May Contain Nuts

The holiday season is in full swing here in Petersburg, and if you’ve been following the Blog for any length of time you’ve seen some of the festive fun.  This town is crazy about the holidays!  It all begins around Thanksgiving, and if the promise of a tryptophan coma from Thanksgiving dinner isn’t enough, the Sons of Norway also hosts a Harvest Pot Luck dinner towards the end of November.

Featuring ham and smoked turkey, no respectable fishing community would have a dinner without some crab and smoked salmon too.  With very very few restaurants open for dinner, pot luck dinners are fairly frequent events around town and everyone puts a lot of effort into their contributions.  “Feast” is truly the right word for it.  And since Jim loves to bake we usually bring one of his sweet creations.

The night after Thanksgiving, Santa leads the whole town in a parade down the main street for the town tree lighting.  Some members of the high school band were playing holiday tunes and the Sons of Norway handed out cups of hot cider.  One of our elderly veterans was chosen to throw the switch for this year’s tree – it’s a big tall beauty!  One of the many benefits of living in a National Forest is that there are plenty of trees to choose from.

We had a pretty temperate fall, and even into early December the nearby (lower) mountains were still pretty naked.  Finally the temps started to drop and the mountains got some snow, and when the overnight temperature got into the 20s we were gifted with some hoar frost – so beautiful!!

It didn’t last too long before the rain returned, but we had dry weather long enough for Jim to get the boat all decked out with Christmas lights.

He has the lights on timers so they come on in the dark mornings as well as in the afternoons – it really helps with the short daylight that we have. 

Sometimes the holiday lights draw interest from the local wildlife – friends sent us photos of a buck that had someone’s lights tangled all around his antlers!  Fortunately he dropped one antler a day later, though the tangle remained on the other one.  His antlers and their decorations are now somewhere in the woods – and we’re glad that they didn’t cause him any problems.  I’m sure someone in that neighborhood is wondering who took their lights!

All around town the holiday lights brighten the “dark days”, and many will leave their lights up well into January.  Right now we’re down to about 7 hours of daylight, and when it’s overcast or rainy it doesn’t feel like much light at all.  Reflective bands or flashing lights are popular, and we’re awaiting delivery of some new rechargeable lighted/reflective belts to improve our safety walking around in the dark.

The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without the dance troupe’s biennial presentation of the Nutcracker featuring 180 dancers ranging in age from 3 to 18.  For a small community on an island, that’s a LOT of young people committing their time and talent to bring the production to the stage!

The little ones are my favorites – wave upon wave of heart-melting cuteness in tiny tutus or bow ties.

Personalities really shine during these performances, with some little tykes intently focused on their teacher, some doing their own thing, some directing the other children, and some suffering from stage fright.  During “Little Chinese Tea” one little gal wasn’t happy about being on stage…

Hiding in her costume

…and at one point she poked her head out…

…but it was a fleeting moment.  She took one look at the audience and did her best imitation of a turtle, pulling her head back into her costume.  The little guy next to her had to tug her sleeve when it was time to leave the stage. 

The number of dancers en pointe seems to grow every year, elegant sparkly young ladies in toe shoes gliding around the stage.

Three hours of watching these wonderful young people – if that doesn’t make your heart melt and put a smile on your face I don’t know what will. 

Coos Bay and Cape Arago

Our final stop on the Oregon coast was the area around Coos Bay.  The weather continued to be more “fall-like”, which is a euphemism for dreary, misty, and rainy.  But it provided a suitable moodiness for the craggy coastline – just a different kind of beautiful.

We hiked several trails in the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, hoping for some migratory bird sightings but keeping our expectations low since it was not the best timing.  Regardless, we had fun exploring the trails through the forest and marshes and got a lot of good exercise in the process.We spent a rainy afternoon walking around the small downtown along the Coos River, capped off by a visit to the Coos History Museum and Maritime Collection – which was superb.  We have found that little museums in smaller places often far exceed their modest settings.

We spent another day exploring three state parks along the coast – Cape Arago, Shore Acres and Sunset Bay.Barking sea lions were numerous and loud enough to be heard over the crashing surf, and black turnstones and sea birds searched for food around the rocks.  We hiked down to the wild beach, marveling at the logs flung high up on the shoreline and tangles of bull kelp.Someone got pretty creative with smaller drift logs and a natural cave.It was also pretty neat to explore some of the odd alien-like rock formations.

In 1906 the wealthy, generous and influential Louis J. Simpson built a mansion and magnificent gardens on the cliffs near Cape Arago, calling it Shore Acres.  Now a state park, Shore Acres still has an amazing array of beautiful gardens – formal, Japanese……unusual……and a rose garden.Late October is not prime season for touring gardens in coastal Oregon, but we enjoyed seeing the few blooming plants as well as watching an army of electricians installing the annual holiday light show.  Lighted sea lions leaping, birds flying and a spouting whale were just a few of the delights to brighten the dark holiday evenings.We were disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see it all completed – I’ll bet it’s quite a treat for the eyes!  Regardless, the view from the edge of the cliff – where the original mansion was built – was awesome.Virtually next door to Shore Pines is another of Oregon’s MANY state parks – Sunset Bay.  It looks like it’s a popular bathing beach in the summer months but it was also nice to just stroll, do a little beach combing, and to hike up to the viewpoint above it.

Our last of the many lighthouses to visit was Umpqua Lighthouse on the Umpqua River a little north of Coos Bay.  The lighthouse sits on Coast Guard property, adjacent to CG housing. We arrived in the nick of time for the last tour of the day, and it was also the last tour of the season for the volunteer gentleman who took us up into the light.He said it was more fun to give a tour to people who knew something about navigation and who appreciated the importance of lighthouses.  Imagine keeping all those pieces of the first-order Fresnel lens clean back in the day! 

The lighthouse was a great way to wrap up a marvelous road trip.  We’re so lucky to have been able to do and see so much, yet we feel like we barely scratched the surface of what the Oregon coast has to offer.


Florence and the Dunes

It could be a cool name for a band, but “Florence and the dunes” just names more of the places we thoroughly enjoyed on the Oregon coast.  Yes… I’m still blathering  about the O.C.  I have one more post after this one to get you all caught up before I start in on the perpetually adorable way that our town celebrates the Christmas holidays.  Brace yourselves.

Right near our Florence-area campground we found the tiny Darlingtonia State Park, home to the protected cobra lily properly known as Darlingtonia californica – a carnivorous member of the pitcher plant family.This time of the year they’re looking pretty sad and brown, but they’re still very interesting to see.  Springtime is when they’re the most beautiful.

Florence was a nice little town, and we spent a misty rainy afternoon exploring the shops along the waterfront.Nothing like a little “retail therapy” in a fancy kitchen store followed by a dish of ice cream to satisfy body and soul.  We found a cozy restaurant for dinner later that evening, but first we had to work off some calories with a hike on the Hobbit Trail.The drizzly, moody weather made the Hobbit Trail feel even more “hobbity,” and we kept a sharp eye out for short creatures with furry feet.  Alas, we didn’t spot any creatures, but we did end up on a beach that we had all to ourselves.We walked along the eroding cliff face, keeping one eye on the surf that occasionally threatened to wet our boots despite the ebbing tide.  It was sublime – just us, the breaking surf and the swirling mist.

Florence also marks the northern end of the Oregon Dunes, a 31,500 acre national recreation area that extends along almost 40 miles of Oregon’s coastline.  The dunes are formed by wind and rain erosion of the nearby mountains, with some as tall as 500′.  These are the largest coastal sand dunes in North America, and you can enjoy them on foot or with some type of Off Highway Vehicle (OHV).  We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to explore the dunes, but what little we did left us craving more.  I read about the John Dellenback Trail that has some of the tallest dunes, so we focused on that area for a big exploration.  What’s fascinating is the abrupt change from forest to dune. There is no way for photographs to convey the scale of this place.  Can you spot the three people in the photo above?  They’re just tiny specks – I would not want to get lost here.  Although hiking in the soft sand was pretty tiring, we could not come all that way and miss climbing to the summit of the big dune.  The effort was worthwhile, giving us a panoramic view of forested mountains to the east and the ocean to the west.  The wind made patterns in the sand, and blew a fine mist off the crest.We didn’t see too many other people, making our exploration feel wonderfully solitary and remote.  We did encounter a couple taking their two dogs and a goat on the trail.  Yes, a goat.  Apparently the goat thinks he’s a dog, and can’t stand to be left behind.  Why not? 

We enjoyed a little picnic lunch after our hike, and savored the view of this marvelous and unique area.

Yachats, Cape Perpetua and Heceta Head

Heading farther south along Oregon’s coastal highway 101, the weather finally shifted to a more typical fall pattern – misty and rainy.  The wind picked up a bit and the conditions suited the more rugged part of the coast around Yachats (pronounced “ya-hots”).  There’s a wonderful trail named “the 804” that runs right along the rocky shoreline, and you have to keep an eye on the waves if the tide is high and the wind is up – you can be swept into the sea if you’re not paying attention.The waves crashing on the rocks were mesmerizing, and we were sometimes startled out of our reverie by the WHUMP of a big wave that you could feel in your chest.  Sea birds were fishing in the surf, ducking under the biggest waves, and riding up and over the smaller ones.  It took me a while to identify them correctly, and they were (no surprise) Surf Scoters.  How these birds could successfully feed in those violent waves boggles the mind, but they kept at it for quite a long time.As with the rest of the coast, state parks and state recreation areas are everywhere – each a little gem with great views or a special natural feature.  On top of that the town of Yachats was charming and fun…Just a few miles down the road is Cape Perpetua State Park, with a number of hiking trails, an interpretive center, and some awesome shoreline features.  While waiting for the tide to rise we hiked to see the giant spruce tree – over 600 years old, standing 185′ tall and 40′ in circumference.The hollow under the tree was created by a “nurse log” – a dead rotting log that provided a rich medium for a little spruce seedling to grow on, and eventually the nurse log returned to the soil as this tree became the mighty specimen that it is today.

Other trees in the forest weren’t quite as big, but this one that fell across the trail was still pretty impressive.We drove up to a fantastic overlook, but the lashing rain and gusty wind made it impossible to take a photograph – we were more concerned about not getting blown off the cliff!  But as the rain eased and the tide came in, we climbed down by the craggy shoreline to see the Devil’s Churn and Spouting Horn.The Churn is a long narrow rectangular cut in the shoreline where the sea foams and flings itself furiously at the rocks.  There were some smaller similar formations all along that stretch, but my favorite was the Spouting Horn.  We watched the sea funnel into a narrow cut and when the waves were just right they were forced under the rocks and emerged as a violent spout of mist from a small hole.  Once again, it was mesmerizing.

About 10 miles farther down the coast is the Heceta Head lighthouse.Horizontal rain started back up so there were very few visitors, but the dauntless volunteers were dressed in full rain gear and were happy to show us the tiny museum and explain the highlights about this particular lighthouse.We were dressed pretty well for the foul weather, so we explored the little beach below the lighthouse, trying to imagine how the builders got the materials up the steep cliff to construct it. 

Once again, the pounding waves were fascinating, especially as they pummeled the short kelp-like sea palms.These little plants endured the most relentless assault from the sea, with tons of water repeatedly crashing on top of them, bending them but not breaking them off or tearing them loose.  We finally found one on the beach that we could look at more closely, but it’s sturdy constitution defies the imagination.