024. ROADTRIP: EUREKA TO PORT ORFORD / by Cara Hines

Local coffee shops are a phenomenon I’m particularly drawn to. They’re the living rooms of towns, communities, neighborhoods. Given an hour or two in a town, I’ll seek out the local coffee shop to get a feel for the people that make up a place. I hear conversations between the customers and the people who work there. I get a sense of the social and political climate, how people spend their time, what they do for work and play. I look at the board posted with business cards, advertisements, and community announcements. I pay attention. I have an Americano, and “good” or “bad”, I learn how things are in a place. Just as they are that day. Usually, if I slow down long enough, a little magic happens…I make a new friend or learn where to go and what to do. At worst, I have a benign experience with what is hopefully a good cup of coffee, and I keep on moving. Thursday morning, though, at Has Beans Coffee Shop in Eureka, CA, I found the most important thing for me to do was just kick back and enjoy the magic.

As I sat organizing pictures and updating my blog, a woman entered and began playing her acoustic guitar near the entrance to the shop. She started out whistling the most beautiful tune and flowed into soft, easy vocals that were perfect coffee shop repertoire.  I’ve never had the treat of live music on a Thursday morning coffee shop excursion. I was gleeful. I wasn’t sitting behind a desk and she wasn’t either. I got to share in the experience of a person doing something she loves more than anything and can’t do without. Most of the songs she sang were originals she’d written over many years; a few covers thrown in for familiarity’s sake. Her name is Les Craig, and she’s one-third of the John David Young Trio (John David Young showed up later and joined her for a few songs). She seemed more natural singing and playing her guitar than most people seem breathing. The words to one song caught my attention (watch video)… “there’s such sweetness in the world as I look out on an ordinary day, and magic comes shinin’ through. Oh that there could be such sweetness in the world might just have somethin’ to do with you...” It seemed like an apt song to add to my roadtrip playlist. Then she sang a song that just makes me smile and think of John up there above the chimney tops…”Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I had to stop everything, close my eyes, and just let that bit of magic soak into my entire being. When I opened my eyes, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. I couldn’t see a rainbow…but I could feel it.

I finally felt the impulse to move on. I got into my car, found the cheapest gas in town (which was $4.17/gallon!) and continued north. Though it was well worth it, I’d spent all the clear skies up on coffee shop time and met with rain for most of my drive. I had a windy picnic by the ocean, drove through redwood grove after redwood grove, and went for a wet hike among the giants on Lost Man Trail. Yes, I hugged a tree. A very, very big tree. John helped.

I eventually left California behind and soon discovered why everyone who has experienced it is enamored with the Oregon coast. I stopped at Harris Beach State Park just north of Brookings for the beginning of “the blue hour”—a time when all colors but shades of blue fade with the sun into the distant ocean. It was one of the most peaceful times of the day as I watched the slow rolling convergence of a stream and ocean waves at low tide. But I was aware that my car was the one thin thread keeping this place of eerie beauty from becoming an inhospitable near death experience. The cold, wet, fierce winds ripped through to the core of my bones. For half an hour as a visitor, “where the river meets the sea” provided me with a meditation-in-blue upon the impersonal and impermanent nature of nature. For more than that as a foot bound wayfarer, it could quickly prove its ruthless indifference and power to both give and take away life. That wind was damned cold!

I made my way to Port Orford where I arrived at the home of Scott and Clare, my couchsurfing hosts. They met me with big smiles, delicious made-from-scratch pizzas, and good conversation. I contributed wine and fudge from Sonoma, and we stayed up late telling our respective stories. I learned their love for all things of the ocean, sky and land. They’re marine biologists contracted by NOAA as field observers on fishing boats. Basically, that means they’re the “game wardens” of the sea. And I marveled at their stories of adventures and anecdotes along the coast, out at sea, on islands, and in Alaska. Luckily for me, the weather was bad enough during my visit that they had time off. There are indeed silver linings in storm clouds.

My original plan was to get up the next morning and continue on my way. But after a later night than usual, Scott’s and Clare’s wealth of knowledge and experience with the area, and their willingness to share it, I ended up staying to explore with them. I’m fairly certain John would have insisted we stay. We walked everywhere in this little town and first visited the Port of Port Orford where they set out on various fishing boats. Between the two of them, they’ve been out on just about every one. When weather and tide are right for it, a pair of huge yellow dollies lifts the boats from the dock safely into the water. From there we went for a nature walk along the beach past Battlerock and toward Humbug Mountain. We saw a couple of dead grebes, and I learned about a national conservation program comprised of volunteers who report on instances or absence of dead birds along shorelines so seabird disease and distress can be monitored at a larger level. Anyone can do it. I learned there are many different kinds of barnacles, and I held one of them, called a gooseneck barnacle. Apparently these are tasty and expensive culinary delicacies in many places, especially Spain and Portugal. Scott and Clare showed me how they harvest their own muscles. They also catch their own fish, can their own tuna, tomatoes, and fruit. They make their tortillas and pizza crust from scratch. And they have plans for building a chicken coop for fresh eggs. I’m impressed! After the beach walk, we hit up a couple of local galleries where the inspiration for all work is the intense beauty of the Northwest Coast, and art made of found objects such as driftwood, shells, beach glass and other treasure is prevalent. We went for a walk up to “Coastguard Hill” (Port Orford Heads State Park) and along the stunning trails around it. If I’d just been passing through, I’d certainly have missed that hidden gem.

Scott cooked a wonderful meal including fish he’d caught; we told more stories,and played a German-born board game called Carcassonne. I learned all kinds of new things from these two! The next morning, Clare whipped up some homemade muffins made with local cranberries, and after breakfast I bade my new friends farewell. It was inspiring to meet two people who follow their bliss, being and doing what brings them joy and not just  financial wealth or “success”. They love the ocean and understand the connection between earth, sky, sea, animal, plant and man, and they’ve made this their livelihood, their play and their life. I can scarcely tell where one of these things stops and the other starts for them. Thank you, Scott and Clare, for sharing a glimpse of your life with me.

View more photos in the Roadtrip: Eureka-Port Orford gallery.