Spring break in Astoria

There’s something about travel that breaks me out of whatever mental ruts I’ve been mucking about in. I forget old patterns of worry and the long list of all the things I think I need to do. Everything takes a back seat to the thrill of adventure, new perspectives.

Spring Break 2023 (March 25-April 2), we were actually planning to stay home and I was hoping to get some gardening done. Yeah, I know, mucking about in the same old ruts. BUT, the weather didn’t cooperate. Rain, snow, hail, bleh. I am that weirdo who usually isn’t bothered by long stints of uninterrupted cool, wet rain. However, sometimes even I need a break. So, we chose the two nicest days to head over to Astoria, OR for a quick getaway.

Near Tillamook, we passed this gigantic building off to the east of highway 101, the Tillamook Air Museum. Supposedly the largest free-standing, clear-span wooden structure in the world covering 7+ acres and standing 15+ stories high. Huge. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but check out the second photo below from the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. Read more about the original purpose of the building here, along with a really cool photo of the hangar filled with blimps (Blimp! What an odd word. Either a military verbal contraction of “Type B limp bag” or based on the sound that the airship makes when you tap on it with a finger).

We didn’t stop though. At that point, we just wanted lunch. So, we decided to bypass the Tillamook Creamery (no seafood) and ended up at the Fish Peddler in Bay City, where I had a shrimp-crab melt on crunchy, heavily buttered toast (prompting nostalgia for Wisconsin) and L had the Captain’s Platter. Both were perfectly good options.

While dining, a woman from the neighboring table leaned over to ask whether L and I were “brothers”. A surprisingly common question that we get asked in grocery store lines, restaurants, etc. Somehow, folks sense that there is some sort of relationship between L and I, and feel this urgent need to try and define it, but then can’t quite put two and two together. The simplest explanation that they unerringly come up with is that a short, thin black-haired man with a Mexican accent was somehow born from the same parents as a pale, brown-haired German-Norwegian lummox with a Midwestern accent. Always an awkward question that we answer with a surprised, but simple “no”.

I can’t quite figure out why some people will approach a pair of complete strangers to ask about their relationship. Is it a subtle, passive-aggressive way of telling us we don’t belong? Just friendly curiosity? Or, perhaps, a more overt way of trying to control the narrative of other people’s lives? The jerk in me wants to¬† reply with something equally nonsensical and invasive – like motioning to the slightly older man that she was sitting with and asking if that was her son. However, the better side of me hopes that next time, I have the presence and calmness of mind to respond with a genuine “No, we’re married, why do you ask?” Seems like a more grounded and open approach that could lead to an interesting conversation.

Photo of giant hangar in Tillamook County Pioneer Museum
Photo at Tillamook County Pioneer Museum

Moving onward after lunch, I was surprised to see a tiger wearing shorts and carrying an umbrella in Lincoln City. The name of the restaurant, Lil Sambo’s, hasn’t changed much with the times (here). We are definitely living in a period of flux, with national conversations about respect, fairness, and justice. Even a small town along the Pacific Coast in western Oregon can’t escape.

Later, we arrived at our hotel, the Selina Commodore Astoria, a grand, creaking affair of brick, wood, and light.

We had a nice view of the historic Hotel Astoria across the street. Completed in 1924, it was, and possibly still is, the tallest concrete building on the coast. I am glad they retained a lot of the stylistic elements during restoration. Elegant, simple. I wish we could go back to designing buildings with more visual interest. It’s getting difficult to distinguish one city from the next, with bland boxy suburbia replicating across the landscape. The same apartment complexes, fast food restaurants, and box stores everywhere. Very repetitive blah, blah, blah. Only a glance at the vegetation (if there is any) or to the surrounding landscape gives a clue to where you might be. Astoria, however, is fabulous. Nice to be in a town with character and history.

We took a quick trip up to Cape Disappointment. I always joke that it would be a great place to have a wedding or honeymoon. We walked out on the long, rocky jetty pointing southwest into the vast empty ocean hoping to find that sense of remoteness. On the way, we passed about a dozen people fishing, only one of them a woman. Didn’t look like they were catching much and we hoped this was their hobby and not their main source of food.

We were going to walk all the way out to the far end of the jetty, but it was a hard slog, hopping from large rock to large rock across some pretty deep gaps, trying not to slip and fall. Not easy for someone with my height, creaky knee, and torque profile. L was also feeling it. Probably got about 3/4 of the way before we decided to head back to mainland. Getting old. Dinner time anyway. And the cold wind was picking up with another wet front on the way.

Sea otter bobbing in and out of the waves near Cape Disappointment, Washington
Sea otter swimming on the leeward side of the jetty

I’m usually looking for interesting plants wherever I go, so these intricate little vegetative doilies caught my eye. Flat, incised leaves patterned in green and purple. Best guess is that they are Cotula coronopifolia, an invasive species from South Africa. Quite pretty, really. I left them to continue their invasion.

Distant view of the North Head lighthouse.

And, the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.

The ocean doesn’t call to me the way that the mountains do. I much prefer a lush, spring forest next to a rushing creek fed by snow. Still, there is a resonance here, less definable, but drawing me in nonetheless. Somehow, the ocean always stirs up thoughts about how small I truly am.

We arrived back at the hotel just in time for a sunset view of the Astoria-Megler bridge and a brisk walk to dinner. We don’t see many sunrises or sunsets anymore, tucked away as we are in the hills. I miss them.

Working on Part 2 next, where we will discover Oregon’s largest indoor Schefflera arbicola, another run-in with a nosy stranger, a climb up the Astoria Column, a walk along the Cathedral Tree Trail, and some mossy musings.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Kris P

    Wonderful photos, especially the sunset shot. I looked up Cape Disappointment because my first thought was that you were teasing about the name and I’d missed the core of the joke. I love Tillamook ice cream (unfortunately it became my pandemic era comfort food and I haven’t broken the habit.) I understand that it’s a very conservative-leaning area. Still, I think its weird that you were asked about your relationship with L by a stranger. I was asked a similar question once when I took a friend to the hospital for a surgical procedure (in Beverly Hills) and simply answered that she was a friend but I was perplexed about why the person thought we could be sisters as we don’t look at all alike. Afterwards, I wished I’d asked why the person asked the question.

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      Yes, I was teasing about the name of the place and laughing about people putting Cape Disappointment on all of their wedding invitations. Heh, we just bought some blackberry cobbler Tillamook ice cream on Friday. People are very, very interesting and make for some interesting stories. It’s hard to come up with the right response to an unexpected question in the moment.

  2. danger garden

    We haven’t been to the beach for a year now, so I really appreciated your photos and your musings about being drawn to the mountains vs. the ocean. I’m definitely drawn to the coast, although Andrew is the opposite and thus my appreciation for the forest has grown. I love that Cotula coronopifolia and look forward to your mossy musings.

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      Even though I am not a natural ocean person, I do enjoy going a lot. There is something ancient about it. My appreciation has definitely grown by having easy access and friends that appreciate it. Sometimes seeing things through other people’s eyes can change our perspectives.

  3. Anna K

    Oh, how fun to get away a little! I have always wanted to visit that Air Museum. The photo from the Pioneer Museum is fantastic! What a space…

    I can’t believe people… That would be an odd question even if you *were* brothers. I mean, what the hell…? So completely random.

    I’m more of a forest nymph myself, though I love a trip to the ocean here and there. Its magnificence always puts things in a healthy perspective, methinks. Glad you had a good trip!

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      For some reason, it’s always hard to stop when we are on our way somewhere. I wish we could either know about these places ahead of time, or somehow factor in some “exploration” time into our vacations.

      I wonder what makes people feel closer to some environments than other. For me, I think it was growing up for part of my life in the desert, and then seeing green forests and mountains for the first time during those formative years. Seeing the ocean for the first time in my 30s just didn’t have the same impact.

  4. Denise Maher

    Your photos! I love wandering around the former military base that the Air Museum occupies. Lots of small scale agriculture happening there, and an enormous compost operation in the former hangar that burned. Repurposed military bases have the most interesting reuses! I took my granddaughter to the Pioneer Museum last week — the top floor taxidermy/natural history exhibit is fascinating. The Oregon coast, with the forest meeting the ocean, ticks all the boxes for me! Glad you had a nice getaway, nosy humans notwithstanding.

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      Ah, I knew I should have stopped there! And the Pioneer Museum sounds great – I enjoy a good natural history exhibit. Now that I’ve learned about those two places, and the Manzanita Wonder Garden, we have some new destinations to visit next time we are in the area.

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