Montana Wolf

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Going Coastal: Shake Down at Sea

My arrival at Yaquina Outstanding Natural Area was not planned. It was a last minute acceptance as a seasonal Interpretive Park Ranger, following an interview that confirmed I could go up and down 114-lighthouse spiral steps several times a day and walk on seaweed-slick tide pool rocks. Yes, I assured the interviewers, I could explain Yaquina (ya-quin-uh) to the public -- I'd written about the wild and told her stories for years. Silly me: I wasn't aware that the field of interpretation had a body of literature and a national certification. My first two weeks in June were comprised of classes to acquire that certification and glean the natural history of Oregon's rocky shores. It was a straight-up learning curve. Of all my staff and college intern cohorts, I was the one without a degree that related to biology or oceanography. My inner-mountain west naturalist years had met their limits.There wasn't much rabbitbrush on the beach.

Yaquina Head, outside of Newport, stretches a mile into the Pacific. The basalt, rough lava headland was cooled and worn by weather and tides for eons. Rock clifftops were now spring breeding locales for thousands of penguin-like Common Murres. The headland's shallow coves were feeding grounds for summer resident Gray Whales; the steep cliffs were claimed by breeding Peregrine Falcons, fastest animal on earth. Their three chicks grew and fledged before my eyes. I had landed in one of the most captivating places on the planet, with a position defined by the changing tides and the ferocious beauty of the Pacific.

Common Murres

Peregrine Chicks

Teak, Hobo and I made Yaquina bay our home. Six miles south of the headland, it was a serene balance to the raucous energy of the open sea. I walked Teak every morning along the bay. She chased balls as I completed my stretch routine, readying body and spirit for the day's work ahead. Some days I stared at mud flats, other days the high tide swelled up to the steep banks. No matter the tide, however, I was in company with a Great Blue Heron who, well, took me under her wing.

It was as if she sensed I needed her. My job demanded every ounce of physical and creative energy I could garner as work on my book came to a halt. I hadn't talked so much in years; it was like an all-day book event over and over. I'd long considered the Great Blue the symbol of patience and perseverance as I watched them stand determined and still as death staring at the water, waiting for a fish to dart within reach. I greeted Heron every morning. I didn't think a whole lot about it until the morning she appeared in front of me, through the mist, on the trail. In all of my observant years, I'd not seen a heron do this.

Not too long after she perched on a dilapidated fishing dock. My stretches finished, I walked to
within ten feet of her and said good morning. She looked at me and proceeded to stretch her three-foot wing straight out, followed by her long spindly leg. Then she did it again. She had observed me stretching for weeks and now she mimicked me. Her communication brought me to tears: patience and perseverance would see me through. I took heart.

The summer flew by. I thrilled to watch the Peregrine dive at 240-mph. I tucked my chin and walked into driving wind and rain to reach tide pools that brimmed with colorful anemones, urchins, chitons and the occasional octopus. I excitedly pointed out visitors' first whale sightings, answered their questions, and spoke with passion of the Gray Whale mother and calf I observed in the Baja birthing lagoon years ago. And six to nine times a week I led a forty-minute historic tour to take visitors to the top of the tallest lighthouse in Oregon. "My" lighthouse: a working masterpiece.

Autumn equinox looms. The murres have migrated to the ocean, their giant rocks eerily empty and quiet. The swirling, diving whales will soon migrate south, as will I. Hitch itch has set in. It's time to unfurl the road map of initiations, a karmic tangle of purpose and desire. This place of changing tides has had her way with me. It will be awhile before I can set the rhythm to words. I will give muse all the patience and perseverance she needs, with a wink to my long-legged friend.

Nursing Harbor Seal

Gray Whale and Cormorants


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  1. Christina! Thought the blog was all gone. Good to hear your words surfacing thru the tides. Blessings on your journey from ocean back to desert.

  2. Christina! Thought the blog was all over. Good to hear of your oceanic period. Blessings on your journey from ocean to desert.

  3. Hello Carole. It DID disappear. I was confounded. I went for a walk, connected with my heron friend, returned and wrote it again. A day's work instead of a half day's work. On my day off. It's my "weekend." Thank you for your blessings. xo Christina

  4. I can smell and hear the pacific right now because of your words.

  5. Travelling from anywhere to anywhere makes a person more active. meet and greet at luton

  6. Herons draw me too. It's not their majestic stance or patient energy, but the standing alone - on one's own two feet.

    Would love to spot a whale.
    Beautiful post.