Two forces of nature collided this Labor Day weekend at Long Beach, Washington. One was Homo americanus vacationalis, an unstable force yet one known to be almost unstoppable. The other was a storm front with a wicked left hook that, thanks to increasingly reliable weather forecasting technology, we saw coming.
In a word, it was really, really windy for most of the weekend, at least on the beach. The exceptions were the evening we arrived and the morning we left. Last time we went to the ocean, Mara was two and afraid of the surf. Imagine my shock, then, when we arrived Friday and she ran out into the tide so quickly that I was hard put to keep up with her. She’s got a thing for water. The evening was mild and the ocean was surprisingly warm. We had a good splash (Mara actually fell face-forward into the briny trying to outrun a particularly vigorous surge). But the clouds were already coming in.
We got soaked the next morning walking into town to sniff out some French toast, but it cleared up later and we had a short wagon-ride around town pulled by a big blond horse named Benny (free! courtesy of Long Beach). We went to the beach that afternoon, hoping to build sand castles in the sun, but the wind was up and the whole beach seemed to be adrift at the level of about six inches above the ground. As soon as we sat down and applied ourselves to the business of castle construction, the sand blew up into our eyes and ears. Not fun.
Penny, the wonderful character who ran our little motel (Discovery Coast Cottage Inn) told us she’d heard from someone that there was to be a public bonfire up the coast in Ocean Park that night at 7pm. We weren’t told exactly where it was, but that it would be off the main beach access road. It was already dark when we got up to Ocean Park at 8 o’clock and I took the first “beach access” road I saw. We found a bonfire blazing in the salty darkness, but by the time we got close we could see that this looked like a private affair. By then, however, this group of parents and children were squinting through the dark to identify us, and I thought it would be rude to suddenly sheer off after alarming them, so I said we were looking for the public bonfire. They were indeed a private group, but they were so thrilled at our serendipitous arrival that they practically threw ropes around us. They moved over, sat us down by their fire and pushed marshmallows and sharp sticks into our hands. They were a church group — actually a subgroup from a megachurch in Portland, and favored us with that kind of Christian sharing that no doubt flummoxed Roman tax assessors of the first century. When we rose to go, one of the women wrangled an arm around Angela and lassoed their heads close together and started praying at high speed. I stepped back, fearing they would be consumed in a scorching holy fire, but Angela, who always accepts such things at face value and does not globalize and cross-reference with stereotypes and past experience as readily as I do , received this woman’s blessing as the earnest gift from one human heart to another and was deeply moved by the experience. We thanked them all for their hospitality and we exited the warm and cozy ring of firelight. Mara was eager to tell Penny that we’d found “the right people at the wrong bonfire”.
Sunday we drove down to the North Head lighthouse, which according to Coast Guard regulations disallowed anyone under the age of 7 from taking the tour that ascends the winding metal stairway to the belfry attic balc top part. A six-year-old was coming away from the lighthouse in unconsolable sobs as we arrived. Mara took it well. We just stuck our tongues out at the place as we left (I’m kidding). It was actually one of our funner outings even though (and in part because) the wind and rain pelted the place briefly while we were there. It’s one of the windiest places in the United States. This is just north of the infamous and daunting Columbia Bar, and the sea floor out in front of this light is littered with the bones of shipwrecks. More than 2,000 ships have biffed along the Long Beach coast over the centuries. In a gale just four years ago, the 350-foot barge Millicoma was being towed into the river mouth when it snapped its steel tow cable and wound up on the rocks right below the lighthouse.
Later that day after a ride on the carousel, a turn in the go carts and a rousing game of putt-putt golf, we gave the beach another try, but it was still windy, cloudy and cold, so we retreated to our little motel room for the night.
Some interesting or uninteresting additional bits:
Laurie’s (on 43rd, just south of Chico’s Pizza, technically in Seaview) won our best breakfast award. For good reason, the line is out the door. They stop seating at 12:45pm, so go early. The no-frills French toast was unbeatable. Benson’s did a good job with the basics, too, but I made the mistake of ordering razor clams there, and it seems that the only thing restaurateurs in that neck of the woods know to do with seafood is bread it and deep fry it. The clams at Benson’s were tough. To blow your dinner budget, go to the 42nd Street Cafe in Seaview, across from Laurie’s. We splurged on the rockfish special and the jambalaya and didn’t regret it.
Though Long Beach is not upscale Cannon Beach (which, if I would say you sooth, we’d prefer if it was closer), there are a lot of nice touches that announce that Long Beach as a community cares about how it presents itself. There are little cultural mosaics in the sidewalks (woman in bark canoe, cranberry harvest, etc.), sculptures everywhere, and well-tended flower boxes all the way from the town to the beach along Bolstad Avenue.
Long Beach calls itself the “World’s Longest Beach”. As Herodotus was fond of saying, “I don’t know whether or not this is true, but this is what they say.”