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The gift of time: A mother’s North Coast birthday

By Aaron Breniman

For The Daily Astorian

Published on December 7, 2017 11:27AM

More than 100 years after it ran aground, the Peter Iredale still stands vibrantly in Fort Stevens State Park, the jumping off point for Aaron Breniman and his mother, Susan Breniman, to explore Astoria and surrounding areas for her recent birthday.

Aaron Breniman photo

More than 100 years after it ran aground, the Peter Iredale still stands vibrantly in Fort Stevens State Park, the jumping off point for Aaron Breniman and his mother, Susan Breniman, to explore Astoria and surrounding areas for her recent birthday.

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Dramatic skies and sweeping views this fall morning of the Columbia River and Astoria Bridge from the Astoria Crest Motel, a hidden gem high up on the hill just off Old Highway 30

Aaron Breniman photo

Dramatic skies and sweeping views this fall morning of the Columbia River and Astoria Bridge from the Astoria Crest Motel, a hidden gem high up on the hill just off Old Highway 30

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Jeff Anderson’s “Salmon in the Trees” along the Willapa Interpretive Art Trail, one of many installations celebrating the fish’s importance to the region’s ecosystem and heritage at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

Aaron Breniman photo

Jeff Anderson’s “Salmon in the Trees” along the Willapa Interpretive Art Trail, one of many installations celebrating the fish’s importance to the region’s ecosystem and heritage at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

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As part of Susan Breniman and her son’s regional meanderings, Susan reads one of John Ivie’s “Spinners,” part of the hands-on artistic Willapa Interpretive Art Trail at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

Aaron Breniman photo

As part of Susan Breniman and her son’s regional meanderings, Susan reads one of John Ivie’s “Spinners,” part of the hands-on artistic Willapa Interpretive Art Trail at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

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For my mother’s birthday last month, I realized that the most important gift I could ever give her was my time, as she had given me hers for so many years. Fully focused, attentive time.

Time is fleeting, gone like gusts of passing winds. The moments I miss most, I find, are the moments I will never get back.

I’ve lately chosen to be more intentional with my time. I’ve prioritized what matters, and spending time with family and loved ones has been at the top of that list. I’ve had many long meals and long hours of conversations with friends old and new, with family near and far. I’ve connected deeply.

I recently took my dad camping, in the rain. We fished. We talked family history. We cooked trout over a fire.

As I age, it strikes me that I don’t often realize my parents are aging as well. Nobody expects their parents to live forever, but in our day-to-day lives we often don’t appreciate how many occasions to spend time with them are lost.

For her birthday, my mother, Susan Breniman, and I headed down to Astoria for a couple of days to spend time together, and found casually exploring Astoria and surrounding areas to be full of opportunities for conversation, discovery, shopping and indulging.


There won’t always be tomorrows


We visited the remnants of the Peter Iredale — the barque steel sailing vessel that ran aground in October 1906 in what is now Fort Stevens State Park — arriving on a blustery Sunday afternoon to empty, sand-blown parking lots. We talked about camping as a family when I was young. And how my brother and I enjoyed playing with and eating slugs.

From there, we headed into town to check into the Astoria Crest Motel, which I’d chosen for its sweeping views overlooking the area. Quite pleased with the accommodations, we unloaded a few things and headed down for dinner at Buoy Beer at the recommendation of the woman working the front desk.

On this sleepy, off-season Sunday night, we lucked out and caught pub songs and sea shanties by Washington’s Trevor Hanson on his ‘multi-state’ tour — a show both entertaining and great background for more conversation.

The next morning, one could have thought it was mid-spring or a late fall morning with warm temps and clear skies. But, as with any weather on the coast, just give it a few minutes and it can change.

We headed up the Astoria Column for more views, photography, simple quiet time together and reflection. The Column, dedicated in 1926, was the “crowning monument” in Great Northern Railroad President Ralph Budd’s “pet project” celebrating early settlers’ expansion to the Pacific Coast.

We made our way through winding country roads about 25 miles north of the Astoria Bridge to explore the Willapa Bay Wildlife Refuge. Here we walked the Willapa Art Trail, checked out the many natural art interpretations, wandered the grounds and talked about life. For there won’t always be tomorrows for those conversations.

The adventure and itinerary was slowing down, and we spent time just being together. Activities like reflecting on the poetry of Emily Dickinson and E.E. Cummings etched into the sculptures are more meaningful than the candles and balloons of a typical birthday celebration.

One of the art pieces reads: “The bones of the parents are the nursery of the young,” referring specifically to the migratory life cycle of salmon and their spawning grounds, but can apply to life and family in a deeper sense.


Love demands more


We headed back to downtown Astoria for some window shopping — meandered through RiverSea Gallery, perusing jewelry, arts, prints and sculptures from local Northwest artists. We visited Pilot House Distillery, and (since it was her birthday, after all) mother enjoyed a flight of their house-crafted vodkas and gins, along with some great conversation on the history of their operations and their passion for supporting Wigglin Home’s Boxer Rescue.

We battled the wind and rain and made our way over to Luminari Arts and Forsythea galleries on Commercial Street, both of which featured wonderful selections of handcrafted cards, unique gifts, custom decor and artisan products from Northwest artists and goods makers. These two places alone are worth a couple of hours of your time.

We closed out the birthday with a lunch at Fort George Brewery of house hash and shrimp and grits, highlighted by flickering lights and a power outage, which always remind me of stormy winter days with a fire roaring, blankets and a good book.

Simple things such as this often occupy my mind. Quiet time spent with people I love. Activities that grow my knowledge of history and understanding of nature. Reflections that challenge my mind and conceptions about the world we live in.

Anyone can buy a gift card, a trinket or write a Facebook post. But I find that love demands more.

Aaron Breniman, a Portland resident, is an outdoor recreation enthusiast and freelance writer working on his first book. Contact him or find him on the socials via aaronbreniman.com.



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