Let me try to set the stage. We’re in California, more than 200 miles north of San Francisco and over 400 miles south of Portland, Oregon. “Geotechnical challenges” have made this region even more remote from cities than the miles indicate because it was too difficult to build a highway across the irregular terrain. In this sparsely populated, rugged landscape, peaks rise as high as 4,000 feet and plunge straight down to meet the restless waters of the Pacific Ocean. Behind forbidding cliffs, grassland gives way to acres of Douglas fir forest. A few winding, narrow, pot-holed roads wander the hills above the coast, occasionally dipping down to the shoreline on precariously steep stretches of broken blacktop that make you thankful for daylight. Only a handful of towns dot the region: Petrolia, Honeydew, Shelter Cove. Generous portions of the land are protected as the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and the King Range National Conservation Area, which features a 25-mile-long backpacking trail tracing the jagged, boulder-strewn beach. It is a wild, natural place, this Lost Coast.
In Humboldt County near the north end of the Lost Coast, the Eel River spreads out into sloughs, wetlands, and fertile soil. Here, dairy farms established long ago still produce prodigious quantities of fresh milk. A small town called Ferndale set in the midst of cow-studded fields offers a handful of places to stay and eat. Our plan was to spend the better part of a mid-October week there with frequent forays west to the beach or east to the redwood forests.
After two days of wading through 500 miles of dim, smoke-darkened skies in our rental car we finally turned west in southern Oregon, the promise of fresh air propelling us down the Redwood Highway and into northern California. As soon as we could we set out for Centerville Beach, a wild sliver of shoreline under sheer cliffs of hardened sand. I can’t begin to describe how good it felt to let the deafening fury of crashing waves wash all the tension from tedious days of highway driving out of our muscles and nervous systems.
Though we spent time in the Redwoods, beaches were the leitmotif of our trip. No matter the weather – cold wind, thick fog, or a spot of sunlight – the water’s edge beckoned. We were exhilarated by the barrage of waves thrashing ink-black rocks, delighted to jump across foamy tide lines, and awed by patches of impenetrable fog that periodically materialized over the rolling sea. Here’s a taste of the Lost Coast shoreline.
“We lack trust in the present, this moment, this actual seeing, because our culture tells us to trust only the reported back, the publically framed, the edited, the thing set in the clearly artistic or the clearly scientific angle of perspective. One of the deepest lessons we have to learn is that nature, of its nature, resists this. It waits to be seen otherwise, in its individual presentness from our individual presentness.”
John Fowles; The Tree. Harper Collins, 2010.