Change, when you can spare a closer look, might strike you as strange.

Sometimes change sneaks into your consciousness by presenting itself so incrementally you hardly notice.

Because of this phenomenon, for example, I have been known to overlook the transformation of lettuce in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator until - suddenly, it seems - a mysterious green slime has invaded and taken its place.

"What have you done with my salad?" I demand.

Fortunately, the change is rarely so strange that the green blob has acquired speech.

I found myself ruminating about change and familiarity recently when my wife and I revisited a few old haunts in Clatsop County. Incidentally, by making the vegetable analogy I do not mean to imply any of these places are getting particularly green or slimy, just that some change tends to catch me by surprise.

Take, for another example, ridiculously high gasoline prices. Take them away. Please. I'm still choking, fuming, sputtering and aghast about the cost of gas.

On the way to catching the hilarious production of "The Foreigner" at the Coaster Theatre in Cannon Beach, I realized the car was running on little more than petrol vapors. But while the shape and style of the town's north entrance has changed dramatically in recent years, I was thankful something else had not altered - we could still find a tiny filling station at the old RV park in addition to the one downtown.

You know you have lived in a small town when one of its most dramatic changes is a new grocery store. To be sure, the new Safeway in Astoria is significantly more spacious and prominent than its predecessor downtown, and its arrival and traffic-jamming grand opening followed years of deliberation. For all the sad farewells to Hauke's Sentry, the end of that negotiation and construction process for the new store is a welcome change.

A not-so-welcome change personally arrived with the impending departure of a good friend. Not long ago, she had moved within Astoria, having discovered a beautifully restored old house featuring - like so many grand old dames of the town - a splendid view of the Columbia. But, understandably, she could not turn down a good job opportunity in another state.

We helped her pack a few final things and shook our heads sadly in unison with our friend when she observed how, in addition to everything else, she was leaving behind the first home she had ever known to offer enough closet space.

Following the adieu we greeted other dear friends anew. They applied primer to the walls of their new nautical canvas workshop space at the Astoria Business Park near Alderbrook, and we could tell they were primed already for the opportunities afloat. Their enthusiasm proved contagious as we toured their surroundings, including an uncanny view of the bridge and new offices in what had been a cannery.

Changes appeared everywhere, large and small, when we took a closer look. The incremental refinements at the Gilbert Block in Seaside resounded with the new - but old-fashioned - sign gracing Holladay Drug.

Happily, however, some things are better when they are spared from change (or at least more than a few dollars' worth).

This observation emerged clearly in, among other places, the restaurant Camp 18 along the Sunset Highway. This place, with its rustic charm, right down to the axe-handle doors and bizarre chandeliers fashioned from antlers, is a fixture in these parts - not unlike the Elderberry Inn or Oney's are fixtures, too. Walking beside the stream out back, amid the wildflowers and trees there, we realized that maybe it is not so strange after all that for some things, it's good to stay the same.

Brad Bolchunos wonders if lettuce did speak, would it say "lettuce be," or is he just getting rusty?


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