Road report: Down the coast…

It’s 55 degrees F and foggy in Fort Bragg, California, this morning, and it feels very much like fall. Word has it that we’ve had some rain at home, and the first snow is dusting the high peaks. The seasons are changing in Richard’s and my life too, and I’m feeling that poignantly this morning when Richard is sitting across the table from me in Headlands Coffeehouse in downtown Fort Bragg, the room humming with talk and the air warm with the steam from many cups.


He’s enjoying his coffee and chocolate crossant and smiling at me, and I’m trying not to worry about the fact that his vision has deteriorated enough (probably from the glioblastoma in his right brain) that he now walks hesitantly, reaching for railings and posts and my hand to help navigate and balance. (The photo above is actually from Redfish Restaurant in Port Orford, Oregon, a fabulous place to eat, but more about that in a moment.) He got turned around going from the parking lot to the room this morning–twice. Just another excuse to walk together, I say to myself, another reason to hold hands. But if something happens to me… That’s one of the worries that creeps in at night.

Still, we’re having a wonderful trip, by and large, taking what comes with an abundance of delight and love for this life, this earth, and each other.

The outstanding gifts of the last couple of days of driving steadily down the coast from Waldport, Oregon, where we woke in pea-soup fog, have been botanical ones–not that the scenery and food have been shabby either.


Just a few miles south of Waldport the roadside along Highway 101 eruped in lemon yellow: evening primroses in full bloom, splashed by the sunshine beginning to slice through the fog.The contrast with the dark, wind-shrubbed wall of shore pines (a variety of lodgepole pines that thrive in the salt-spray zone) was starkly beautiful.

We stopped at Yachats at the Green Salmon, memorable for the pastries–marionberry danish bursting with fresh-picked berries–as well as the coffee, the friendly crowd of locals and tourists, and the emphasis on local food and sustainable business practices. Then we wound down the coast to the Oregon Dunes area, where three big rivers have carved away the wall of headlands along the coast, carrying enough sediment to create a sea of dunes.

The swamps inland of the dunes are filled with one of my favorite plants, carnivorous, insectivorous, their leaves chartreuse green tubes hooded like a ocean liner’s stacks, mottled with red splotches like stained glass… Darlingtonia, or cobra lily, which obtains nutrients lacking in the swampy soils where it lives by digesting insects–flies and native bees, mostly–lured inside its light-filled but confusing tubes.



One or two Darlingtonias is weird enough, but a whole mass of them would delight even the most jaded child inside each of us.

We stopped in Port Orford, a tiny town perched atop a storm-weathered headland sheltering one of the few natural harbors on southern Oregon’s coast, to visit friends: writer Ann Vileisis and her husband, photographer Tim Palmer. We were late–leverything takes longer these days–only had time for a short visit, but they directed us to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch, resulting in another memorable meal on this journey through regional gastronomy…


Redfish Restaurant would be memorable for the view–it is perched at the edge of the headland, overlooking miles of headland, stack, and cove. It would be memorable for the art–it is next door to the newest branch of the Hawthorne Gallery, featuring a couple of Richard’s favorite abstract sculptors. Then there is the food–local, innovative, delicious. Oh my! We figured our late and lovely lunch was an anniversary treat (it’s not cheap…).

After that, we headed south down the coast to Crescent City for the night. Yesterday, we wandered through the coast redwood forests. If you’ve not experienced these magnificent trees and the multi-story communities they create, from marbled murrelets nesting on huge branches twenty-stories up, to the hundreds of species of mosses, lichens, bryophytes (club mosses and their relatives), microorganisms, birds, amphibians, and mammals that live on and around these giants, you’re missing a chance to know awe.

They’re bigger than you can imagine, taller than many multi-story buildings. When you put your hand on one of those massive, ribbed trunks, I swear you can feel the pulse of all life.

When we reached the ocean again after winding our way up and over the spiny ridges of the Coast Range, the plant world surprised us with one more gift: California poppies were blooming, a reprise of spring, when life awakens after the winter rains. I didn’t expect their sunny faces at all, making the gift that much sweeter.

And on we go…