BEACHCOMBING FOR THE FESTIVAL
March 18, 2003 11:00 pm
 ().
().

Story by Betty Bezzerides

Photos by Ted Bezzerides

It was probably inevitable, this beachcombing habit of mine.

Mother was a Santa Monica tomboy who played beach volleyball nearly every day after school. Between games she'd scan the tidelines for whatever the ocean had tossed ashore.

My Portland-born father grew up spending frequent weekends at north coast beaches. A favorite family photo shows him in a sailor suit and high button shoes, standing a safe distance from the breakers at Cannon Beach. He looks as if he'd like to shuck those stuffy clothes and run barefoot in the sand.

It was only natural they'd take me to the beach, where I learned early on there's more to beachcombing than the narrow dictionary definition.

My desktop Webster's says a beachcomber is "a man who loafs on beaches or wharves, especially on a South Sea island, living on what he can beg or find."

Hmmm. I'm not a man, I've never been to a South Sea island and I've never lived off anything, at least not in the physically sustaining sense, that I found on the beach.

I do think loafing on beaches is good for the soul and enjoy collecting whatever comes my way in the process. There's something endlessly fascinating about the potential for the unexpected, whether it's a red sky or a purple-hinged scallop or a noisy seal.

I was three the first time I saw the ocean.

In 1949, Mother and I took the train from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to visit her family, who'd rented a beachside cottage for two weeks. The only picture to survive the trip shows me grinning next to a table covered with shells.

My real love affair with the shore began when we moved back to Oregon two years later.

During winter weekends at Major's cottages near Cannon Beach, I was allowed to wander north as far as the tidepools at Haystack Rock and south to seastacks called Sylvan Point and Jockey Cap.

There were sea stories to fuel the imagination, too.

My father told a cautionary tale about keeping a wary eye on the ocean. He'd once been trapped by the incoming tide and had to spend the night atop Haystack Rock.

Mother recounted how she happened to be body surfing in 1933 when the Long Beach earthquake struck. "I looked right over the top of the Miramar Beach Club," she said, recalling the thrill – and terror – of riding a wave taller than a building.

Since those days at Cannon Beach I've been fortunate to leave a few footprints on shores near and far.

Tucked between the books and papers on my desk are the souvenirs I brought home. There's a growing collection of local favorites, including a giant barnacle, notes from the pelican summer of 2001, a fossil clam and several curious bits of wave worn crockery.

There's also a conch from San Salvador, an Easter egg-shaped red opal from the Olympic Peninsula, wrinkled journal pages from our trip down under to Tasmania and a handful of sharks' teeth I found in Galveston after a hurricane.

But the best beachcombing by far occurred when I was 12, right here in Oregon.

Friends invited me to spend a stormy March weekend with them in Neskowin. The weather was typical Oregon springtime, squally with an occasional ray of sunlight. We quickly turned into explorers, wandering the broad sandy beach until a downpour forced us back inside.

There we read by the fire, nibbled an endless supply of grilled cheese sandwiches patiently provided by someone's mother and tried to get our socks dry.

In and out, in and out we went, until by late afternoon everyone was fed up with the wet weather. I was on my final "just 10 more minutes" when I spotted something big and round bobbing in the ocean down the beach.

Was it a log? Or a seal? Or was it the prize every beachcomber covets?

Whatever it was, it was worth a closer look and without a word to my companions, I took off running. Heart pounding, I slopped into the shallows up to my knees.

To my astonishment, a huge Japanese glass fishing float rolled into my outstretched arms.

Ask around and you'll find nearly anyone who walks on the beach has a favorite story.

Brenda Jacques' eyes light up at the mention of floats. "My very best memory of beachcombing is from the year Highway 101 opened," she said.

"I was 10 and that first winter we went to Whaleshead. It had been stormy and there were glass balls all over the place. The sun was out and you could see it gleaming on them as they came in. We must've found six or eight that day."

Phil Ringnalda once collected three dozen floats in a single year between Gold Beach and Bandon.

"Mine are all green," he said. "I have four or five basketball-size, some rolling pins and lots of the smaller ones."

"I haven't found any in three or four years, though," he added. "The weather patterns apparently are changing. Now the weather is from due south. Things don't get blown in by a south wind."

Local photographer Violet Burton, always on the lookout for the one-of-a-kind image, relishes the memory of the heart she found sculpted on Whaleshead Beach.

"Someone had set up a beach heart with white rocks," she said. "You just never know what you're going to find."

Connie Gallemore collects rocks with holes in them. "There are Native American and Celtic traditions that say if you find a rock with a hole, it's good luck."

"Beach experiences are very personal," she added. "They're special to the finder and the moment. It's the entire experience – not what you bring back in your hand but what you bring back inside you."

Beachcombing experts will share facts, advice and local lore at the Beachcomber's Festival in Brookings Saturday and Sunday, March 22-23. More than a dozen programs will feature such subjects as tidepool treasures, rock identification, marine mammals and the Oregon Coast Trail.

All programs are free and will be at Azalea Middle School, 505 Pacific Ave. Brookings. Call (800) 535-9469 or (541) 469-3181 for information.