When it comes to writing about life on Oregon’s North Coast, all kinds of things can spring to mind: nature’s beauty, changeable weather, dusky waterfronts.
Ten North Coast writers turned to poetry and personal stories to describe their experiences when the Cannon Beach Library requested essays and poems about life on the North Coast for its Writers Read Celebration.
For Debbie Simorte, who moved to Manzanita from Missouri four months ago, life on the North Coast is still new and challenging, as she writes in her essay, “Hummingbirds in January.”
“What I know so far about living here is that I know nothing. I step outside and see trees and birds I don’t know. I’ve known hummingbirds, but never in January. Elk never walked around my old neighborhood.”
She discovered that there’s a difference between rain and showers, researched a cannabis dispensary and practiced the pronunciations of AStoria, WiLAMette and Yachats: “Yah hots? Yah, hots.”
Jennifer Nightingale, of Astoria, frequently walks along the Clatsop Spit at Fort Stevens State Park. She enjoys the nature of the North Coast, but, as she writes in her poem, “Between the River and the Sea,” loud motorcycles can ruin her experience:
”Oblivious that his noise disrupts / The rhythms of the precious little finger of wilderness”
“I hope that people will understand that this finger of land is fragile and will want to be better stewards,” Nightingale said in an email.
Nature was a constant theme in the entries. Mindy Hardwick, who has written books for kids and owns a cottage in Cannon Beach, unearthed her story while volunteering for the Haystack Rock Awareness Program. A young boy claimed he discovered an octopus under a tide pool rock and asked Hardwick to go along with his story:
“I’m pretty sure octopuses don’t make their home in the tide pools, but I enjoy his enthusiasm … I agree to his scheme and step away as clusters of kids clamor to see the octopus. The boy is a natural and makes up stories about how it got there and who else might be hiding under the rock.”
James Dott, of Astoria, who loves big trees, relates the mystery surrounding the giant spruce tree that once flourished in Klootchy Creek Wayside. His historical research lends context to his poetry. “Even if one is trying to catch a moment through writing, there is a deep story leading to and beyond that moment,” said Dott, whose poem is “A Boy Found a Body”:
“Antoine, early Seaside entrepreneur, / was leading some timber cruisers up the river in April 1899. / They went missing.”
The North Coast weather, of course, was a common theme in many submissions. Nehalem writer Victoria Stoppiello describes rain in “In and Out Weather”:
“Ours comes in buckets with 40-, 50-, 80-mile-an-hour winds. Trees writhing, then tossed, foam lining the shores, rivers running their banks, us leaning into the wind to go about our tasks, in rain jackets, forgoing the impossible umbrella, laughing in coffee shops during the first rains of fall.”
Meanwhile, John Ciminello, of Naselle, Washington, worries in his poem, “Rain,” about fixing a leaky roof:
“Following a brown and soggy trail, / I gather unlikely clues / from wisps of pink insulation, / the stain of the weeping wood”
Poetry is “one of the purest of all art forms,” Ciminello said. “I love the tender life that a poem becomes and the path it takes.”
Two writers found poetry in their drives to and from Portland. Katja Biesanz, of Nehalem, teaches classes in Portland and catches early morning scenes. In her poem, “Commute,” she writes about what she sees in the patchy morning freezing fog, where everything sparkles:
“an eagle appears overhead / I can almost touch it / continuing, climb through / white towers of evergreen”
Emily Ransdell’s poem, “Driving to Manzanita,” lists familiar sights on the way from Portland — vegan food carts, tunnel and bridge, the Jim Dandy fruit stand — until she reaches the Elderberry Inn where she stops for coffee:
“Here at the Elderberry Inn / where a ten-foot statue of Bigfoot looms… / Even in relief he looks weary / of the myth his life has become.”
Finally, small towns on the sea’s edge caught the attention of two more writers. It was a chance encounter in Astoria that prompted Geno Leech to write “Second-Hand Smoke,” about a rain-soaked scrap runner riding in the bed of a pickup, smoking a cigarette:
“I tailed the scrap runners through town. Distracted by flying spray and panic-attacked wipers, Ike’s image tricked and teased — a monsoon mirage, a scrap metal chameleon.”
Leech’s fisherpoetry and short stories are abundant with metaphors, similes and adjectives. “Look,” he explained, “if you make a soup without salt it’s flat. Tasteless. I reach for the spice rack.”
Writer Robert Michael Pyle explores Ilwaco’s waterfront at “dripping dusk” in December in his poem, “I Cover the Waterfront.” The small-town bookstore, a seafood grill, pub, Jessie’s Fish Market remain on the pier, where a few boats are docked. Pyle said he wrote about the scene because it moved him.
“What moves me to write are the actual details of the real physical world and how they play upon the human heart,” Pyle said.
“As long as little seaside towns live on, giving harbor / to half-forgotten craft and vagabonds on a winter’s night, / I will continue to cover the waterfront, seeking something / not likely to be found, anywhere else.”