The historic lighthouse and Coastguard station at the mouth of the Coquille River in Bandon.
Not every man gets to go to Corinth: so states Horace in one of his Epistles, by which he meant it was not the lot of every person to enjoy fully the pleasures of life, since Corinth was associated with luxury and fine living. This past weekend Lori and I had the pleasure, metaphorically speaking, of enjoying the pleasures of Corinth, not in Greece, but on the coast of southern Oregon and northern California. However the gods, being envious of any who are as happy as themselves, did not let our happiness pass by them without a gentle reminder that we are but mortals, and, as Pindar states, “we are what the day gives us”.
A near disaster that, somehow, we averted, hit the farm on our way out of town. It has been too warm for the trees to defoliate yet this season, and, unfortunately, we got smacked by an ice storm – bad enough even when the trees have lost their leaves and their branches struggle against the freezing rain, which is more typical in December or January. Our maples, oaks, and fruit trees groaned under the burden, but somehow, for the most part, weathered the assault okay, though some of our favorite oaks snapped and lost large branches. The freeze hit on Thursday – in downtown Sheridan and places on the valley floor things were fine. But go 320 feet up our hill and they were not. The trees were still held in their prison of ice when Lori and I left the farm for our little three night jaunt, leaving Nancy in charge.
It was a rather hair-raising way to start our first substantial (substantial (!) – we were away for three nights!) time off the farm in two and a half years. I had promised Lori a trip to the southern coast of Oregon, where we had never been, and then down to the redwoods as a treat for our 29th anniversary. Driving through the coast range was not bad, however, and by the time we emerged on the coast at Lincoln City the temperatures were warm and the roads clear.
The view of the vineyard next door on ice!
A decorative plum groans under its burden.
Our garden under ice.
We continued down to Bandon – Lori had never been further south than Florence, parallel to Eugene, and I had never been further south than Bandon itself, parallel to Roseburg. I had taken a day trip to Bandon during sabbatical in 2009 from Yachats (where Lori and I spent a week while she was on business), and was so taken by the lovely stones on the beach from the Coquille (pronounced ko-kwel) River that I wanted to show Lori the place. We so liked the old town and the little port with its docks, restaurants and shops that we decided to stay there our full three nights and use it as a base from which to drive the rest of the coast and the redwoods. The first afternoon when we arrived we walked the beach near the jetty, collecting beautiful, small polished river stones. That evening we scoped out on a map the best way to get to the redwoods and decided that rather than try to drive all the way to Eureka and Humbolt that we would visit Jedediah Smith Park near Crescent City, which is only two hours or so away from Bandon in northern California.
Bandon Beach at twilight.
The trip down the coast was stunning. The capes and headlands, particularly around Port Orford, Gold Beach, and Brookings, were spectacular. Port Orford is in fact the oldest town on the Oregon coast, and one of only six dolly ports in the world where they launch the vessels by crane. The capes around Port Orford, including Cape Blanco, have amazing vistas of the coastline, with enormous Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs, with also a number of historic lighthouses along the way. While on the north coast there are some great places to see where the mountains plunge into the Pacific – Tillamook Head, Ecola Park, Mt. Neakani and the Nehalem Bay area, down south the vistas are legion, as are the bays that form at the mouths of some formidable rivers – the Alsea, Siuslaw, Coquille, the Umpqua, the Rogue, the list seems to go on and on; some, such as the Coos and Coquille, form magnificent estuaries teeming with birds, shellfish, fish, and seals and sea lions. Then there are the numerous capes that form large bays, such as Cape Blanco and Cape Arago – many dotted with historic lighthouses, which can also be found at the mouths of some of the rivers in the area.
Bandon Beach on a late afternoon in November.
Cape Arago is a place of particular magnificence. Much of the land was purchased in the 19th century by a lumber baron family named Simpson, and the family ultimately donated it to the state of Oregon to be a part of Oregon’s contiguous publicly owned coastline (there are no private beaches or coastline in Oregon, it is all open to public access). Their estate on Cape Arago is now a public park, which includes a gorgeously designed botanical garden that was a part of the property surrounding their original summer house (really a mansion – though certainly not of the scale one would find in, say, Newport Rhode Island). The cape itself is protected by a large reef (aptly named Simpson Reef) and it is one of the best places, because of the gentle slope of the reef that emerges out of the ocean, to see sea lions of all sorts, including elephant seals. In fact, the first notable thing one notices when one gets out of the car at the state park is their barking. We hiked a four-mile trail there that includes a walk through stately and gnarled Hemlocks, Douglas firs, and Sitka spruce, before emerging up one of the bluffs that overlooks the reefs and the hordes of sea mammals inhabiting it.
A view of Simpson reef on Cape Arago on a pleasant November day.
Looking south from Cape Arago.
The view just north of Simpson’s Reef.
A general view of Shore Acres, what used to be the Simpson’s mansion and gardens.
A general view of the gardens from the gardener’s cottage towards the ocean.
The pond in the Japanese Gardens at Shore Acres.
A view of the mansion with its grand trees standing as sentries.
Our trip to the redwoods was equally remarkable. We headed down to the Smith River region to Jedediah Smith State Park, and the trees in the park were breathtaking to say the least, and, in fact, the place defies description. I had never seen trees of that size or age, or, for that matter, a forest so unspoiled or an organism so vast. We drove the seven or eight mile road through the park, and walked the short but majestic Stout Grove trail. One of the redwoods in the grove, by my measurement, was at least 60 feet in circumference. Majestic; prehistoric; spiritual; primordial; magical; transcendent; august; I am not sure I could find the adjectives to describe a thing so vast and ancient and alive all at once. It was a deep privilege to wander in a forest and realize that some of the trees came into being during the reign of the first Roman emperor.
In front of one of the trees on the road through Jedediah Smith to Crescent City.
The root systems on these suckers are impressive to say the least!
Resting against the gnarls of a gargantuan redwood.
Lori hiding from the potential ambush by a Cretaceous dinosaur!
Lori poses next to a tree on the road to Crescent City.
One of the surprises of the trip: two restaurant finds in Bandon. One night we went to Alloro, a place that adverts itself as a wine bar but is in fact a full restaurant. Lori had a lovely plate of oysters on the half-shell with a spiced cucumber salsa and a grilled pork chop on top of sautéed spinach in a very fine sauce, while I had duck confit empanadas and steelhead grilled with a panko horseradish crust on top of a crab stuffed crepe. We enjoyed a fine bottle of Witness, a superlative 2011 Pinot Noir from the Eola Hills reminiscent of a Sangiovese. Dessert was excellent – Lori had a luscious apple tart topped with a crisply sour Granny Smith sorbet, and I had panna cotta in an orange glaze with carmalized bananas and star anise short bread with a limoncello on the side. The next night we went to a lovely place called The Loft. It was arguably better than Alloro by just a notch. We shared appetizers of grilled baby octopus on top of mashed Yukon golds and lamb sliders – spiced lamb in a lovely puff pastry crust. Lori had a great entrée of salmon grilled with porcinis and pumpkin croquette, and I had a wonderful goat cheese tart topped with beets, smoked salmon, and local greens. For libation we enjoyed a 2012 Elk Cove Pinot Noir. Dessert we shared once again – this time we had crème brulee and a chocolatini – a martini of vodka, Godiva chocolate liquor, and Bailey’s.
Okay, so you can tell my priorities: a medium paragraph on Cape Arago, a brief one on the redwoods, and a longer one on what we ate! For lunch we also hit some seafood shacks that were quite nice, and one day the weather was so beautiful that we sat outside and enjoyed a beer with a crab sandwich. It would have been perfect, except that (and here’s a good one for a slice of life) the table next to us was occupied by two old guys who, we suspect, were drug dealers or aging porn stars who were apparently accompanied by four prostitutes/porn stars – don’t ask how we came to that conclusion, you had to be there!
On the way home we stopped by Local Ocean in Newport, a seafood market/restaurant in the old part of the city on the docks that has a cream of crab soup that is worth a day drive from Sheridan. We also had a fine plate of mixed Yaquina Bay and Willapa Bay oysters on the half-shell. That was our parting shot on the road home to celebrate the 17th of November, the day 29 years ago when Lori first saw the Oregon Coast on our honeymoon. Too full to get in the car after lunch, we strolled the docks for about 20 minutes, accompanied by the barking of tens if not hundreds of sea lions that inhabit the docks around the fishing boats.
Lori peruses the sea lions on the docks at Newport.
The trip was one that cleared the head and raised the heart. However it also filled me with a tinge of regret. Knowing the north coast so well for many years, it made me realize that we had really missed something never visiting the south coast. But we also left with a certain sense of excitement and exhilaration: Bandon is just over four hours away, and the south coast is close enough and rich enough for us to look forward, if the gods and fates will it, to exploring and enjoying its spectacular beauty for many years to come. Back to Corinth.