Monday, September 29, 2008

Caves, Canyons and Critters of Low Tide

The smooth surface of sand in this cove showed only the slight ripples where fresh water from a mountain steam dribbled a path to the Pacific Ocean. The only footprints on the sand wear mine and Ed’s yet we barely left a trace. The sand packed hard under our feet had been saturated and cemented solid by the outgoing tide.

At this time of day, waves washed beyond this sandy cove and revealed hollowed rocky caves. I squatted low to crawl inside a few. They did not go deep. They made arched passageways connecting one to another. I could see light from above in one. Like a whale’s blowhole, waves from high tides would later erupt through this hole sending up a spout of salt water. Now, I felt just a slight dampness near the opening of this natural ceiling. I found a weathered piece of driftwood wedged between two of the caves. And, I saw a stone shaped like a fossilized seal nestled in another.

The rocks of the caves created two narrow canyons along this stretch of coast. We climbed down as far as the rocky footing would safely allow. We wondered for a bit about how we’d get back up the rugged wall if we continued. Then we jumped anyway landing some three feet below. Mussels coated the walls around us. Starfish clung to rocks. Ed tried to pry a starfish from its hold without budging the critter. Anemones lay in puddles on the sand. I touched one and it squirted water out its spongy body at me.

We felt privileged to see this coastal landscape at low tide. One day later, we went back to this same spot. This time we visited at high tide. By contrast, waves covered the sand and thrashed the walls of the canyons. The caves were submerged. Fountains of water shot into the sky when the ocean’s pressure forced it though openings in the rocks. There’d be no safe passage now, no place to pose for a photo on the sand, just the fascinating, ever-changing face of the Oregon coast.

September 27, 2008

Mile maker 168 slightly north of Neptune State Park,
Oregon Highway 101

Somewhere My PDA Alarm is Ringing

It’s is 7 AM and somewhere the wake-up alarm on my stolen PalmOne is peeping loudly. I hope it disturbs the thief who boldly slung my purse over his shoulder and made a getaway with his accomplice in a beat-up old blue car. I hope he fumbles to find the clear button or accidentally hits snooze and it peeps again five minutes later disturbing his sleep. This is the minimal level of pain I wish on this fellow. You can imagine my private thoughts. They are not very nice.

This guy does not deserve nice. He carried out his crime in front of my very eyes. I could see from the beach cove that he opened my car door, reached inside, and slung my Coach purse over his shoulder. When Ed yelled and started running up the embankment toward the car, the guy smugly smiled and sped off down Oregon’s Highway 101. They had a head start but Ed valiantly tried to catch up to them by racing our Toyota along this coastal highway. He was unsuccessful and concluded that the thieves probably scooted onto an obscure side road.

We stopped our chase after about 12 miles at the Twin Lakes Store, a place where Ed’s cell phone finally rang through to 911. The dispatcher answered the call in Eugene, Oregon. He basically listened to Ed, filed a report and gave Ed a phone number for the Oregon State Police. I used the payphone outside the store to call to report my VISA card stolen; after talking to police, Ed called American Express.

I started calculating my loss – Hobo Coach purse, Coach wallet, Coach key chain, PalmOne, Olympus Camera, LG Verizon phone, Clinique lipstick, credit cards, check book, business cards, and $1.85 in cash – total value at minimum $1,000. This high amount was a startling revelation to me.

I had a crying spell that night after taking care of business – putting a fraud alert on my credit report through Experian and changing passwords for financial accounts. I sobbed when my kids called on Sunday morning and I recounted the event of the previous day. A while back Chris had fishing gear stolen from his truck; in high school, a girl stole Suzie’s Tommy Hilfiger purse. They knew what it feels like to be victimized by a thief. Ed commented that if the thieves saw how sad they had made me feel that perhaps they’d feel bad. Cruelty is the only way to describe the act of carrying out a crime in view of the victim, helpless is how I felt by not being able to stop the action.

This theft happened because Ed and I got sucked into the beauty of the Oregon Coast. We parked on a remote pull-off to enjoy the scenery. We wandered away from the car. We lingered among the rocks and driftwood visible at low tide. I had too many valuables in the car, in a small easy to grab-it-all purse.

Was this preventable? Maybe. Random? Of course. Is this a known area where thieves prey? Broken window glass on the ground and a posted warning sign give clues that others have been victimized here in a place too beautiful to wear such an ugly scar.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

When We Lost Our Way, I Was Glad I Had Changed My Shoes

“Come on let’s go for a ride. I just want to see where this road goes.” Ed coaxed, “You don’t even need to change your shoes.”

Disregarding Ed’s comment, I changed from my terry blue Isotoner slippers into my new K-Swiss walking shoes. I would be glad I did.

We took a right out of the Siltcoos RV Park. We went past the Westlake Post Office, across the bridge over the Siltcoos River and round the bend. This would be a short ride I thought. I had walked this very road a day ago. It just looped back to the river bridge, post office and RV park. Somewhat surprised by this short drive, Ed said, “I feel like driving some more. Let’s head down Highway 101.” We did and I was glad I changed my shoes.

We stopped briefly at Carter Lake just long enough to climb a sand dune, eat some wild blackberries, and view the lake. Before driving away, we studied a park map mounted on a “You Are Here” type sign. I traced my finger along blue line indicating the Siltcoos River. We had canoed this river the previous weekend, coming short of completing the full three mile canoe path ending at the Pacific Ocean. Ed proposed we to find the road leading to the Lodgepole Campsite where we turned our canoe around and headed back upstream. Then, he suggested we follow the access road further to the catch the sunset from the Siltcoos Beach. I was glad I had changed my shoes.

No matter how many times I catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean when I crest the dunes, I always pause to take in the expanse of beach and the infinite water and waves. This evening was no different as the sun hung low in the sky.

“Come on, let’s head down to the water,” Ed urged me along. I shuffled through the loose sand of the dune. So much sand filled my shoes that the warm granules cushioned my heel and arch. It actually felt good; and again, I was glad I changed shoes.

Ed and I stood watching the sun fall into the horizon. All the movies and ads have it right, it is romantic to watch the sunset with someone you love.

Though the sun set, there was still light. We decided to walk the beach to see where the Siltcoos River spills into the Pacific Ocean. I did not try to keep pace with Ed. I paused along the way to take photos of the crimson sky. I searched for the perfect seashell. And, I wondered about the survival of the starfish left stranded on the beach by the receding tide.

I finally caught up to Ed. The Siltcoos River trickled into the Pacific. My fears from several days ago, imagining us in the canoe shooting out the river into the turbulent waves, were unfounded. We followed the sandy riverside a bit, then turned back to walk the beach. It was getting dark and Ed teased me about watching out for dangerous nocturnal pumas.

I liked how I fit under his arm. We strolled along the water this way. We must gone a long distance, because we started to see things we hadn’t passed on our sunset walk. It was getting dark so we decided to retrace our steps.

Ah, here’s the path to the parking lot…so we thought! We climbed the dune. Nope, it led to a mound of tall grass and more dunes. We backtracked to the beach. Ah-hah! This was it, a much wider path. Wrong again. This was an ATV trail, but we figured we’d walk along it to the road. Trudging through the loose sand made each step laborious. Ed’s keys jangled on his belt and the seashells clinked in my pocket. I hoped the noise would be enough to keep the pumas away. It was. After awhile, it seemed like we were heading inland to who knows where when Ed and I came to the same conclusion. We would be better off on the beach. I shuffled my feet through the sand, back over the dune, and slid down the other side to the beach.

We walked some more watching for the sandy gap in the dunes. This time when it looked like the trail, Ed climbed up the loose sand and I waited on the beach. He hollered from the top that he saw lights further down the beach, must be the parking lot he concluded. He joined me on the beach again as we continued our search for the correct dune trail. We made a few other climbs up the dunes thinking we’d found the trail. We had not. We decided to climb another dune that proved to be so steep that we had to grab the grass to keep from sliding backwards. I used the flash of my pocket camera to illuminate the view. There were lights in the distance, probably Lodgepole Campground. We must have really missed our mark!

Back on the beach, we emptied sand from our shoes and rested for a moment. It was really dark now. I was getting tired of walking. I think Ed was tired too because he asked if I’d take a turn checking the next dune. I took a turn and it was the wrong dune again. I was beginning to think we’d have to sleep on the beach, when finally, Ed found the wide mound of sand to the dune trail. He sounded giddy from on top of the dune announcing. “I found it!” I started the arduous climb, this time on the right dune. I was so tired that I tugged on the knees of my denim jeans to lift my feet a couple of times. When I got to the top, Ed pointed to our white car in the lot. I was happy to see that little car and really happy that I changed my shoes!

September 18, 2008

Creating a Masterpiece from Myrtlewood

“If people collect lighthouses, I have something unique, made of natural wood to add to their collection. If they come here and show interest in my lighthouses, I can help them get started as a collector. What I like to do is produce the product and have people enjoy it.” Dave Middleton shared these comments with me in the last moments of my visit to his roadside store and factory Lakeshore Myrtlewood. We were standing in room dedicated solely to the lighthouses he created. This is his signature piece – a lighthouse tooled from myrtlewood with a working beacon light powered by an intricate electrical circuit board. The light appears to rotate from behind a leaded glass prism. They looked so real.

Dave took me behind the scenes to show me how he transforms raw wood into masterpieces.

Myrtlewood is a slow growing broadleaf evergreen found only in a limited area along the rugged Oregon coast. There’s an example of a young myrtlewood tree growing outside the Lakeshore’s showroom door. The glossy green leafs look much like a bay leaf and can be used in cooking just as a bay leaf, but it’s the wood that’s of value to artisans. This tree is small, maybe only planted a few decades ago by Dave’s estimate. Commercially grown myrtlewood trees take 100 to 150 to reach a marketable size. Myrtlewood is highly desirable because it is a rare and the fine grain and colors varying from light tan to golden brown give the wood an appealing look. Dave described the waves in the wood grain as having a shimmery, iridescence to it when shaped, polished and crafted to a Myrtlewood product.

From factory to showroom, one myrtlewood piece – bowl, vase or lighthouse - can take a year’s time. But in truth, it starts with a log over one hundred years old.

Once a year, a logging truck delivers the 20’ to 30’ long cuts of myrtlewood to Dave dropping the supply right in the lot behind the showroom, near the wood working shop. Dave makes his first cut of the logs right there reducing the logs into 7’ to 8’ lengths manageable to be moved by a forklift. When he makes his cuts, Dave explained he is looking at the logs for “color and figure,” knots, signs of high sap and weather cracks, all cues that will help him decide their future use. He’ll stack these logs and protect them from blowing sand under a plastic tarp. “Sand,” explained Dave, “Embedded in the bark will take the edge of a sawmill blade.” Dave brings in a portable sawmill to slice the logs into the thickness he needs for his products. They look like pieces of rough lumber until he planes them to bring out the color and variety of this high grade wood. Dave will leave a “rustic edge” – the bark – on some of the lumber to give the “more showy” myrtlewood products like vases a natural effect. The lumber will dry in a tent like structure before its next drying process in the one of the two kilns.

Dave showed me inside one of his drying kilns. The shelves held stacks of roughed out bowls. A thermostat monitored the room temperature and a humidifier sucked the moisture from the myrtlewood. In the roughly two-month drying process, as much as 150 to 100 gallons of water can be extracted from the wooden bowls, blocks for lighthouses, and vases held within the kiln.

When these items are finished drying, they are moved to the holding room. There’s a freezer in the holding room and it’s not for ice cream treats. The burl wood bases of the lighthouses will go into the freezer to kill bugs that inhabit it. After chilling out in the freezer, the items set with the bowls and wooden blocks on holding room shelves. As Dave needs inventory, he puts the finishing touches on these items in his wood and paint shop.

High on a shelf in the corner of the wood shop sets one of Dave’s lighthouses. “The lighthouse is my creation.” There’s pride in his voice as Dave continues, “Nobody else thought to make these from myrtlewood.” In 13 years of crafting these specialty pieces, Dave has sold over 2,500 lighthouses. His lighthouses are a local memento of a visit to the nearby Heceta Lighthouse or a custom showpiece to add to a serious collector’s array. Prices start at $250 for a small lighthouse. A large one can go for as much as $395.

“I’m going to show you how I make the lighthouse top today.” Dave words were a bit muffled from behind a hooded protective facial shield. He attached a square block of myrtlewood on to the lathe. Over the whine of the engine, he gave commentary. “The wood moves at 3,200 RPMs. I am a little bit rusty at this. My wife does a better job on the tops of the lighthouses.”

Rusty? Was he kidding? From the shaving of wood flying, I could see the cap of the lighthouse with a thin spindle top emerge. “I hope the top doesn’t snap off, I made it fairly thin,” he said above the noise. It didn’t snap off, not even when he used sandpaper to smooth the minuscule ridges. I didn’t time him, but I think it took him five minutes to turn the block of wood into the lighthouse top. Side-by-side, it was unimaginable that a block of wood could be transformed to such a shapely cap. In his paint room free of the wood dust, Dave sprayed a lacquer coat on the lighthouse top and set it to dry among the bowls and serving trays.

Making myrtlewood items and running a retail store full of the products was a business plan absent from Dave’s original list of what he wanted to do when he grew up. His father-in-law gave encouragement and worked with Dave to buy a myrtlewood business in Gold Beach, Oregon back in 1981. Dave retained the previous business owner for six months in order to learn how to make myrtlewood products. He learned well and added his own creativity to the craft. Year later, the skill he learned as young man is still something Dave told me he loves and enjoys. A long time ago, Dave sold the Gold Beach location and took on the Lakeshore one. He guessed that there might be only nine myrtlewood factories on the coast these days making art products.

Visitors to Lakeshore Myrtlewood can watch Dave work in his shop. Just ask for a tour. You’ll see Dave creating a masterpiece from myrtlewood.

September 9, 2008

Lakeshore Myrtlewood

Oregon Coast Myrtlewood, Inc.

Dave & Denise Middleton

83530 Highway 101 South

Florence, OR 97439