonderful French accent, and when he recited the morning’s complimentary offerings he said “croissant” in that special, fluid French way, and it made me ache to order one just reward his accent. My gluten sensitivity would not have shared my attraction however, and so I stuck with the ham and eggs and potato and cheese casserole. I did, however, accept the offer of a well mixed mimosa. My wife and I took our sweet time at the table after the European style, discussing this or comparing that, and at length decided that it was time to begin the day’s other activities.
We began with a short drive along the coast which ended up in the town of Cannon Beach. We parked behind a store in an old, historic building with stairs that bowed, floors that rippled, and walls that leaned. Inside were a thousand items from nuts and soap to beds and art. I don’t know who in the world would go to a ramshackle building in an overpriced tourist town to buy a bed, but I have to take it on faith that such things happen. We probably spent a little under an hour there during which time we saw all that we wanted to see and then had to make another plan. I had wanted to walk on the beach for months while we were waiting for our little vacation and had packed a poncho and big rubber boots in case I got the opportunity. Now seemed like a great opportunity.
“Let’s drive back to the hotel and I will put on my gear and meet you downtown for some lunch” I suggested, and my wife readily agreed. We returned to the hotel where I exited our car and went to put on my gear. My wife returned to town to continue browsing in shops and looking at things that I had little interest in. I quickly pulled on my boots and slipped the poncho over my head, and soon I was walking out of the door with the better part of a mile between me and my wife.
The first reality which hit me was the wind. It was not particularly cold but it whipped my poncho around like a torn flag on a pole. I grabbed at the sides of the poncho from within and held it close to my body. There was little rain at the moment and so the buffeting of the wind was the only really inclement weather that I felt. I walked across the resort complex behind our hotel and found a stairway that led from the bluff down to the sandy beach.
The stairway dropped down between two high walls to a grove of either high shrubs or low trees which ran along a level stretch of the sandy bluff which was about halfway between the top of the bluff and beginning of the actual beach. The branches and twigs of those plants formed a skeletal umbrella under which I walked for a short distance, the leaves having long since dried up by the cold fall temperatures and blasted inland by the Pacific storms that have hammered the coast this year. Emerging from under that ethereal umbrella I passed over a path between tall stands of beach grass and finally came to the edge of that level middle stage of the bluff from where I could see the broad expanse of Cannon Beach.
The sand of the beach was wet from the waterline to the base of the bluff, partly from the rain which had fallen the night before and partly from the previous evening’s high tide. Beyond that sandy beach lay the Pacific Ocean, which was that moment making it clear that this immense body of water is anything but pacific, or peaceful. The waves were large and coming in one upon another, as if they couldn’t wait to end their transoceanic journey and return to the serene pelagic depths from whence they were stirred up and hurled against dry land. The crash of breakers, the chop and cross-currents of rip tides, and the last, exhausted yet still powerful flow of each surge as it crawled up the sands of the beach toward where I walked in my impotent puniness all reminded me that I am of little account when weighed against the power and splendor of the mighty ocean.
I began my walk along the beach towards the business district of Cannon Beach just above the high water line of the churning surf. The unobstructed wind was blowing great patches of sea foam loose from the forward edge of the surging surf and propelling them like large cotton balls across the wet sand. The wind was even snatching up wet particles of sand and blowing them in low waves across the beach to where they collided with the grass-covered sandhill of the bluff, to begin replenishing what was ripped away by the storm in the night before and returned to the sea. Looking out to the west I saw the vague green of the water and the white of the foam as the waves crashed forward, but beyond that no true horizon met my view. The sky was gray, the sea was near gray, the light rain which has begun again to fall, blurred whatever lines of transition remained until the nature before me spoke of a cold, neutral personality; it didn’t care if I lived or died, loved it or hated it, feared or respected or ignored it. It existed in power and mystery behind gray veils, and I could think of it as I liked or not think of it at all; it was of no consequence to the sea.
I continued my walk and at one point my boot sunk four or five inches into a place of very loose sand. I simply walked through it and in a step was back on more solid ground. It occurred to me however that nature as its secrets, and the vision of a pit of soft, loose sand swallowing me up and of my disappearance from among the living sent a tingle up my spine. I have never heard of such a thing happening, but could it be because those whom the Earth swallows up, it never gives back to tell the tale? No further soft spots clutched at my boot heels for the rest of my walk as I continued towards where I knew the center of town could be reached.
Just before the stairway that leads off of the beach and into town was reached however I came upon a place where the now-rocky bluff jutted out to meet the churning surf. Every other time that I have visited this beach the stretch of dry sand between that bulge of rock and the water’s edge has been wide enough that it has not even been noticed. On this day however the water met the rock, and I was walking through pools of seawater fed by the advancing and receding edges of the waves. I felt no concern from the tongues of seawater which licked against my boots, but I could not put out of my mind the vision of a rogue wave gathering speed in the churning water off to my left, building its strength to lurch onto the beach, engulfing me and finishing the job that the sand pit started but failed to complete. I knew that the odds were greatly against such a thing, but all the same felt relieved to complete my traverse around that rocky point and continue my journey, now nearly complete.
I passed the first stairway off the beach, the one which led directly into the center of town, and pressed on to another path a hundred yards or so further to the north. That part of the beach hosts the stream bed of Ecola Creek, which usually snakes across the sands of the beach and ends its short journey in the waves of the Pacific. On this day a swollen and determined Ecola Creek slammed into an equally swollen and determined ocean, and the currents which danced a mad minuet could be traced by the wavelets and ripples on the surface, showing with surprising clarity where the form of the creek refused to yield its integrity to the immensity of the ocean. My eyes were fixed on this wonderful dance as I first gained, and then climbed, the pathway which led upward and off the beach.
Once I was safely out of the wind-driven drizzle and under a covered pavilion next to a sculpture of a whale I texted my wife to see where we would meet. It happened that she was no more than half a block away at a very nice restaurant, where I quickly joined her, shucked my poncho, and soon was warming up with a bowl of soup and a cup of hot, black coffee. It was a perfect end to a perfect walk on a cold, wet, gray, windy, and perfect day on Cannon Beach.