Letter from Elk City
ELK CITY, Ore. – Writers have always had an affinity for places, or for a sense of place, if you will.
Ernest Hemingway wrote once that once you enter a room with which you were once familiar all the associations and feelings and emotions of what happened in that room will come flooding back to you.
Somerset Maugham said basically the same thing in his story Red. He said places where people have put their emotions continue to hold and convey those same emotions to others who visit there.
The Kiowa writer, M. Scott Momaday, speaks of the “blood memory” that his people had for their ancestral lands and how they carry a picture of that place within their genetic memory.
The writer Simon Schama says basically the same thing of land and people and how, no matter how many years or even generations people are removed from their ancestral homes, they have an affinity for such places.
Those are all the same sorts of feelings that I have when I visit certain places on the Oregon coast. As soon as I step onto the beach, feelings and associations and remembrances of years ago come flooding back. Some people may ask why relive the past. I ask why try to forget something that still seems good and real and true. And that’s why I return to those places again and again.
Two such places for me would be Cape Lookout State Park and Pacific City, both in Tillamook County on the Oregon Coast. Both places give me fond memories of earlier times, and those same feelings return when I revisit the beach there.
Cape Lookout State Park is not far off Highway 101 south of Tillamook. You just take the cape road west of Tillamook and follow the signs.
Cape Lookout State Park includes a golden crescent of sand that arcs to the south to Cape Lookout, a peak often shrouded by clouds. Seagulls flit constantly over the rocks and the roar of ocean surf is a constant lullaby that sends you off to sleep at night.
It’s very easy to start walking the beach and never stop. Distances are distorted, and a walk of two or three miles can seem like just a few steps. It’s when you’re tired, though, that you finally start to realize how far you have gone – and then you have to walk all the way back.
I can’t say enough about the sound of the ocean at Cape Lookout. If you ever get a chance to go there, try to get a camping spot near the ocean. For me, that ocean sound at night is the main reason to go there.
So what does one eat at night? Go to the wharf and find the biggest salmon you can find and start a fire. Once you have a good bed of wood coals, preferably cedar, grill your salmon and make a side of wild rice and be sure to add a side salad of leaf lettuce. If you enjoy wine, try a bottle of Willamette Valley chardonnay with your meal.
After dinner, take that interminably long walk along the beach as the ocean drinks up the sun, ray by ray, until it’s gone.
I visited Pacific City for the fourth time this last trip. Each time I am amazed how much the town has developed.
I remember fondly back to 1984 when there were about three or four homes along the beach – small cottages, really. I also remember when The Dunes, an old World War II aircraft hangar converted into a dance hall, welcomed visitors to the beach.
Those were still the days when Pacific City was a relatively unknown spec on the map, a backwater off the beaten path.
Now, condos and homes sprawl right up to the sea wall (which wasn’t there in 1984). The Dunes was long ago razed. The beach, once nearly vacant, is still not terribly overfilled which makes it a good place to walk and collect your thoughts and enjoy the feel of the sand giving way as the tide rolls back to sea. In May and June the water is still cold so you will probably only be able to go in up to your knees unless you like the chilling cold. Even that is alright though if you can warm yourself on the beach and listen to the gulls – and the ocean – bleat and roar endlessly as though there will be no tomorrow.
And that’s why I go there again and again.