Like any true Oregonian, I planned my trip along Highway 101 to catch the rainstorms. The fog and the mist and the perfect shades of gray arrive in January. At any other time of year, you cannot be guaranteed to catch the most extreme storms; the whipping winds and pelting rain. Once, back in 1999, a tidalwave hit Cannon Beach. Driftwood the size of actual trees rammed through restaurant windows. The entire beach became the new floor of the ocean. And the ocean waves actually made their way into Cannon Beach. I was a student there at a small little school. The tidal wave came onto our small campus and carried off our picnic table. I suppose this is the reason most visitors and tourists flee in January. Not only do they prefer palm trees and sun; they also avoid the dangers of living near the sea. Like fair-weather friends who flee in times of trouble, they want the sun without the storms.
January is when the Pacific Northwest is at its most beautiful. The taverns get cozy. Wool scarves and frosty breath fill the streets. Fresh drizzles of rain arrive and leave the city streets with a mirror-like quality. Fireplaces blaze inside the bars and restaurants. Best of all, you can drive along the curving roads of Highway 101, pull over, and breathe in the full scope of the ocean in all its beauty and rage and enormity. If you lift your face into the winter night, you will feel the mist-filled fog envelop you. You can taste the ocean on your lips. It’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had.
I first discovered this when I moved to Cannon Beach in 1999. I was seventeen and it was my first real move out of my parents’ house. I was scared about life and all the unknowns that lie ahead of me. Only I didn’t actually know it at the time. Back then I experienced fear as a tingling feeling in my chest that slowly turned numb – until the feeling eventually went away. But every time I walked the beach at night and felt the fog envelop me, that numb part of my chest would start to feel again. It felt like butterflies in my stomach; pure excitement bubbling up inside; pure joy encapsulating me. The past did not matter. The future would take care of itself. Just that moment mattered and nothing else. Just standing in the fog, listening to the ocean come in and then back out again, provided enough joy to fill my entire being.
That is why I come back every year in January. I crave that opportunity to quiet my mind and listen as the questions fade. I just stand there, face lifted into the air and arms out, ready to catch the fog rolling in and pulling me into its ephemeral goodness. To stand in the sea mist and to feel enveloped is to exist in a state of awe. Highway 101 and the evening fog – they are my house in the woods. They are my solitude without loneliness and my creativity without fear.
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Camille Stallings Monthly Newsletter | Oregon Coast & Winter Travels