|Trip to the Oregon Coast
||[Nov. 9th, 2008|12:58 pm]
Spent the weekend at the coast; Brent worked a relief shift at a one-vet practice in Tillamook, and we opted to make a romantic getaway out of it. We’d been needing the opportunity to reconnect, to focus on one another, away from the demands of the mundane, and since the practice graciously provided a motel room…
Tillamook is a quintessential small Oregon town, with its history, only slightly scuffed, worn proudly on its sleeve. In a lush green valley where five rivers empty into a wide estuary, it is full of good people who like the way they live and don’t hesitate to tell you about it. At an antique store/coffeeshop, whiling away the hours during Brent’s shift, the kindly woman working there showed me postcards of the town in the 50s and 60s; the landmarks of the former one-street town are still proudly and prominently in place, despite the highway diverting much of the traffic from Main street.
We left Portland in the pre-dawn rainy dark of an amber-leafed November morning, and made our way over somnolent streets to the highway; I slept the fist hour of the journey. Once I woke, I took a turn driving, so Brent could have that last half-hours to doze before working (works better than coffee, he tells me). I spent the drive in silence, winding through the coastal range in a deep-shadowed, cloud-tattered forest that pressed itself into my consciousness on all sides and limited the dawn light to dim green gloaming.
Breaking out of the trees, the verdant dairyland of Tillamook was a relief to the eyes, bustling with morning business and a sense of having arrived. Brent coffeed up and showed me around the tiny practice, introduced me to the friendly and professional staff, the adorable brain-damaged clinic kitty. After which, suffering from an overindulgence at the Patron tequila dinner the night before, I went back out to the car and slept until noon. My eyes opened, refreshed and not aching, a few seconds before Brent arrived at the car; he took me to lunch at the Blue Heron French Cheese Company, where he’d lunched before and liked it.
Having grown up in California, I am intimately acquainted with the highway roadside attraction. It’s huge business, down south. Casa de Fruita, a glorified fruit stand that has added on a miniature golf course, giant shop of tchotchkes, pony rides, petting zoo, and various and sundry other amusement-park-like attractions in a process of seemingly random accretion, stands as a shining monument to how far the gods of greed and commerce can take you -- it is not the only one of its kind, either, not by a long shot. (There’s a split pea soup restaurant that advertises 500 miles in all directions… seriously, split pea soup? They have the crazy collection of roadside attractions, as well. And I won’t even go into Wall, South Dakota… *shudder*. A Twilight Zone experience I’d like to forget, and drove away from as fast as I possibly could. Broke the speed limit by a hefty margin; would have broken the sound barrier, if I’d had the capability.)
So the Blue Heron French Cheese Company was nothing new, save perhaps in its execution. The entry drive boasted an interesting and eclectic collection of vintage vehicles; the cheese shop was in a cute little red-barn farmhouse, filled with handmade candies (and the irresistible fragrance of buttery pralines), espresso drinks, local vineyard wine-tasting, cheese-tasting, locally made sauces and dips and condiments (also available for tasting), jams and jellies, holiday decor, imported foodstuffs and novelty items I haven’t seen since childhood, unique and amusing gifts that made me think of people I’d like to buy them for (but resisted), souvenirs, clothing, an entire sock-monkey menagerie, and a delightful deli, with tables and chairs all crammed into a pleasingly labyrinthine and surprisingly cozy layout, lit by windows filled with a view of rainy farmyard and pasture. The service was typically Oregon: friendly, efficient, pleasant. The lovely woman at the counter expounded on the specials of the day, recommending items with convincing sincerity; she served us by wandering the nooks and crannies until she found us. We were allowed to find our own drinks, and just let the cashier know after the fact… a trusting business model, which speaks well of the town. (Nothing like being trusted to make most folks put on their best effort at being trustworthy.) The panini I got (caprese) was delicious, with fresh, high-quality ingredients (including fresh-made bread). The latte was a bit lackluster, but then again, I’m a Portland coffee snob; it was tolerable, and I needed the caffeine. The good food and ambience made for pleasant conversation over lunch, after which we wandered out to pet the goats and sheep in the muddy pen out front (we refrained from buying food to feed them, as they all looked overweight). One particular nanny goat, her horns beautifully intact, took a shine to us; we felt a bit badly for her, as it was a cold rainy day, and she had a cough and a crusty eye. We scratched behind her long soft ears for a while, and the emu wandered up to growl at Brent (they sound just like the dinosaurs they’re descended from -- at least, how I always imagined dinosaurs would sound, like dragons rumbling deep in their chests). Brent went back to work, and I ensconced myself in the musty, roasted-coffee-and-dusty-antique-scented embrace of an easy chair beside the woodstove of the Five Rivers Coffee Roasting Company, and settled in for an afternoon of camomile tea and storytelling.
Checking into the motel that evening, I was pleasantly surprised to find the room was really quite spacious, with a mini-fridge, a built-in hair-dryer, a wet-bar counter (!), and plenty of counter-space to put our stuff. Big king-size bed that was refreshingly comfortable (I’m used to insomnia on strange beds, because of my back). Non-smoking room that didn’t reek of old tobacco smoke covered up with disgustingly cloying air fresheners. Indoor pool and jacuzzi were open 24 hours -- a first, for me. Small but nicely-equipped workout room… and not only a dry sauna, but a steam-room! O delicious luxury! Free wifi, too, plus an attached gas station, mini-mart and restaurant/lounge… a lot, for a middle-of-the-road chain (Shilo Inn). Well worth the $106/night. The steam room was just what I needed, followed by a long soak in the hot tub, followed by a bit of horseplay in the pool, followed by running back to our room like a couple of giggling teenagers. Nothing like lifting the must-dos from one’s plate to free up the want-to-dos…
Dinner was at the Rodeo Steakhouse, recommended to me by my coffeeshop friend. They seat you there with a bucket of roasted peanuts; the shells are tossed to the floor, and crackle satisfyingly underfoot when you make your approach to the table. Vintage buttoned naugahyde chairs and “old west” decor, with some pithy quotes on the wall on burned-wood plaques, and a saddle to have your picture taken on. Alarmingly enormous mixed drinks, buncha beers on tap (a few more in the bottle), all the ribs and steak and campfire-barbecue-style sides you could ask for (including garlic mashed potatoes and baked sweet potato), fresh-baked cobblers. A few different meat-centric salads, to appease the diet-conscious or the not-so-hungry. We had the “hot legs” (actually the humerus of the bird), dripping with piquant and spicy sauce, served with chunky blue cheese dip, to start with, and split the special -- meltingly tender half-rack of ribs, succulent but heavily sauced grilled chicken breast over rice pilaf, garlic mashers. That plus beer plus “small” margarita (served in a glass boot) only $30 -- quite worthwhile. We left satisfied, and Brent laughed that we went to a steakhouse and got away without trying the steak. To be rectified, perhaps, when he works here the first week of December.
The next day we decided to take our time and go wherever the mood led us, instead of keeping to any sort of itinerary. (I had bookmarked a few things to do in the vicinity, in case we ran out of ideas; we didn’t end up needing any of them -- save them for another day.) However, the “as you will” schedule came with a caveat: I was NOT going to miss the Tillamook Cheese Factory! When I was a tiny little kid, my parents took me on a cheese factory tour in Northern California, where we lived; I still remember the giant wheels of aging cheese in the musty cold cellar with an inordinate fondness (plus, I think that’s where my Dad got me hooked on creamy ripe cheeses -- I’m guessing it might have been a Brie he introduced me to). So I’ve had my eye on the famous Tillamook Cheese Factory pretty much since we crossed the Oregon border… we ate breakfast in the food-court-style foyer, surrounded by fudge-shoppe and ice cream scoop shop, souvenir shop and (of course) cheese shop. It was passable, if not nearly as good (or as personable) an experience as we had had at the Blue Heron French Cheese Company. But the self-guided tour of the factory was worth the trip: plenty of interesting factoids, a museum of old photos and cheese-making equipment, dusty trophies, a polished video presentation, life-size model cows and terrific viewing windows of the cheese-making action! (Cue ‘Powerhouse’ by Raymond Scott.) The automated assembly-line was a thing of wonder… they even had a couple of touch-screen kiosks! My favorite part was the guy on the assembly line, preparing 40-pound blocks of cheese for vacuum-sealing prior to aging -- he knew he had an audience, and grandstanded, just a little.
Leaving town for the coast, Brent suggested that we take a scenic drive around the “Three Capes Scenic Loop”, which I happily agreed to -- he’d been curious about it since his prior trip to Tillamook, and I’m all about enjoying the scenery in Oregon. I love my state. It never fails to inspire and delight me. And true to form, the whole drive was beautiful -- astonishingly beautiful, everywhere I looked. In fact, it was excruciatingly lovely with monotonous regularity, my heart clenching in my chest in an agony of emotion, with each new vista gained, at each bend in the road. From rugged and rain-shrouded cliff-edges with wind-sculpted trees and picturesque lighthouses; to mirrorlike wet sandy beaches with gulls huddled against the wind; to grey-green waves piling mountainously on the horizon, cresting in halos of wind-blown spray, crashing thunderously into cataracts of foam along the caverns and tidepools of the shore’s craggy feet; to misty islands with alluring natural arches, circled by seabirds and surrounded by a sea gone suddenly lambent silver in the spearing brilliance of an occasional sunbeam… I could have wept for what my camera could not capture. And, swept up in the electrifying spectacle of it all, dressed for indoor adventures, I got thoroughly soaked and spent the afternoon fogging up the windows of the car, slowly drying out as we made our way up the coast. Coasting through cliff-perched seaside hamlets and enticingly bright tourist towns, we made our way as far as Cannon Beach, which friends have been recommending to me for over a year. I felt foolish for not coming sooner, pretty much as soon as I laid eyes on the place: tidy, tiny, enchantingly friendly and brightly-lit, with sea-weathered shingle architecture, hidden hollows and grottos tucked away in the hills, alder grove-cloistered beach houses and appealing shops, bustling with locals come for the art and wine event that weekend and tourists making their way out of the rain. The beach itself is home to Haystack Rock, one of the world’s largest free-standing monoliths, green with moss and algae and haloed by nesting seabirds, crying in the wind. Tourist town or not, the place had magnificent appeal, with the windows shining brightly in warm invitation: “come inside, out of the cold and grey…” I found three scrumptiously fuzzy sweaters on sale in a little shop filled with treasures, and we ate dinner at a European-style charcuterie bistro, with delectable fare including finely prepared fresh local seafood. Stuffed and sated, we sadly made the decision to drive the hour-and-a-half back home, foregoing the pleasure of wandering the art and wine fair in favor of giving Brent a full night’s sleep on a work night. I was sad to leave the intimate space we’d shared all weekend, and the cats didn’t even miss us, as they were spoiled by their “Auntie Jodi”…