We took this photo (or, rather, the young couple also pulled off on the roadside in front of the California Welcome sign took it) on June 22nd. It was a Wednesday. We were nine days into our 13-day camping trip, our hatchback close to bursting with gear and my legs almost certainly unshaved. We were headed to the Redwoods, which proved to be the highlight of the trip, their 200 and 300-foot treetops existing in another ecosystem from the one we stood in, tilting our faces up and squinting.
When Joe and I realized back in February that we’d be moving to California in a matter of months, the first thing we did (after celebrating his acceptance to PA school) was start booking campsites. Rushing down one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines in a race to “get settled” seemed a wasted opportunity. We would take two weeks, we decided — sleep next to the ocean at night and walk its shorelines in the mornings, camp-stove coffees in hand; hike through forests where the trunks of fir trees frame the sea, its surface blue or grey or green depending on the sky; point out birds I can never remember the names of and sit next to fires together watching the smoke change direction and wondering how wet or dry the wood might be, drinking wine from plastic cups and looking at the moon. Getting settled is part myth anyway, isn’t it? Life doesn’t sift itself into tidy resolutions. You can unpack your boxes and hang your art and start searching for the walking routes you want to take in your new neighbourhood in a different part of the country, but inside, there will always be a stirring, that question — what’s next, now that I am here?
At Cape Disappointment it rained. It was our first night camping, after 10 days visiting friends and my mom in Victoria, and we ate veggie hot dogs and Italian sausages cooked on a new camp stove with collapsible wind guards, no fire for warmth and the water sliding off our overhead tarp, soaking the ground. We had almost run out of gas that afternoon, as there was an power outage in Washington and all the gas stations near us were closed. I wondered if the rain would continue through the trip and was already shaking my head in apprehension, but other than a brief storm on the drive back to Oregon two days later, that was it. I haven’t really seen rain since.
A friend of mine was going through a difficult time this summer, and I drew this heart with a long stick of driftwood on the beach one morning and sent it to her. You know when you can feel other people’s pain? I’ve been reminded of that lately, of how my senses pick up on all the joy and all the love, but also all the hurt. Sometimes it’s like a layer of skin is missing, leaving me exposed. I have decided this is a good thing, though it makes me move a little slowly some days. It means I am in tune with the people in my life, that I know them deeply, and what can expand your heart more than that?
At Cape Lookout we met our friends from Portland to camp together for two days. It was one of those weekends you wish you could put in a time capsule and revisit whenever you miss them. The sky stayed clear almost the whole time, we all sat on a big Mexican blanket on the sand one afternoon drinking wine in the sun, we stayed up singing Killing Me Softly and Mr. Jones and a bunch of other 90s songs on the beach ’til 2 a.m., everybody took turns cooking (only the garlic bread was burnt to an inedible crisp), and pretty much every time I looked around somebody was laughing.
It was bittersweet, of course, because on the Sunday morning we had to say goodbye to all of them. We have met some good people in Vallejo and have plans to spend time with some of Joe’s classmates soon, but these days my friendships are mostly maintained through texting and skypes. It is an internal season for me and I knew it would be moving here, was ready for the quiet, actually, but it does leave me somewhat contemplative. I want to use the time to delve more deeply into my personal writing but I haven’t felt the concentration that requires, though I think I’m getting closer.
A couple hours south of Cape Lookout is Yachats, the town where Joe and I got married three years ago. We stopped at a cafe there and shared a pot of tea while Joe wrote our vows out into a notebook I had brought from Portland. Then we drove to the bridge where we’d had our wedding photos taken in the storm. This time, there was no rain or wind.
At the top of Cape Perpetua we walked to the little stone shelter that looks out over the coastline and renewed our vows, holding the notebook and reading each one aloud. Our anniversary is next week, and we’re planning to go to Napa for a hike and out for dinner. :) We’ve been together almost six years now!
The next two nights would be our last in Oregon (for a while, at least) and we spent them at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, about three hours from the border. The campground sits next to this lovely little lake called Lake Marie.
I could write a whole blog post on tips for choosing campsites, but let me just say that not all sites are created equal. Within the same campground you can have sites that are tucked away and made private with trees, and other ones that are totally exposed to your fellow campers. Joe and I always check out the site campsitephotos when we book trips, because it shows decent photos of each individual site, so you can make better choices for where you’ll be spending your time in nature. One thing we learned during this trip is that if a campground has a “tent only” section, it’s best to reserve a spot there, since RV culture is ubiquitous here. For the most part, our sites and neighbors were great…
but there were definitely a few mornings where I unzipped my tent to the sight of some massive RV parked across from us, with what seemed like the contents of a garage (bikes, boats, fridge-sized coolers, more bikes, crates with cats in them — yes we saw that) covering every square inch of ground. At Patricks Point, I walked past a couple dudes on my way to the bathroom one evening who were leaned over the engine of a giant truck. One of them wore a t-shirt that read, Raised Huntin’ and the other one’s t-shirt read, Real Men Drive Tractors. To each their own…I’m not saying that everyone who owns an RV has archaic notions of what “real” men do, but in general we found that sites without RVs had a more peaceful feel to them, mostly because we could see a lot more trees and a lot less gear. Lesson learned!
One night we laid a blanket out on the side of a cliff above the ocean and saw three shooting stars. One of Joe’s favourite things to do is look at stars, and it had been a long time since we could see them this clearly. Watching them light up the sky has the same effect on me as walking in the jungle or, as on this trip, hiking in a forest full of redwoods— rendering whatever concern might be tugging at my mind as very small.
The next morning we brewed a couple cups of coffee and strolled out to the farthest point:
Then drove to Agate Beach and watched the fog roll over the rocks.
Our favourite campground was Jedediah Smith, about 30 minutes south of the border. This is where we hiked through the giant redwoods, in awe of how tall they actually are. I had heard about these trees of course, but until you are standing among them it’s hard to grasp their power. Some are more than 2000 years old.
I mean, look at this trunk of a tree that fell over. It’s nuts.
The campground itself borders the Smith River, and all the sites are spacious and nestled among these trees. It’s pretty spectacular.
Some have river views, one of which we hope to snag for a camping trip next summer, if we can convince our Portland crew to drive the six hours to meet us there. (You’re reading this, right guys?)
I took my yoga mat down to the water one afternoon and had a nice little session in the shade. It’s such a pretty river.
Back on the road, we made our way south…
The rest of the coastline is calling, so I’m sure we’ll venture down it at various points while we’re living in California. (And maybe keep going to Mexico…) For now, we’ve got a deck with a wide open view of the sky. A few nights ago I was sitting out there on my own, admiring our cactus in its new blue pot, when the harvest moon appeared between two trees, fat and low and very bright. I watched it rise, remembering other moons and homes and lives. It glowed, finding its way up, and the crickets started their song.