Monday, October 19, 2015

44°50'29.0"N 124°02'57.8"W

The board exam season of this summer is long gone, and the past couple of months have had me engaged in the activity of what will most likely be my final form as a physician. For the very first time, I've actually been directly functioning -- albeit in a truncated, supervised fashion -- in the capacity I've been working towards for nearly the past 10 years. Exciting Shtuff, to be sure. 

Spending so many hours in the hospital provides for the opportunity to get to know many patients, some over a day, some over weeks. I've also been training in Oregon, the place where I grew up and in many ways, consider home even though I officially live in California, these days, and haven't officially had a residence in Oregon for 10 years. There is something very easy about being around and getting to know people who call the same place home. One particular patient from a few weeks ago who was in the hospital for a condition which was considerably more serious than he wanted to believe, at least, at first. He really wanted to leave, and he had good, solid reasons to desire this and many providers tried to speak with him and convince him of the severity of his particular condition. I spent less time doing this, but more time just talking with him -- of course, the fact that he was very interesting and engaging made it a natural thing to do. Among many interesting stories and tidbits from history and his life, he shared with me a special part of his family history. 

He, like my family, loved to go to Fogarty Creek State Park, on the Central Oregon Coast. He told me a story about when his grandkids were young children and how this one afternoon spawned an annual tradition that lives even to this day. But -- we'll get to this part later. I told this patient that after my gig in Corvallis was over I was headed to Lincoln City to work in the small hospital nestled between the big breakers of the Pacific and the lapping of the little waves of Devil's Lake. He, in a way inspired me to take a nostalgic walk through the wonders that Fogarty Creek State Park have to offer. I spent many days as a child here, often with big outings filled with dozens to hundreds of family and friends and there are many memories that come flooding back when here. 

Working as a bona fide hospitalist often provides a humane schedule of 7 days on and 7 days off, with 12 hour days, or less, usually. Training as a hospitalist is brutal, usually consisting of 6 days a week with 12 hour minimum days. So has my schedule been for a couple of months, and so shall it continue to be. On one of these days off, I went to Fogarty Creek State Park, as I promised the patient in Corvallis, to not only honor his family and their tradition, but to tie a small piece of myself and my families tradition to his in a quiet way. 

The excitement of parking and then finally walking along the path along the creek and underneath Highway 101 and then finally catching the first glimpse of the ocean in the distance is etched upon my mind. Often, my parents were early for many events and I was sent ahead to see what side of the creek the festivities would be. I've built many damns on this creek and while none of them have survived the test of time, the tradition continues and having driftwood laying around helps. I was in no shape to build a damn this day but what looked like the last vestiges of a previous effort was waiting for me -- allowing me to cross the creek without soaking my shoes and socks, hopefully.   

Assessing best way to cross the mighty Fogarty. 

I think I've got it. 

And I've made it. Shoes and socks no worse for the wear. 

The volcanic rocks which are the focus of the beach component of the park are perfectly situated so that only in the highest tides during the year are they inaccessible for climbing. Interestingly enough, it was a year ago where I came here with a handful of good friends and the tide was exceptionally high. I made my way to the rocks and as I did so, the surf began to converge from either side of the rock formation so that I had to find refuge on a smaller rock a few feet about the sand and wait to escape. My shoes got wet that day. As we were leaving a group of kids spilled out of a few vans in the parking lot and headed for the beach. We went down to Depoe Bay where we watched the Spouting Horn drench a few of our party and many strangers. The spray was so high it was soaking the entire highway and even wetting the opposite sidewalk -- for those of you who know the area, the impressive nature of this surf is known. Returning north, we saw a Coast Guard helicopter hovering above the highway with multiple emergency vehicles parked on the side of the highway. The few of the kids from the vans we saw earlier had gotten themselves stranded on the rocks and more than a couple were injured trying to either escape or save the others. While I was there near high tide this day, it was no were near that day a year ago. I was able to climb to the top easily, just as I did so many times as a kid. 

High tide on this day, which was less than an hour away was not going to have the breakers converge around the rocks, to provide some perspective. 

The rocks on the right are separated a little bit from the larger formation on the left. On low tide one can explore what is basically a pool inside the rock, full of starfish, sea anemones and other crazy critters. I wasn't able to make it over there -- maybe all the starfish have died, as they have had a rough time lately on the Pacific coast, as they have been plague with "sea star associated densovirus.

The water was getting higher, I had no time to waste. 

Just out of frame to the right is a nearly perfect "chute" in the rock allowing for easy scaling -- and, more importantly, an easy way back down. 

And I'm up. It couldn't be easier if a steps were built into the rock face. 

From this perspective you can see the pool I was referring to earlier. The surf was high enough that I had no access. Looking north, you can see Cascade Head in the distance which lies at the north end of Lincoln City.

The highest point of the rock formation; perfectly flat on top. If I had time I might have taken a nap up here. 

I find it interesting that dirt is still present on top of the rocks. It is mostly clay, seems like, and not easily washed away -- nevertheless, waves crash over the rocks in no infrequent manner and while I my memory is not infallible, it looks the same to me as it did 30 years ago while climbing the rocks and pretending to push my friends off the precipice into the boiling angry waters below. 

Looking south at the bluff overlooking the more secluded portion of the beach. 

Water is getting higher. 

While idealistically it would be preferable to not have hotels lining the bluff of the northern aspect of the park, I've had enough good memories there to allow it. Also, the blue sign of the "Surfrider Hotel" adds a nice blue glow at night. The restaurant has some of the best views anywhere, if only the food matched the magnificent view; that said, I think I won a few hundred dollars with the video poker machine in the bar last year. I try to only gamble on holiday -- its as if the machines know whether you're playing with real money or vacation money, and reward or punish accordingly. 

Time to head back down. Hopefully I can keep my shoes dry. 

I've identified where I will cross back over the creek to the other side of the beach. Time to explore the other, more subtle joys of Fogarty Creek State Park. 

Like so many things from childhood, these cliffs used to be so much bigger. I remember the first time I saw one of my friends up on the top of the cliff -- I was flabbergasted! I may have been 11 or 12 when we found a trail leading up to the top. Exploring woods is such a pleasurable activity. 

This side of the beach was where we would wade into the ocean, as the waves came in much straighter and rip tides were less dangerous compared to the other side of the rock formation. 

The cliff really starts to gain elevation here. Continuing to the right, towards the ocean is the big rock slide, which still, even now looks relatively new. A certain father of a certain friend of mine told a story which had a big cave that used to go into the wall of the cliff and that a girl and a boy were in the cave when the opening collapsed, leaving the haphazard boulders as they sit now. I tried to find something online concerning the rock slide but there is nothing. While quite difficult to believe,  I always imagined there being a secret cavern that was left open and that the kids survived to, well, I guess die of dehydration or starvation, or eaten by a bear or something. 

These boulders are larger than they appear. The cliff is maybe 80 feet up or so. 

Playing with whips. 

There not a lot of absolutely clear days on the Oregon Coast. 

Two thirds of the way back to the highway, around the bed in the bluff is a break in the dense underbrush you would be forgiven for looking past. 

Like a little hobbit path through the thicket with large looming alders, sitka spruce and western hemlock trees. Plenty of spider webs. 

The first view when breaking out of the hobbit path. 

The afternoon my friends and I found this path we explored for a bit -- and then, we decided to cut down a tree. We didn't pick the largest tree -- I've always been ambitious, in some respect. A little more bothersome, in retrospect, is the fact that this tree was tall -- easily 100 feet tall -- and right below the precipice was our family and friends, moms and dads, grandma and grandpa hanging out on their blankets and in their beach chairs. 

See the bird at the top of the rock formation's high point? My kinda bird. Not that far from here is a hotel where I stayed as a child -- and seagulls would land on the railing of the balcony. I fed it a cracker or too and it kept coming back. I loaded a cracker up with hot sauce and fed the poor creature a table spoon of hot sauce. It came back after a short while soaking wet. Dripping wet. Kinda funny. I never fed a seagull an alka selzter though -- that is not funny. 

As you go further south along the bluff and towards the high part above the dead children in the cave are little paths of to the cliff's edge providing quite spectacular views. 

At the point where the rock face turns to the ocean and the beach ends below is a little clearing that I wish these pictures could convey with a little more effect. The trees here arch over and intertwine with each other; and with the slight depression with the surrounding hills this is a protected quiet little shelter. It can be quite windy and this is a calm area. The ground is springy from all the needles and leaves that carpet the ground. Some rolls of old carpet pads are rotting in the distance in the photo above. I didn't do it, I promise. 

Trees are covered in glowing green moss.

 I always thought that if I had to be on the run, or hide or something, I would come here. Now that I'm telling you that, I'm going to have to find another good hiding spot. 

The path southward continues along the cliff's edge and out and around for a mile or two all the way to the finger of tidal pools and rocks that are easily overtaken with waves and disappeared below the surface for half of the day. It really is an amazing hike and if you're up for some adventure, it is something I cannot recommend enough. Go with another person though. I turned around and headed back down the path towards the beach, though. 

Shadows are long.

Back underneath the 101 and into the other portion of the park are many picnic tables, and even picnic table ruins, which, for some reason much more intriguing than they sound. Now I was on the hunt for a piece of the story that the patient told me about. He told me that when his grandchildren are young, they went running away, and and when they came back the youngest granddaughter was breathless and could barely contain her excitement over the tree they had "found" and that they had to go and check it out. He described the area of the park it was in, and I wanted to see it, just like he wanted me to. While I think some of the trees are magnificent here, this tree was merely a trunk that came out of the ground at a low angle with a big trunk coming off about 6 feet up allowing for you to walk up and sit on the branch. They took pictures of all the kids sitting in the tree, and for the most part, had kept that tradition, now with the great grandkids -- taking pictures in the tree for a whole generation. This guy, whom I had just met was realizing that this tradition might already be over for him -- that he the pictures he took during the summer that had just ended might be the the last. The finer points of life, the subtle yet all powerful realizations are the moments that impact us. 

I systematically started my sweep of the south side of the park. I had enjoyed many barbecues among these picnic tables. 

A mossy concrete sidewalk winds around the underbrush away from the other picnic table clusters and I wondered if this is where the tree stood. It seemed so easy -- to just follow the path into the deep wet woods. It was just picnic table ruins, though. Interestingly enough it was obvious that the underbrush had been maintained to not overtake the little path or the concrete blocks. 

I kept moving. I moved into the next cluster of tables, a few hundred yards further from the ocean. I came around a bend and in the distance I saw it. The tree coming out of the ground at a 45 degree angle. 

And there it was, just being a tree like only it knows how. Did it remember the kids that have grown into middle age and came to sit on its branches every year when the days were the longest? Did it mourn for the man who held this tree to be above all other trees? 

Probably not; its just a tree.  

Fogarty Creek is named for John Fogarty, who came to Oregon in 1875 and settled in Yaquina Bay in 1884. He served as city councilman, county commissioner and judge. The sand stone cliffs on the eastern border of the beach continue to erode and are slowly creeping back away from the ocean. This is accelerated on the north side under the various hotels and condominiums. Action to save the structures will be needed in the decades to come.   

The drive up and out of the park. 

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