We skipped around the cranes and fence-made mazes that dominated the pier during winter construction. My phone showed me it was in the forties almost tentatively, as if it were hesitating to remind me that winter is a time for hibernation-even for the humans that might not keep their eyes closed for months and feed off fat stores, but rather bury themselves in blankets and keep a steady stream of tea, coffee, and soup trickling down their throats.
Still, Astoria in early December was just the right amount of sleepy and awake. Every stop hosted people without teeming with them, giving a tranquil, but not eery vibe. When my cohorts asked where everyone was, I joked that the non-tourists probably knew better than to be out in the cold, even in the town where they go to the same restaurants over and over and pick up their toilet paper. There are some temperatures you never get used to! We were the only dumbasses out and about, but we were not to waste the opportunity with half of us visiting from Florida.
We took an intensely winding road to get to Astoria, Oregon, escaping nausea with a brief General Store stop (where they no longer allow the use of their restrooms due to overwhelm, redirecting you to ports-potties outside). The sides of the road glistened with ice and streams in places-a good distraction from carsickness. Descending the final hill toward City Center treated us to a waterside view only a middle-to-northern coastal town could provide. We excitedly hopped out from an easily-found parking spot and went straight toward the water.
Once we’d taken in enough of the chilly-looking ocean lapping up against the pier (a vision that could give Floridians hypothermia on its own), we sought warmth in a brewery we stumbled upon by way of a back alley. Astoria Brewing Company had a decent view and a variety of well-named beer (see the Poopdeck Porter or “Side Quest”), cider, and even mulled wine. Their clam chowder is a secret sensation, boasting “cleaner” clams from Nova Skotia.
My woo woo soul said that a quick trip to “Terra Stones”-a unique crystal and metaphysical stop-was in order, but leaving the shopping area was on everyone’s mind once we had grabbed some rock types I can’t spell and white sage to help us cleanse and start over as winter suggests.
At the recommendation of Facebook friends and bartenders alike, we stopped at the staples before the short day ended: the column, the shipwreck, and Fort George Brewery (yeah another brewery-this is Oregon!).
The column is a landmark with a historical significance I wasn’t in the mood to delve into due to the spontaneity of the stop (and it’s winter-I only read Harry Potter in winter…and summer….and fall); however, I assume some of it can be discerned from the words that wrap around it. Also, you can buy paper (more like light wood) paper airplanes to fly off of it, and what more information do you need? If that wasn’t fun, the view of Oregon is killer in all directions-and you can totally take advantage of it from the base of the column without having to climb the 200-something stares to the top of the column. Plus, the bottom is a prime location for meeting awesome dogs and their servants who frequent the park.
My travel style consists of constructing a vague skeleton of what I may like to do each day, and allowing its flesh to develop as Fate decides. Somehow, this has always lead to arriving at various destinations at times of day and in weather that I feel couldn’t be more beautiful-even if I have nothing to compare to, not having been to those places before. Perhaps I simply make the best of the new places I see regardless of condition, but either way-driving up the sand dunes near Fort Stevens to the Peter Iredale shipwreck was no exception.
I grew up in Florida, but I can’t recall a beach that rivals those of the Oregon coast so far, an opinion that was only intensified by the dreamy hues of sunset. As we climbed out of the car, the sky was fire and the sand was diamonds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sand so smooth and sparkling-it practically made my mouth water as if glittery gingerbread, which sounds both corny and like a Pinterest recipe that everyone shares but never bakes.
The initial view of the actual ship wreck was underwhelming, resembling the charred remnants of a Dutch Bros. Coffee hut. A closer look yielded shimmering tide pools and other parts of the ship jutting out of the sand to collect ominous, dark pools-lending to a magic that explained the attraction to one of the most accessible shipwrecks in the Graveyard of the Pacific. We alternated taking photos of us with a dog that wasn’t ours and taking others for the family who he belonged to as we took in the too-rapid changing of light. Jeeps and large trucks barreled down the driveable beach, creating scenes that rivaled the most stunning of car commercials.
Fingers numb and lips rendered almost paralyzed, we watched the rest of the sun quickly melt into the Pacific by the heat of the rental car. We left with the caravan of cars doing the same and decided to stop at one more brewery to make the most of the journey, heading to the highly rated Fort George for food and beer (mostly the food for me).
Fort George was appropriately under its own renovations for the winter months, inciting an interim staff change that lead to half of our meals being inedible and half being amazing. Our server was nonetheless accommodating and kind, and the atmosphere was nice enough. I would give this place a second chance despite that my entire garlic chicken pizza tasted like old anchovies and incorporated what I think was shriveled figs instead of the specified sundried tomatoes. Their pesto cheese dip appetizer was delectable enough to compensate.
On the way home, we opted for a less mountainous and rural path, but we still found yourselves on some tree-lined stretches of the highway. With some old favorites weaving through the speakers, I lied with my head pressed against the window, making out a ton of blurred stars in the sky as I contemplated all of those things that winter was made for contemplating. Still, I am me. “I have to see what this looks like without glass between me and the night,” I thought.
Despite the freezing cold, I rolled down the window. “Holy shit!” I couldn’t help myself, I was in awe-head out the window like a dog and beaming like a child while further risking my neck health. I hadn’t seen a sky that full of stars since I was in Scotland-known for some of the darkest skies in the world. We had to stop. So we did, and we stared in awe while praying not to get run over in our invisible cloaks/black coats. One of the greatest delights of winter is dark skies. Having lived in Orlando for many years, seeing the sky even slightly bespeckled with a few balls of fire, crisp enough to see with my semi-Shitty eyes, is a treat…seeing them coat the whole sky was a freaking treasure.
I have been trying to be more “seasonal” in my lifestyle-accepting the seasons of my spirit as it is reflective of the seasons of the earth. I have been opting for seasonal fruits and vegetables and warmer meals. Fall is a time to fall apart yourself-or more positively, deconstruct and disassemble. Winter is a time to be still-to receive, to rest. To rekindle the fires of family and prepare for new life. But should we really hibernate?
Illness has taught me to rest, but I have trouble believing that as humans, we are meant to retire to a spot in our living rooms for 3 months a year-especially given the beauty that winter has to offer. I would be regretful to miss these places while they feature less crowds, stunning snowy aesthetics, darker beer, vibrant sunsets, Brilliant stars-not to mention forsake what would add up to be years of exploration time. If I didn’t move through the urge to curl up in a ball for all of December, I would never have seen Astoria, Oregon in such quiet splendor. I am going to write some Christmas poetry, now.