Today I am revisiting a post from August 2019, and contrasting a beloved holiday retreat with how we must experience this place today.
Last year I offered you two images instead of one, but this year I am giving you five. The first image was found on Wikimedia Commons, taken in 2013 on a spring day in Cannon Beach Oregon. It is a wonderful shot of what I think of as the Monarch of the Beach, the God-Rock dominating the shores of my favorite beach.
The second image is one I shot in 2018, an unusually hot year, when we were plagued with massive wildfires here on the west coast of America. The sunsets that year were unbelievable.
The third image in this post is one I shot in 2019 with my cell-phone, and little did I know that it would be the last image I would ever get of that particular sea-stack. The two final images were also shot on my cell phone.
In the first image, Haystack Rock, shot and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Tiger635, the sky is perfect; an amazing shade of blue with stratus clouds overhead and sea below, all converging on Haystack. The photographer did everything right to capture the beauty of this place.
Before the Pandemic, on Sundays, the streets of Cannon Beach were crowded with cars and throngs of people. The cafes, galleries, trinket shops, bookstores, wine shop, and bodega—all were jammed, alive with a seething mass of humanity.
On Mondays, it became briefly walkable, and that is how it is now, during the pandemic. People wear face-masks in town, and give space to each other while walking on the sidewalk. It’s still a place where temporary neighbors become socially distant friends, glad to know they aren’t alone.
This year I have the view I love most, that of Tillamook Head, as pictured in my photo from 2o18. When the fog that seems eternal this year lifts, we can see Terrible Tilly, the most notorious lighthouse on the west coast. So far this year, the sunsets have not been quite as spectacular as 2018 was, but I did get one beautiful shot, which is the final image in this post.
The stairs are precipitous, and as I said last year, they are familiar; old friends greeting me in their sand-encrusted steepness, bidding me, “Welcome back, Pilgrim! Welcome home.”
On sunny days here at the north end of the beach, the sandbar between Ecola Creek estuary and the sea is dotted with people carrying chairs and chasing children. It’s not the throng we had last year, but still a bit of a crowd. While many aren’t wearing masks on the beach, everyone seems willing to maintain respectful distance.
Unaware of COVID-19, excited dogs, all with leashes securely attached to their people, push along toward the waves, dragging tired humans faster than they can comfortably walk.
Most days, when it is cold, foggy, or rainy, we only have to share the beach with the few hardier folks who love the soul of this place as much as they do the sun and sand.
The beach stretches four miles from Ecola Creek to Arch Cape. It’s a sandy shoreline, dotted with sea stacks. Several smaller sea stacks surround the grand master, the Monarch of the Beach who sits near the center, the megalith known as Haystack Rock.
This is the annual Jasperson family pilgrimage to a place that assumes mythic proportions when we are away from it. The pandemic made its mark this year, with no grandchildren in attendance, no hand-dug sandpits waiting for unwary grandparents to stumble into, and so far no wind for my kite.
But every year is different. Regardless, like the seabirds nesting on the sea stacks, my husband and I return here every year, as do as any family members who can get these few days away from work. We come to regain the internal balance that we gradually lose over the course of the year, seeking connectedness as a family.
The Needles, those acolyte sea stacks gathered around Haystack’s knees are slowly disintegrating. We see them diminished a little more every year, noticed especially when we compare pictures from one year to another. This next image is one I shot on Monday August 5, 2019. The sky that year was a shade of gray that is impossible to describe. I particularly love the way the tidal pools came out in my photo, the green of the sea moss, and the reflection of the spires across the shallow sea.
Last year the most visible change was in this sister-spire of the three Needles—one of the larger ones had been sundered into two spires rising from a common base.
This year, the change is graphic.
Now it is only a low hump, not too different from any other lump of basalt cresting the waves in the shallows. Where once there were three, now there are only two. In the final two pictures, you can just barely see what is left of the middle sister.
Time eventually wears everything to sand. All these sea stacks will one day be gone, shattered to rubble, a testimony to the violence of the wild Northeast Pacific winters. That is the way life is, and I find it reflected in myself.
I’m not quite crumbling into the sea, but I’m definitely showing the effects of weathering.
It’s comforting to know that, still standing strong and unchanged, Haystack Rock, the Monarch of the Beach rules. Pelicans, puffins, terns, seagulls, and rare wide-winged wanderers from far out to sea still come to nest on the Monarch of the Beach, Haystack Rock and his attendants.
Tidal pools still shelter starfish, anemones, and a multitude of other small creatures. These tiny water-worlds remind us that we are part of something larger.
The sea is ever-changing. Untamed and dangerous one day, it is calm and serene the next.
The most fundamental thing I’ve learned from my walks among the tide pools at the foot of the Monarch is this: we humans are not islands—we are part of a world that extends below the surface and conceals secrets and lives we surface dwellers can only dimly imagine.
Above the eternal sea, on the strand below the Great Rock, we remember who we are, and we are made stronger.
The bonds my family forges in this hallowed place bind us together. They won’t be broken no matter how far apart we are, or how long we are separated, not even after the Monarch of the Beach crumbles into the sea.
Credits and Attributions:
Haystack Rock, by Tiger635 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Tillamook Head at Sunset © Connie J. Jasperson 2018 All Rights Reserved
Sentinel, 05 August 2019 (One of the Needles, Cannon Beach) © 2019 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved (author’s own work).
Haystack Rock and the Two Needles, 20 August 2020 © 2020 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved (author’s own work).
Sunset at Haystack, 19 August 2020 © 2020 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved (author’s own work).