We didn’t set out to start a tradition. Yet in each of the seven-plus years we’ve lived in Portland, the Oregon coast has seduced us to visit for a few days in early January. The lure of raging surf, gray days, and a cozy cottage with a fireplace is irresistible.
Our plan is simple. Read, eat, nap, chat, walk, nap some more. Slough off concerns from the year just past and begin anew. Granted, some challenges can’t be left behind, but they can be considered with a renewed spirit.
In our first years, we snuggled in at the Sunset Surf in Manzanita, a funky beachside hotel with fireplace kitchenettes. In recent visits, we’ve upgraded to the White Heron Lodge in Cannon Beach, just north of downtown and steps from the sand.
The appeal of beach towns in winter, at least for us, is the normalcy that settles in as locals reclaim their turf. The throngs of tourists that prevail in more temperate weather have dwindled to a handful. We stroll and window shop without dodging and weaving among people and pets. Many shops and restaurants take extended vacations or offer abbreviated hours. Sadly, Covid has forced some to close for good.
We assume that we’ll need to fend for ourselves and pack accordingly. A cooler of food, a bulging bag of snacks, the portable Keurig borrowed from Van Go, lots of coffee pods, several bottles of wine, and Bloody Mary fixings. And a cherry pie, just in case the pie stand on the honor system we discovered last year had disappeared. (It had.)
This year, we checked in during a winter storm that had made for treacherous driving through the Coast Range. Rain pelted down as we schlepped our belongings from car to condo. Even rain jackets couldn’t prevent our getting drenched.
After we unpacked, Joe headed straight for the long, deep spa tub for a long soak. I curled up in the window for a farewell performance of the King Tides
For four days, the mesmerizing ebb and flow of the tide was our soundtrack instead of CNN. We tucked away our phones and escaped the world beyond our small corner of it.
Beach walks at sunrise and sunset bookended our lazy days. One mile down the beach from our temporary home, Haystack Rock loomed, a mossy monolith attended by sea stacks of lesser dimensions. Curiosity sent me Googling, as it often does, where I learned that the 235-foot-tall pride of Cannon Beach is the third tallest intertidal structure in the world.
In the misty mornings, Haystack Rock was a shrouded beacon. If the tide was out, we would linger next to its bulk before reversing course and strolling back the way we came. At sunset, all eyes shifted west for the sun’s game of peekaboo with billowy, gray clouds. Inevitably we were rewarded with bursts of rose and gold until dusk dulled the horizon.
Inside, when one of us wasn’t sleeping or soaking, we meandered between the comfortable silence and easy conversation cultivated by three decades of marriage. We didn’t avoid troubling subjects but rather reframed them. Our brief beach hiatus was not an escape from the “real world” but rather an opportunity to reimagine our approach to living in it.
For Joe and me, chilling at the beach has become a precious tradition.