The Swimmers

A harbor seal watches me with its head just out of the water, nostrils flared wide as it takes a quick breath, at Cobble Beach in Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

After May was cooler than usual, the heat has come on full in June so for the past couple of weeks I’ve gone swimming for the first time in the new house (I won’t count the time the pup fell in). The pool is a bit on the small side but I thought would be just long enough to get exercise and thankfully that has been the case. I’m a pale imitation of the true swimmers though like this harbor seal at Yaquina Head, ungainly on land but a marvel in the water, flaring its nostrils wide as it took a quick breath before heading back under the water.

Keep It Down, We’re Trying to Sleep!

Keep It Down We re Trying to Sleep

Harbor seals eke out as much rest as they can amidst the crashing waves as the Pacific rises to embrace them. I too was awakened recently by gentle but relentless sounds, once by the sound of Boo trying to get out of the bedroom closet he got trapped in, once by the sound of him trying to get into a different closet. The Pacific is mighty and mysterious, but not so much as Boo.

Goodbye Oregon, I Love You

A harbor seal watches from the surf near Cobble Beach on a rainy day at Yaquine Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon

I discovered right away during my interview trip 21 years ago that Oregon was where I belonged. One of the managers found out I liked to hike and took me hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, then the other students and I had the weekend to go out the coast and explore whatever we wanted.

That wonderful Gorge is a half hour drive to the east. My beloved Ridgefield National Wildlife is half an hour to the north (across the river in Washington). Snow-capped Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens are visible from Portland and an easy drive too. Well known for its waterfalls and wetlands and lush forests and rugged coast, all of which I dearly love, there are also high deserts and sand dunes and even redwoods all the way south.

Scenes like this, a curious harbor seal poking up out of the surf at Yaquina Head on a rainy day at the coast, gave me as much pause about moving to Arizona as the summer heat. Oregon has so much to offer, so much that delights me, so much I will miss. Goodbye, I love you.

Elephant Skin

Rock formations resemeble an elephant's skin on a vertical cliff face at Cobble Beach in Yaquina Head Outstanding Natura Area in Newport, Oregon

There is so much I will miss about the Pacific coast, but there are three places I’ll miss most of all: Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park in Washington, Enderts Beach in Redwood National and State Parks in California, and Cobble Beach in Yaquina Beach Outstanding Natural Area in Oregon. All three are scenic and all three have good tide pools. But the reason I’ll miss Yaquina Head so much is not just that it also has a beautiful lighthouse, but it has harbor seals. Up close. I could watch them for hours, and I have.

It also has elephants, of a sort.

While watching the harbor seals swim near the southern end of Cobble Beach, I turned around and saw an elephant in the cliff wall right behind me, or at least an elephant’s skin. The rock formations of the vertical cliff face are fascinating, to the point that I stopped photographing the seals for a while and started photographing the rocks.

The Snail Pace

A black oystercatcher swallows the soft part of a snail it has extracted from its shell at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon

Life is precarious in tide pools. Mussels and barnacles that live too low on the rock surface are within reach of predatory starfish. Those too high are at risk of drying out while they wait for the rising tide. And in this case, the high spots also had just enough purchase for a black oystercatcher to walk along their perimeter, feeding as it went. But its target on this day was not the mussels and barnacles but the snails that feed on the algae on their shells, here it is about to swallow the soft part of a snail it has extracted from its shell.

The oppressive summer heat might be the biggest obstacle I had to overcome to be willing to move to the desert, but not far behind was saying goodbye to the coast (and in California, the nearby wetlands). I was rather taken with tide pools and the coast in general on visits to the redwoods in California and the rain forests in Washington and decided to make a concerted effort to visit the coast more often, which is why I was at the Oregon coast on this day in early October. A few weeks later I’d find out my team was getting laid off and thus started the process that would take me from the Northwest.

I changed the lock screen on my phone to this picture of a harbor seal as soon as moving to Arizona became a possibility, before it even became a strong possibility, to force myself to think repeatedly about whether I could really give up the coast. I decided I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the coast, and never would be, but I was ready to say hello to the desert. And to the desert I go.