Leaving the Emerald Triangle



Three northern counties of California produce more cannabis than anywhere else in the US, gaining the region the name “the Emerald Triangle”. The Wall Street Journal has been covering the cannabis industry here since the 1970s, long before it was legal. We’ve spent the month of October in this gorgeous area. We head south this week, with regret, but it’s time to settle for the winter, and it’s a bit chilly here in the far North.

We’re in Eureka, CA, part of Humboldt County. Often the entire state north of Mendocino is called “Humboldt,” with an inflection and implicit eye roll, like “the back of beyond,” where all the crazy hippie growers live.

It is beautiful here, there are only 14 cases of Covid-19 in the entire county, and when you go for a walk on the beach or on a trail during the week, you are often alone. People are good about wearing masks on the street, at the Arcata Farmers Market, and in stores. The Farmers Market is really good and runs year round. All products come from within 50 miles, and yes, there’s a lot of squash, peppers, and tomatoes right now. (That’s a good thing.) We have not eaten out.

We haven’t visited all the places you can hike or walk along the shore. There are far more than can be covered in a month. However, here are a few highlights.

The best place to hunt for California agates in beach gravel: Big Lagoon County Park, Trinidad CA

My three favorite places for bird watching:

  1. Arcata Marsh, Arcata, CA–there are thousands of shorebirds that visit this area, and lots of trails.
Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, former farm outbuildings

2. Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, south of Eureka, CA. More trails and lots of birds. We’re still seeing migrating species, especially on the warmer, sunnier days.

Mad River County Park

3. Mad River County Park, near Loleta, CA includes a trail behind the dunes. Trees have grown into a kind of tunnel, and tiny warblers jump through the branches faster than you can aim your binoculars. The trail comes out on the beach, and we walked back along the shore. Fog had rolled in and we walked through ghostly gray light.

I don’t have a favorite place for walking on the beach–there are miles of beaches, dog-friendly, even horse-friendly. At the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, there are signs saying No Dogs, No Vehicles, No Runners (?). We’ve seen more deer in our yard than at any of the wildlife refuges, however.

We learned a bit about Frisbee Golf when we went for a walk in a park in Manila, CA that turned out to be a popular disc golf course.

I will miss it here. The past two weeks have been without rain and when you stand in the sun it is warm (60s). Nights are cold, but there has been no frost. There was a full moon/blue moon/Halloween moon on Saturday. It’s been perfect for being outdoors.

We took advantage of the drive south to get off Highway 101 and onto the Avenue of the Giants that winds among redwood forest for 31 miles. This was our initial cruise through the forest. On our next visit to Humboldt, we’ll stop at one of the many places where trails thread through the huge trees.

Not far beyond the Avenue of the Giants, we entered the familiar California environment, brown hillsides, patches of trees, and lots of irrigated grape vines.

We decided to avoid the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco, but got a look at the city as we drove by.

By this time, we were ready for a break, so we stopped in to see Lyra at her new apartment in Mountain View, and to meet her puppy, Pandora. Pandora was much smaller than she looked on Skype, and cute as can be. We hadn’t see Lyra since Christmas, and that was a pleasure, and a big relief. How we all want to hug our family members! We visited with Amanda and Jim in Eureka, and we wanted to see Lyra. We don’t know when we will get back to Illinois to see Lillian and Neil, or out to Syracuse, NY to see my mom. Family–in the flesh–is to be treasured these days.

After our break visiting Lyra and Pandora, we went on to our destination in Carmel, a lovely house tucked in on a side street only two blocks from downtown. Driving due south for eight hours had the positive result that it is a bit warmer, as well as less rainy. It should be a good month.

Eureka: Architecture and Art


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I was surprised by the range of interesting buildings in Eureka. There are large Victorian showplaces, classic California bungalows, even a few old Art Deco buildings. What I didn’t know when we arrived is that Eureka is home to an Old Town that preserves much of the late 19th century central part of the city, and the entire district is on the National Register of Historic Places. Here are a few of the lovely houses I saw, and some interesting quirky things.

The pinnacle of Victorian splendor in Eureka is the Carson Mansion, built by a lumber baron back when redwood was being shipped out of the forests at an incredible rate. This house has never been allowed to deteriorate, and is now a private club. You can apply on-line. https://www.ingomar.org/

Across the street from the Carson Mansion is the Pink Lady. This is a lovely big Victorian, but it did have a period of abandonment, and is now refurbished. This is a private home and was recently on the market, if you’re interested in living in a showplace in beautiful Eureka. It has a view of the water, too.

We passed this row of three restored houses. In addition to all having individual character and nice restoration, these are not huge mansions, they are a livable size, and yet have lovely ornamentation.

Victorian houses catch my eye, but they are not the only interesting places in Eureka. There are lots of bungalows, a single story with a front porch, sometimes with Craftsman touches. This one was particularly fine. There are lots of others. Not all of these are huge, many are a comfortable size.

I was surprised to see some older family-sized water towers. In addition to storing water, the raised tank increases water pressure.

Artists abound in the Humboldt region. These metal jellyfish hang under someone’s carport in Trinidad, CA.

Trinidad is a tiny community perched on headlands that project into the Pacific. The views are beautiful, and there are days when whales spout and dive just off shore.

In front of a cafe in Bayside, this large metal lady dances in the breeze.

Bayside is another tiny community tucked in between Eureka and Arcata. We avoided the highway for the short trip between the two towns when we went to the weekly, year-round farmer’s market in Arcata. We passed Bayside on the Old Arcata Road and always admired its cafe.

On Quaker St. in Eureka, there is a man who makes sculpture out of broken machinery, tools, and old car parts. He came out to chat with us and told us that his grandchildren have made the newer pieces.

There are lots of places that have chainsaw art, too, legacy of the redwood boom times, when you could have just about anything made of redwood.

This is only a fraction of the interesting houses and artworks we passed during our month in the north. There is a bubbling creativity that comes out in many places you wouldn’t suspect. Fences, gates, birdhouses, yard sculpture; there are lots of hidden pleasures to find.

Disaster: Let me count the ways

It’s probably no coincidence that I’ve been reading more and more fiction that presents disastrous alternative histories of the world, something we have all thought about in 2020. I began a few years ago wanting to read something by Margaret Atwood. I was put off by The Handmaid’s Tale (also didn’t get through it on TV). I ended up reading the three volume series that begins with Oryx and Crake. Others have followed, some good, some bad. Here are my thoughts. I’m not reviewing the books, just providing a quick summary of the disasters involved. I am intrigued by what disaster novels get right and what they ignore about the potential effects of apocalyptic change.

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

What happens? A disease kills all humans.

Who/what caused it? Not an attack from space, nor mutation of much-abused nature, the disease turns out to be invented and spread by a group of tech superstars who believe they are going to save the world. The founding characters all take the names of endangered species.

The group who “knew what was best” for humanity designed new beings who would not possess the regrets that seem to weigh down all humanity. The perpetrators inadvertently die along with most everyone else. Not everyone dies, and the new creatures are not everything that their creators might have wanted. The survivors are a random group.

The author gets right: If you introduce fatal disease into the world, you cannot dictate who gets it and who survives. The details of life in a completely deconstructed world are what you would expect, a combination of scavenging from the old, and a return to farming.

The author gets wrong: Would anyone have survived after such an event? If they survived the disease, wouldn’t they die of shock once they realized what had happened?

Is there a funny part in this apocalypse? Bouncing blue penises.

Worth reading? Yes. No one can predict the future, even tech stars.

The End of October, by Lawrence Wright

The Hajj, Mecca

What happens? An unknown virus causes a global pandemic. The book came out just as the Covid-19 lockdowns began. It seemed eerily predictive.

Who/What caused it? The source is unknown for much of the story, a virus that mutates to a deadly, rapidly spreading form.

Henry Parsons is the epidemiologist sent by the CDC to stop a new disease killing people in a refugee camp in Indonesia. By the time Henry arrives at the camp a taxi driver exposed to the illness has set off for Saudi Arabia to participate in the Hajj. Millions are infected, and world crisis sets in. The plot veers into preventing world war, more James Bond than real life.

The author gets right: Wright is absolutely correct in describing reactions to a pandemic, especially hoarding, panic, and some dramatic scenes of death.

The author gets wrong: In this story, children still attend school, certainly not happening in most places. Electricity, water, food, medical care still seem to be available, though overwhelmed in the active pandemic areas.

Is there a funny part? Not in this book.

Worth reading? If only to check out the author’s take on pandemic reactions and the ways he pegged what would happen in some situations and not in others.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

What happens? The complete collapse of civilization.

What caused it? 99% of the world’s population dies within a few months in a pandemic of unexplained origin.

First, TV goes off, then the internet blanks out, then electricity, then running water. Gasoline and aviation fuel last a few years, but survivors mostly find one another by walking from place to place, scavenging the houses of the dead. The book follows The Traveling Symphony, a group who live by bringing excerpts of Shakespeare and classical music to tiny communities that have survived. They travel in horse drawn refashioned pickup trucks

Entertaining? Survival shifts from looting the homes of the dead to farming and hunting. One man develops The Museum of Civilization, a case full of electronic devices that used to function.

Frightening? When a self-appointed prophet appears, he and his followers rapidly go from intoning bible verses to brainwashing their community. From there they begin taking hostages to exchange for whatever they want, mostly ammunition and wives for the prophet. The ruthlessness of the group who believes they are “the light”, and everyone else is “the dark” is terrifying.

The author gets right: The Traveling Symphony, with the motto, “survival is not enough” is charming, something that I hope would happen after a total collapse. They scout empty school buildings for musical instruments.

The helplessness of people who have lived in a city their entire life is probably accurate. At the abandoned airport where much of the story takes place, there are actresses, copywriters, and salesmen, but no engineers, mechanics, or farmers to help get the community restarted.

The author gets wrong: There is a lot that is glossed over. Life would probably be more nasty, brutish, and short than this novel indicates in a world without antibiotics, surgery centers, or police. There are no roving bands of thugs. People begin to cooperate very early on, and after one man is ejected from the community (for rape), there doesn’t seem to be much intra-community strife.

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal

What happens? In 1952, most of the US government and a lot of the East coast of the US is destroyed an asteroid. After a few years of nuclear winter, Earth is going to heat until the seas boil and all human life is destroyed.

What caused it? An asteroid unexpectedly hits earth, landing on Washington, DC, Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.

In this scenario, the world has some time, a generation or two, to get to the moon and establish a colony before Earth becomes uninhabitable.

Entertaining? One of the best things about this story is the author’s effort to incorporate the racism and prejudice of the 1950s and suggest how disaster could have steered the world toward greater equity. There are no computers or other electronics apart from the space program, where women “computers” are indispensable. Women pilots have trouble breaking into the corps of astronauts, and women of color have even greater difficulty, but change begins.

Frightening? The premise of the book, a meteor landing in the ocean, is an unlikely event, but it would indeed make the world uninhabitable.

The author gets right: People cope with the nuclear winter, but when it begins to warm again, they get comfortable and lose interest in the space program, despite the countdown to when everyone will die. This sounds like the present reaction to global warming.

The author gets wrong: There is a crater in place of Washington, DC, and the only living member of Congress and the cabinet is the Secretary of Agriculture, who takes over as President. The power came back on pretty quickly in the surviving areas for such a huge disaster.

The Last Policeman, Countdown City, and World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters

Earth being hit by a planet killing meteorite

What happens? Scientists predict earth will be hit by an asteroid in just over a year.The world goes crazy, reacting to the inevitable impact with everything from denial to preemptive suicide (“jumpers”).

Who/what caused it?  It’s the universe.

Entertaining? Henry Palace, the “last policeman,” can’t seem to help himself when someone asks for the answer to a puzzling question. Everyone around him assumes that people who disappear have gone awol or crazy, while Henry gets on his bicycle and goes to find out.

Frightening? In a chilling scene, Henry visits the coast on one of his quests, and finds ocean liners filled with refugees approaching the US. (The estimated impact zone is in Malaysia/Indonesia.) News reports refugees being welcomed, but Henry sees the Navy sinking the ships and firing on survivors in the water.

At the end of Countdown City, the water supply, the last of public utilities to keep functioning, finally stops. I won’t spoil it for you, but the result is not good.

The Author Gets Right: Lots of people do crazy things when they know they are going to die in the near future. Lots of people keep doing what they normally do, because they can’t think of what else to do. Not everyone wants to go gamble away their savings, or dance on top of a bar.

The Author Gets Wrong: The power goes out, yet food still arrives in huge trucks. A few people secretly cobble together what’s left of the internet via generators. Gasoline disappears, yet buses occasionally speed down the highway taking people to places they believe might allow them to survive. Henry’s sister stops by in a helicopter. There’s a lot that doesn’t seem likely.

The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth

What happens? The US stays out of WWII and veers into Fascism and anti-Semitism, with suggestions of even worse to follow.

Who/What caused it? Charles Lindbergh gets elected instead of FDR.

In this reimagining of history, Lindbergh is depicted as a Nazi sympathizer, though toward the end it’s suggested that the Nazis may have been holding his child (thought dead after abduction as an infant) as a hostage.

Entertaining?     Yes, Roth deftly takes history on a dark detour and just when things are going to get very bad, and Jews may be sent to re-education or prison camps, Roth backs down. He gets history back on track with the unexpected disappearance of Lindbergh (suicide, murder, plane crash) and the election of Eisenhower. The story outlines a brush with disaster, that is averted just as quickly as it began, and sets history back on track.

Frightening?   It’s an excellent alternative history, and you can put the  group of your choice in place of the Jewish community that Roth uses as the government’s target, and the results are still scary to contemplate. For this scenario to happen, politicians have to be utterly unscrupulous, following the person in power but disavowing all his proposed (truly terrible) policies once he’s gone. (Sound familiar?) The ease with which oppression builds and then ebbs away should scare you.

The author gets right: How quickly neighbors turn their backs on each other to protect their own families. He’s got blustering, know-nothing politicians down pretty well. The shift to toadying from normal White House activity is eerily familiar these days, though the book was published in 2004.

The author gets wrong: The happy ending, if there is one, is that the US goes back to normal as soon as Lindbergh is gone and Eisenhower is elected. Would terrible policies be swept away along with a bad president? Will they?

Leaves crunch, and I smell Autumn



Californians don’t pay much attention to fall as a season of the year. In the south, it’s the time when the heat abates–the palm trees don’t change color. In the Bay Area, a bit more fog comes in, but there’s not a seasonal shift to speak of.

As in many things, northern California is different. The leaves on cottonwoods and aspens turn yellow, pale orange, and silvery beige, blinking in the breeze. At first, while bird watching, we mistook the occasional falling leaf for a bird, starting, and turning our binoculars on the spot. A week later, so many leaves are falling that we aren’t so easily fooled.

Autumn in Northern California

I’ve been enjoying the changing leaves because they remind me of fall colors in the Eastern US where I grew up. Out for a walk on a recent sunny day, the breeze ruffled some leaves while others crunched underfoot releasing their woodsy scent. There are few more pleasurable moments at this time of year. I know the coming months will bring fog and rain, but for now this is an idyllic time of sounds and smells that remind me of autumn days gone by.

The fires have died down in the northern part of California. As soon as the air quality improved, everyone stopped monitoring the fires. There may still be fires, but they are out of sight and out of mind. When there is a sunny day on the weekend, every park fills with cars, as everyone who was cooped up by the pandemic and the smoke emerges to soak up some sun and breeze before winter sets in.

We are in the right place to see fall migrating birds, especially the warblers that are making their way south for the winter. As the leaves fall and the thickets become transparent, we can see tiny birds hopping from branch to branch once again. We spotted warblers in the spring, and all summer we’ve been tantalized by their tiny chirps, though they’ve been impossible to see. It’s fun to have them back.

One tree after another

Northern California has many environments. The famous Redwood National and State Parks harbor what is left of redwood forests. Redwood groves are dark even during the day, the trees so tall that sunlight rarely hits the ground. The trees lend a solemnity to the woods, blanketing everything in broad branches. The immensity of a mature redwood is difficult to appreciate. We’ve seen the stumps of trees cut down in the 1890s that are enormous. Again, it’s difficult to envision how such huge trunks could be hauled from the forest and moved to a sawmill. How could sawmills handle such giant logs?

The primeval-seeming redwood forests are not far from the coast, and make a dramatic contrast with the sandy beaches and rocky headlands. The coast provides wind, sun, and dunes, a sharp counterpoint to the dark green shaded stillness of the redwood forest. Our bird watching thickets are a bit of transition between the two.

There is another surprising environment here, coastal marshland. We are very near the Arcata Marsh. We knew there would be birds from what we read and our experiences in this kind of wetland. We were not prepared for Arcata, where we have seen hundreds and hundreds of shorebirds that normally we see in ones and twos. This has been a wonderful experience, getting to see species that are unusual for us in large numbers, having a chance to look at birds for as long as we want rather than getting a brief glimpse before they fly off. There are long-billed curlews, marbled godwits, long billed dowitchers, sanderlings, and various sandpipers. We took part in October Big Day, a bird counting day, and spent some time counting and recording birds at the marsh. We plan to go back now that it is one of our favorite places.



We have no permanent home in the US, and for the past six months, we’ve worked our way across the country until we arrived in Eureka, CA, where our oldest daughter and her fiance live, and where we can walk along the Pacific Ocean again. It was almost a coast-to-coast drive.

Starting in Chicago in April, we first went east to Lake Erie (to collect beach glass), when we were still reeling from the collapse of eight months of carefully planned travel in Europe. We already had our October reservation in Eureka, CA back when we thought we’d be landing at LAX on Oct. 1. As each month rolled over and yet another Airbnb property could be cancelled, we moved slowly across the US, making the best of the disaster.

Beach glass

In Ohio, there was wonderful beachcombing, and my brother and sister-in-law came from Syracuse for a socially-distanced visit just before New York required 14-day quarantine for doing such a thing.

In Minnesota, we rode on our host’s pontoon boat on the Mississippi.

Pileated woodpecker

On our way to Montana, we spent a night in Devils Lake, ND with dear friends from our old days in Southwest archaeology.

While we were in Montana, we visited the US/Canada border, and I swam in ice-cold water. I canned a dozen quarts of pie cherries and saw the woodpecker of my dreams. That’s in addition to Glacier National Park, and a lot of glorious wilderness.

A sunny day at the beach in Oregon.

In Oregon, my sister Paula and her partner came to visit. They stayed in their Airstream in the local RV resort and we tried to stay apart. (No hugs.)

We were fortunate that the weather was good enough for us all to stay outdoors. We may not have practiced ideal social distancing, but we wore masks and sat separately.

After every family visit, we went into seclusion for two weeks or more, since we have no one else to see, and we don’t go to restaurants. We shop for groceries, and we have occasionally had to do something else, like make a xerox copy for one of my monthly medical appointments. Jonathan goes into fish stores, mostly to buy crab. I don’t go in.

I fell off the shopping wagon once in Astoria, OR and got a new shirt, as both of my others with long sleeves are now frayed at the collar. I prefer in-person shopping for clothing, and resale/vintage stores particularly.

This week we crossed the finish line of our westward travels, arriving in Eureka, CA with our Prius loaded as full as we want it to get. We could see out the rear window, but not all of the rear window…..

Jim, Reggie, Amanda, & Hairy on a special occasion.

Just as we finished unloading the car here in Eureka, Amanda and Jim and their two tiny dogs came for a visit. We can’t really make a bubble because Jim has to go to the office in order to work. He’s not particularly exposed to people in his job, but it’s not the definition of a bubble.

We’re going to make the best of it, and enjoy seeing family in person, even if it’s from a safe distance.

Our home in the redwoods this month.

Eureka! We made it.

The Devil’s Churn, Spouting Horn, Thor’s Well: Splashing our way south


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About halfway down the Oregon coast, the beaches become fewer in number, the headlands become higher, and the offshore rocks more frequent. The highway clings to the headlands and crosses inlets and rivers on a series of bridges built in the 1920s and 30s. Driving along, we’re barely aware of how difficult it was to get this road in place, with its narrow spots, twists, and turns.

Offshore rocks and shoreline phenomena all have names. Otter rock, Seal rocks, Sea lion rocks. We passed rocks that look like whales, or the fin of a monster shark lurking just below the surface. We stopped at the Devil’s Churn, the Spouting Horn, Thor’s Well, and the Devil’s Punchbowl. There are many others.

We began at Smelt Sands, where strong waves and high tide created a huge plume.

Blowhole at Smelt Sands

The Devil’s Churn was more difficult to see. It’s a narrow inlet where the water swirls and crashes.

The Devil’s Churn

The Spouting Horn is a blowhole that puts up a cloud of spray when the tide is coming in. We visited at a good time.

The Spouting Horn

The Devil’s Punchbowl is a collapsed cave. Water rushes in and out, echoing with each rush of the waves.

The Devil’s Punchbowl

Last, and possibly most intriguing of the formations we saw was Thor’s Well. This is a hole that fills with the tide, then sinks, making it look like the ocean is draining away. It’s not large, and is unmarked, along the shore near the Spouting Horn. We looked for a while and finally found it, watching the water sink straight down, then fill with the next wave. It’s in the back of the video near the water line, you need to look carefully to see it. Watch the water sink down into the hole, and refill from the next wave. THE VIDEO LOOKS SIDEWAYS BUT PLAYS PROPERLY. Click to have a look.

Thor’s Well

Last but not least, there’s nothing like a nice, big splash.

A big crash on the rocks.

Oregon’s Coastal Forests


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We arrived in Oregon in the dry season (summer solstice to fall equinox) and are here for the change to the wet season (the rest of the year). Already, walking in the forest after a few downpours reveals a different kind of forest, full of huge trees, moss-covered branches, sprouting mushrooms, ferns, and vines. The deep greens, the lush growth, and the tall, straight trunks aimed for the sky, are a complete contrast to the arid lands we’ve chosen to live in for the past several years.

We’ve found a few sections of old growth forest. In these places, there are a few huge trees and some spectacular trunks of trees cut down long ago. These forests remind me of a book I read a long time ago, Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey.

The forests are cool and damp, with a special smell that combines pine needles, wet sand, mud, and freshly washed air. The atmosphere is peaceful, the paths are springy underfoot. It’s a wonderful place to spend some time.

A smoke-shortened month



Wednesday Sept. 9, I first noted smoke as part of our day. We continued to spend time outdoors as we learned about the AQI (air quality index) and began following it as closely as we do Covid-19 stats. We tried to go out at first, but the air was yellowish with smoke. Oregon’s terribly destructive forest fires are not near us, but the smoke cast a pall over the entire west coast from San Diego to Seattle.

Ecola State Park in the smog

Two days later, we knew we had to stay indoors all day. I had an eye appointment in Portland, but that involved ducking out of the car and into the office, then reversing the process. The days were still and smog-filled. If the sun was visible, it was a pale yellow circle, flat and distant. There was almost no wind at all, when normally the wind always blows, everyone setting up their windbreaks on the beach. The smog hung all around us. After five straight days spent indoors or in the car, we were pretty tired of the inside of our (cute, but small) house, reading books, cooking, cleaning, doing crosswords, and looking at each other. Daily fluctuations in the AQI only go so far in the world of entertainment. Finally, it began to rain and the air became breathable.

More than a week later, it was finally safe to go out, and we celebrated with a trip to Hug Point, where I found a piece of beach glass (surely a good omen), and we saw mussels of a good size for eating. Only Oregon residents can get a permit to collect these treasures of the sea, so I advised my sister Paula to get a permit before she arrived. We collected mussels, Jonathan cleaned them, then they steamed in white wine and garlic. We added salad and french bread, accompanied by more wine, and imagined ourselves in Brussels or Paris.

While we were sheltering from the smoke, the dry season in Oregon appears to have ended, and today there are strong winds and lots of rain. If it lets up we’ll go out, but if not we’ll be indoors once more, this time prisoners of the pelting rain and wind.

When it’s good, it’s really, really good, and the days we’ve been able to get outdoors have been priceless. Haystack Rock is the landmark of Cannon Beach, OR, but as we walk or drive south, we’ve visited Silver Point, Humbug Point, Hug Point, and we’re still going. There are beautiful offshore rocks and long beaches.

One day, we skipped over a long stretch of coast to visit Tillamook, famous for dairy products. The line to get into the factory store proved to be too long for us, and we continued out to the coast to visit Short Beach, a wonderful beach full of driftwood and waterfalls. It is also a beach that people visit with buckets. When we inquired from the third group that passed us, we found that Short Beach is a place that is popular for hunting agates.

We have made the best of our outdoor days. With luck, the rain will let up and we’ll get back outside before the month ends and it’s time to move on.

Labor Day with Mother Nature



I did not expect to swim during our stay in Cannon Beach, OR. The water is frigid, colder than the Pacific off Peru, and very nearly as cold as the water in our pond in Montana. Today, though, I was happy to wade, because it is unusually hot here. When my feet lost feeling from the cold, I retreated, feeling cooler.

It’s the third day of unexpected midsummer weather. The average high temperature this time of year is about 70o (21o), so we didn’t worry about not having air conditioning. Oops! Fortunately, our bedroom is on the main floor and stays cool, but we’ve got the doors and windows open, fan on, and it’s still pretty warm until after sunset.

Yesterday, the sky was reddish from the smoke of forest fires that’s blown to the coast, the sun a puny disk of orange. Other places, like a lot of California, are worse, as the forest fires are larger and closer to cities, but the smell of smoke hanging in the air, the film of gray on everything, and the heat are oppressive.

The entire west coast of the US is under a similar cloud this month, and it may get worse. Global warming is getting in our faces, and it’s not going anywhere until life changes or we die out. That’s a grim thought, but anyone who is looking out the window at an orange sky and red sun can understand where my gloom comes from. We keep ignoring the warming climate and now Los Angeles has hit 121o (49o). What will come next?

We succeeded in escaping the smoke by visiting Ft. Stevens State Park in Astoria, OR. The park covers most of the spit of land that extends along the Columbia River into the Pacific Ocean, the northwesternmost point of Oregon. The park has huge beaches, and even though there is an extensive construction project going on in one area, there is plenty of room for walking and birdwatching. We caught a glimpse of a coyote by the construction. I was able to take a photo while the animal reconsidered his route that was blocked by a chain-link fence.

Despite it being Labor Day, we passed only a handful of people. We found a scenario left behind by a previous visitor (below). There was a lot less smoke in the air than we found in Cannon Beach when we got home in the afternoon.

NW Montana to the Oregon Coast


Day One: Fortine, MT to Ritzville, WA

Car packed and house searched for last minute items left in nooks and crannies, we left Fortine, Montana, passing the local On The Fly Cafe for the last time. We started north, through Eureka, then turned west to Lake Koocanusa, where we turned south–no trip is a straight line in the mountains.

Morning mist was just rising off the mountains, and though the sky looked threatening, we had no rain. The lake was a pattern of shimmering silver disks, reflecting the gray sky.

Our route across NW Montana crossed the Kootenai National Forest, as beautiful a drive as ever through the tall pines. We drove via Libby, formerly a mining town, now a superfund site with some impressive murals of local wildlife, then the road headed north again. Crossing into Idaho we drove a strange stretch through the panhandle, passing a tremendous number of rail lines full of freight trains mostly sitting still. Was it the Covid19 decrease in commerce, or a bottleneck on the line?

Libby, MT grizzly mural

North Idaho is also home to some very large auto scrapyards. Huge, even. There were hundreds of cars spread across fields. Some had a few choice older vehicles lined up by the gate (school bus yellow Camaro, anyone?). Stretching into the distance were rows of increasingly distressed cars, trucks, and farm machinery.

We turned south once again, and headed for Spokane, coming out of the mountains into rolling hills that rapidly flattened out where we picked up the interstate. Suddenly, we were surrounded by wheat fields to the horizon.

By mid-afternoon we arrived at the Best Western Bronco Inn, in Ritzville, WA. We were tired from the long day, and had a picnic dinner in our room. Jonathan was pleased to find the “Grass Station”, next door to the motel, and paid a visit to check on their inventory. (NB: Bronco logo from motel appears over the Grass Station.

Day Two: Ritzville, WA to Cannon Beach, OR

The fields of wheat accompanied us south to the WA/OR border, but things changed when we crossed the Columbia River. The highway follows the river from Umatilla all the way to Portland, along the shore and past the Dalles, the Columbia River Gorge, and the Lake Bonneville Dam and power plant. Rock formations loom over the highway,

We stopped to picnic in a park along the roadside just east of the Columbia Gorge. The day was beautiful and we enjoyed the break from driving. After that, we made a beeline for Cannon Beach. Traffic through Portland didn’t slow us down at all, and we arrived at our new home in the late afternoon. A quick shopping trip to the grocery store around the corner and we could stop moving for a while. We can see the ocean from our living room. Ahhh!