Monday, June 06, 2005

Clam Chowder for the Soul

Sea Stars Holding Hands
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
My solo trip to the Oregon Coast met and/or exceeded all expectations. I spent four days in Yachats (pronounced ya-hots, as in, “when ya-hots, ya-hot,” although it was anything but hot), a town somewhat lacking in tourist charm and tchotchkes—only one fudge/saltwater taffy shop and not a T-shirt in my size to be found. But that’s OK by me. I wasn’t there for that crap.

Yachats is just a couple miles from the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, which boasts 26 miles of hiking trails and almost no frickin’ people, save for the benighted souls who drive to the top of Cape Perpetua, snap a photo, drive back down, and head to the next must-see stop listed in their AAA guides. Tragic! I’m sorry, but it pains me that so many people experience the natural beauty of the landscape through the postage-stamp-sized viewfinders of their cameras.

Being the holier-than-thou outdoorswoman and lunatic hiker that I am, rather than drive I hiked 800 feet up to the top of Cape Perpetua (even thought it was pissing rain). So much better than driving! (You see, I am nuts!) At the top there was a short hike to a rock shelter built in 1934 by a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crew led by one Mr. Bud Hinshaw. Every day Bud and his gang hiked the 800 feet to the top to work on the shelter in January—the height of the storm season. To keep hypothermia at bay, Bud would toss a handful of (no doubt) godawful coffee grounds into a pot, boil the heck out of it, and—voila—a stone shelter was built in record time. My heartfelt thanks to Bud and all other CCC workers. These guys are responsible for so many of the hiking trails that exist today in the United States. Most of all, my heartfelt thanks to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for creating the CCC (and the WPA); he’s one of my heroes.

Probably my favorite hike of the six or so I did was the Gwynne Creek Trail. It was so ferny and cycad-esque is was positively Jurassic! See what I mean? I also really tripped out on the Cummins Creek Trail—very misty and Middle Earth (cue the Enya). Just as I was envisioning hobbits and so forth frolicking in their simple-minded way, a bear* (not more than 10 feet from me) poked its head out of the trees, gave me one look, and thundered away into the backcountry. I am just too scary, apparently. To make sure he/she was thoroughly intimidated, I let out a Canadian yodel at the top of my lungs—COO LOO COO COO COO COO COO COO; COO LOO COO COO COO COO COO COO,** as recommended by the old salt of a ranger at the Cape Perpetua Interpretive Center.*** I’m sure the bear was shaking in his/her boots.

I then headed up a steep incline, dodging oodles of banana slugs that looked exactly like freshly extruded cat turds. The banana slug to human ratio was at least 200-1, I would say. It was only though an act of god that I didn’t step on one. By the way, you don’t want to step on these shell-less mollusks. A) You don’t want to kill an innocent creature that’s doing nothing more harmful than impersonating a cat turd and B) slug guts are impossible to remove from the bottom of a boot. Their ooze is so tenacious the big wigs in the adhesive industry are looking into slugs as an ingredient for the next ultra-amazing incarnation of super glue. Or so I have been told.

A totally unexpected serendipity of the trip was the tidepools. Landlubber that I am, I have to admit that I really had no idea what a tidepool was or why it was supposed to be such a big freaking deal. Weren’t tidepools just sort of decorative little indentations in the sand that became visible at low tide? Who gives a shit about that when there are forests of old-growth Sitka spruce to be hiked? Well--as it turns out--I do. Tidepools happen to be full--as in jam packed, cheek-by-jowl--of fascinating sea creatures, including sea stars that range in color from coral orange to bright violet; neon-green sea anemones; amethyst sea urchins; hermit crabs a-scurrying; mussels of all sizes; sponges, whelks, limpets, nudibranches, and barnacles. BARNACLES!!!!

May I just say: Barnacles freak me out! That same old salt that told me to yodel also told me to just crunch right on over all the mussel-and-barnacle-encrusted basalt to get to the good stuff in the tidepools. Naturally, I assumed that if it was OK for me to tromp across the barnacles with my big old Gore-tex hiking boots, the barnacles must be dead as doornails. Hell, they sure look it. They look like they’ve been fossilized for about two billion years. Wrong! These babies are alive! See those little beak-looking things? They move!!!! And in the most eerily, sci-fi, robotic fashion imaginable. Then--from time to time--they open up and click like little baby birds or something. It was the clicking that I kept hearing that made me stop and stare at them for a while and discover their freakish behavior. How can it be OK, I had to wonder, for people to clomp back and forth all over them on their way to ooh and ahh at the sea stars? I asked about this at the Interpretive Center, and the naturalists assured me it was fine. I guess if the barnacles can withstand the crashing weight of monster waves during a February storm, they can withstand the piddling 118 pounds of yours truly.

I think I should wrap this up pretty soon, as I am getting very close to the critical mass of 1,000 words. But I must speak briefly about clam chowder and its importance to me.

When one is on vacation, one must eat and because I am always (always) on a quest to find excellent clam chowder (perhaps my very most favorite soup—New England [not the bastard Manhattan incarnation]), I decided to sample as many versions as I could while in Yachats. Since there were only about eight restaurants (counting a laundromat-pizza parlor hybrid), this was quite do-able in four days. I didn’t find the holy grail of clam chowders (bummer), but I did discover a great little place called the Drift Inn (cringe, shudder, wince at the unoriginality of the name). The food was no better than acceptable, but the conviviality factor was 10 out of 10. They had an excellent selection of local beers on tap (very important to moi) and live music every night. The first time I ate there there was a really outstanding jazz combo with a guy on reeds who played clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and soprano sax—not the clarinet-looking soprano sax vilified by Kenny G., but the kind that looks like a toy saxophone a kid might find in her/his Christmas stocking. I’ve never seen one of those before! They’re a bit ludicrous, I must say, but they have their place in the jazz idiom.

These jazzers were old guys who really knew their way around tunes like “Stella by Starlight” and “Cherokee.” I appreciate that so much. Remarkably, the singer was a young (20-something), stubby, geeky, bespectacled Trekkie-looking person who had (despite her youth and inexperience) a classic voice and spot-on phrasing. She was the daughter of the piano player it turns out. The band invited everyone in the restaurant to stay to the “bitter end” of their gig (9:00 PM--so not so difficult to pull off), and I most certainly did. Another great thing about the band was that all the people in it were local. Like most coast towns, Yachats has some big, depressing blot-on-the-landscape resort hotels that suck tourist dollars out of the community, while offering locals only crap dead-end maid and waiter jobs, and putting smaller, locally based operations out of business. Yuck. I refuse to give my money to places like that. So it's very nice to find a locally owned place that provides a venue for local people to do what they love and get paid for it.

OK, I’m ramping up for a rant, so I’d best stop before I’m off and running and you’ve got another 1,000 words to plow through.

BTW: If you’re interested in viewing a not-too-exhaustive slide show of pix (15 photos) click here. It will take about a minute of your time, I think, to view them all.

*I was later to see another bear on the trail, but from a much less worrisome distance.

**Those of you old enough (or Canadian enough) to remember the movie Strange Brew or Bob and Doug from "Second City TV" ("SCTV") will know exactly what my yodel sounded like and just how frightening it can be.

***OK. So the ranger didn’t actually specify the type of yodel. He just said to yodel if I saw a bear. Since I am here and alive and able to type this blog entry, I can testify that my yodel was extremely effective.


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