I wonder what Aki would have made of these jellyfish. Hundreds if not thousands of them washed up on the Seaside Beach with the tide. I’ve seen the little dog nose the gelatinousness mass of an Alaskan jelly spread over the gravel of a North Douglas beach. But she never lingered to taste one like she would have a fallen French fry on Franklin Street.
Unlike their Alaskan relatives, almost all these Oregon jellyfish are a monochromatic grey-brown. From a distance they look like flat stones on a flat beach. There are gulls and crows patrolling the beach but none of them shows any interest in the jellyfish corpses.
It’s has stopped raining for a moment so I start my Tai Chi exercises, careful to watch the surf line for sneaker waves. Out of the corner of my eye I spot a gull watching me. Other gulls join it. I have the impression that they are looking for something to distract them on this dull, gray day. They are really waiting for me to move so they can sweep down on a ruined fish just beached by the retreating tide. When I do, a cloud of gulls descends on the beach to fight for the scraps.
This morning, before the start of writer’s school classes, I walked down Seaside’s 1stAvenue to the promenade. At the end of the avenue a man, bareheaded and wearing a heavy plaid shirt, slumped on a bench. He faced in the opposite direction from a gull perched on a nearby railing. They both looked like they were disgusted with each other.
After I used my phone to take a picture of them, the man rose and stared at me. I walked up to him and admitted that I had taken a picture of him and that I’d happily delete the photo is he wanted that. He didn’t. We chatted for a minute, him probably trying to figure out my deal, me thinking that he looked like an aged version of rocker David Crosby with his salt and pepper hair and walrus mustache.
A 20-knot wind swept up the beach. It explained why the man and bird faced away from each other. The man wanted to let his back take the cold impact of the wind. The bird, like all gulls would, was weather veining into it. The wind couldn’t explain the expression I saw in the man’s face. He was probably just focusing on the sound of heavy surf or maybe dreading what the dark clouds collecting over the ocean would bring us later in the day. But after spending a week at writer’s school, I couldn’t stop myself from mentally writing him a script—one where he revives a memory of loss or mistake.
This morning, after first coffee, I climbed to the hotel roof to watch the sunrise over the clear-cut forests that line the eastern horizon. As he has been each other time that I’ve visited the rooftop, the resident gull, a kittiwake I think, was already perched on the top of the hotel’s copula. He tolerated me for a minute and then flew toward the Tillamook Head. He left before I ask him about the condition of the Tillamook Head Trail.
The head is a huge headland that protrudes into the Pacific Ocean. It dominates the view looking south from Seaside Beach. From the hotel rooftop I traced a line of houses on Sunset Blvd that ends at the trailhead.
In the afternoon I will get a ride to the trailhead and then hike through a forest dominated by large spruce trees and hemlocks. It will look very much like an Alaska Rain Forest on a day in early spring. I will feel at home. I will look out at the ocean through a forest gap and see lines of waves lined up like an army intent on slamming into the head.
I am still in Seaside, an honorary member of a community of writers that gathers here every January. It’s a group generous with their time, attention and knowledge. But the level of energy that ran through us at the state of this residency is dropping.
To recharge, I take walks on the beach. But it lacks the magic of the North Douglas trails back home in Juneau. At first I assigned fault to the multistory structures that crowd the beach. But this is off-season, so they are empty shells reduced to silent silhouettes. Then I have to blame the other beach walkers, who migrated to the strip of sand just soaked by the retreating tide. Even when none of the walkers are close, their footprints and those left by previous beach users turn the beach into a much-used highway. It might be different if I could find an eagle or one could find me. Some of the writers have seen a bald eagle but I have had to make due with gulls and a gang of opportunistic crows.
Perhaps because of the insistent surf hammering Seaside Beach this afternoon, the air here is filled with water vapor. It occludes the view of Tillamook Head and even makes it possible to photograph the sun. While the ground fog back home in Juneau is animated—likely to crawl like a pre-toddler along Gastineau Channel or climb up the slope of Mt. Juneau—the Seaside vapor is lazy. It haunts the beach like a bored teenager.
The fog doesn’t interfere with the ability of the local dogs to enjoy their beach walks. I miss Aki when I see little dogs sniffing the beach grass or trotting with their owner near the surf line. One calls my attention to a line of beach grass that someone has transplanted below the high tide line. Is this art or a doomed effort to expand the range of the tough grass?
Gulls are as common in Juneau as ravens on garbage day. I’ve seen both on my way to writing school classes here in Seaside, Oregon. This morning two gulls landed on the wooden railing of a second story deck. One acted as look out while the other one shuffled over to a sliding glass window. The forward one rapped on the window with its beak, then clucked. The scene was repeated five times without anyone answering the gull’s summons.
Not wanting to be late for a lecture on scene, I moved on as the gull made a sixth try to have someone answer its call. I remembered the crow that landed one morning on our deck railing while I practiced guitar. As I ran through the scales, the little guy strutted up to the window that separated us. He didn’t tap on the window, just twisted his head to the side as if to hear me better. When I switched from warm ups to “Toy” by Dowling, the crow flew away.
Aki is home in snowy Juneau. I’m in Seaside Oregon attending writing school. Here the mallards float lazily on the Necanicum River. Back home, they hide from storm gusts in rocky lees. Aki would love to run full out on the broad Seaside Beach, maybe even dig in the sand for treasures. But she’d hate being cooped up in a dark motel room while I attended workshops and classes.
This morning I walked past the Seaside Aquarium. It still looks like it did when my parents bought my sister and I admission tickets decades ago. The place was closed but I could smell the sea creatures it housed.
The sea here is never quiet. Even on calm days it roars with wave noise. So different from our protected Juneau water, usually as quiet as a lake.