Tag Archives: Cape Foulweather

Where have all the otters gone, long time ago?

Sea Otter in Morro Bay, California. Photo: Mike Baird/Wikimedia Commons

I’m sitting at the beach, where I’ve been the past week, and I’m thinking about time.

Cape Foulweather is out there, a spit in the ocean to the north, so shrouded in fog that I can’t see it at all. A little to the south, also invisible, lies Gull Rock. Hard by it is Otter Rock, a bony outcropping that hasn’t seen an actual otter in more than a century.

Up the road either way is a flimsy yet stubborn string of weathered motels, chowder joints, candy shops, taverns, groceries, kite shops and other human clingings to the edge of the continent. I’m partial to Mo’s, where you can get a decent beer and a decent chowder and a decent smile.

People scratch for a living here, and sometimes the scratches run deep.
But on a beautiful day, when you’re pointing in the right direction and you aren’t looking at the scars, it can be one of the happiest places on earth.

And of course, the scars are there because we all want to come to this place and snatch a little happiness, and we all want to be comfortable while we’re at it. Yes, I burned precious liquefied dinosaur to get here.

I hear birds I can’t see. I breathe watery air. I sip black coffee. I feel almost at home.

When I’m down this way I like to visit Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, which has a pleasant walking path along the estuary of Yaquina Bay and where a lot of valuable research is done. In the visitors center, if you time things right, you can see the resident octopus chomping on crab at mealtime (kids love this show). In the little shop I found a fascinating-looking book of ship lore, from chanteys to wrecks to mutinies, that I didn’t buy because I already have a big stack of books waiting to be read. And the displays are always well-explained for general and young audiences: science made not easy, but accessible and interesting.

The Hatfield Center makes you think about geology, about the skeleton on which life attaches. To geology, the little things we think of as time are barely a blink. Yet in those blinks we can make a gawdamighty mess of things, often while we’re in the process of improving them. As one display panel says:

Most of nature does not run at the time that we measure in seconds or minutes or days. To understand these patterns we must understand time itself.

Impossible, of course. But we can take a stab at it.
Under the circumstances, I’d say, we have to take a stab at it.
Continue reading Where have all the otters gone, long time ago?

Going native on the Oregon Coast: a hair-raising tale

Tonight is the gala Dance United in Portland, the all-star benefit to help get financially ailing Oregon Ballet Theatre out of its fiscal sinkhole, and under any other circumstances I would be there with bells, cheering the dancers on.

13733bBut on Wednesday the large smelly boys were paroled from a nine-month sentence in the Portland public school system, and Mrs. Scatter and I had a longstanding deal to whisk them to the Oregon coast to the four-way-split shared getaway we’ve been holding in our own tenuous economic grasp for close to 20 years. And on that subject, just one question: What sort of fool would pay actual money for a share of a piece of property in the shadow of a place called Cape Foulweather?

So here I sit, staring at the oddly quiescent cape (the sun is out, sort of), with a copy of Vince Kohler‘s Eldon Larkin mystery Rising Dog at hand, thinking about this shaggy stretch of oceanfront I’ve come to love. Not that I get out here very often. Regular readers may recall this post about Vince, a kind of forgotten hero of Oregon literature, and his shambling news-hound hero, Eldon, as introduced in the first Larkin mystery, Rainy North Woods.

Rising Dog (the title comes from the curious case of a mutt that’s been run down by a 14-wheeler on busy U.S. 101 and then seems to have risen from the dead) came in 1992, and like the late and lamented Mr. Kohler’s other mysteries, it really ought to be better-known.

Eldon’s stretch of the Oregon Coast, though mythical (there is no actual Nekaemas County), runs south of these parts, nearer Coos Bay territory, where life is less touristy and more hardscrabble, although Newport this week seems in desperate want of those recently disappearing city spenders. Wall Street has not been kind to small towns that rely on the whims of visitors.

Still, I feel I must pass on this description of life in the mythical Port Jerome on a rare day when the rains have ceased and the sun has come a-wandering in:

“The sun had drawn the town’s population from hiding. That was the worst thing about good weather. In the streets were women fifty to eighty pounds overweight, squeezed into blue jeans or blue or white knit polyester slacks. There were stringy, hard-faced men in grubby denims and crushed, grimy baseball caps. There were potbellied salesmen with long sideburns and lined, pouchy faces, and adolescents reveling unaware in their brief season of physical beauty before declining into the sleazy hardness of their elders.”

As I sit here I am wearing a pair of aged, faded jeans, gone stringy at the cuffs and with a hole in the pocket that encourages a trickle-down theory of fugitive pens and pennies. I have on a faded purple T-shirt, a little spongy at the collar, and a gray sweatshirt that is unaccountably my favorite piece of upper-body wear. My “Mo’s West” baseball cap, bearing the emblem of a favored chowder shack, is flung casually close to hand. I make no claims or excuses for the lazy paunch floating beneath my belt. My socks are semi-clean, and my hair has taken on that wild dry look of straw that’s been electrocuted in a summer storm. It does no good to brush or comb it. It’s gone native, and it ain’t comin’ back, not as long as I’m within spitting distance of the ocean. In certain ways, once a small-town boy, always a small-town boy.

Vince meant that description of coastal folk ruefully, but with a certain affection. Eldon’s no Adonis himself. I saw the Adonises, six of them, yesterday, in their black rubber bodysuits, drifting out from the beach by Otter Rock on their surf boards. I’m guessing none of them was a logger or a commercial fisherman or one of those incredible samurai-skilled women who so swiftly gut and clean the salmon and halibut coming in from the tourist fishing-excursion boats to the docks on the Newport waterfront.

One more thing I can’t resist passing along: Vince’s not-so-standard legal disclaimer from the beginning of the book:

Rising Dog is a work of fiction. The novel’s characters inhabit a stretch of the southern Oregon coast that is entirely a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to people, places, or institutions in the real world is an enormous and shocking coincidence. In particular, the Sons of Eiden Hall and its denizens are not intended to represent any actual Scandinavian group.

Skoal to all that.