Twilight Memories at Ona Beach

I had not been to Ona Beach in Seal Rock since before the pandemic started, even though it’s only a couple miles south of where I live. It was closed due to COVID for a while. After it reopened, the parking lot was full, and I envisioned a beach full of unmasked people refusing to “social distance.” By the time it felt safer, my dog was getting too old and arthritic to walk from the parking lot to the beach and across the sand. She stumbles on flat ground these days (me too) and gets tired quickly.

But as it does sometimes, the beach called me the other night. The day was overcast but warm enough, in the 60s, and the sun wouldn’t set until after 9 p.m. I fed Annie a Milk-Bone and snuck out.

I had been to other beaches since COVID, but not to Ona. I was unprepared for the memories that assailed me as I walked the path through the grassy picnic area to the beach. Here’s where Fred and I picnicked with the Oregon Coast Aquarium volunteers and beat all challengers at badminton. Here’s Beaver Creek, where we paddled our kayaks in the rain on his birthday. Here’s where we saw an eagle in its nest on the cliff above the beach. Here’s where I sat on a picnic table and wept when Fred was in the nursing home before he died of Alzheimer’s 10 years ago.

Some of the memories weren’t mine but my character PD’s from my novel Up Beaver Creek. The creek runs through the park and merges with the ocean at Ona Beach. Here’s where she met Ranger Dave. Here is where she found the child’s bracelet that had possibly come from all the way from Japan after the tsunami. Here’s where she caught up with her phone calls because she had no cell service in the cabin up Beaver Creek Road.

I went back to Ona Beach on a cloudy Wednesday evening. Except for a few teens wading in the creek, the beach was not crowded. Someone was sleeping in a car in the parking lot with paper bags in the windows bearing right-wing slogans. Another beach sleeper had left a well-built driftwood fort on the sand. But I had acres of sand to walk, planting my striped shoe prints among the footprints of gulls and scoters. As the memories flooded in, I wrote and took pictures, not noticing when the teens left. As the sun sank into the clouds, I was the only one on the beach.

Over the sunny weekend, the beach was crowded again, but I still have a little sand in my shoes, reminding me I don’t have to go on vacation to walk beside the ocean. I just have to give in to that little voice that whispers, “Beach!”

Pelicans and swimming dogs

Annie led me through an opening in the bushes at Ona Beach and we discovered a vast stretch of white sand. Looking west, we saw a shallow lake covered with birds. Most were gulls, but a half dozen pelicans stood among them, tall and long-beaked. “Annie, look!” I shouted, astonished to see these giant birds standing still. I usually see them flying in a line over the ocean or diving for fish. We moved slowly toward the water, Annie wagging her tail, me chanting, “Oh my gosh, pelicans, oh my gosh.” They let us get within 10 yards before the birds rose up in a whoosh and flew toward the surf, gulls squawking, pelicans majestically flapping their wings.

The dog strained at the leash. On impulse, I let her go, the first time I have ever done that at the beach. I didn’t see any other dogs or people, and I really wanted to see how well she could swim.

Oh, what a happy dog. She flew across that belly-deep water, barely touching the sand below. The lake narrowed into a river heading toward the ocean. Her eyes glowed with joy as she rousted the birds again.

As she got farther away, I called her name. She chose not to hear me. Shedding my shoes, I plunged my bare feet into the river. It felt so good, even as wetness creeped past my knees and the rolling tide made me dizzy. It had been a hard day, but Annie’s joy was contagious.

She flew past me, spraying my glasses and my shirt with water. She paused to drink while I warned it was probably salty. She started toward the waves.

That’s when I began to pray. Annie didn’t know anything about waves, rip tides, and outgoing waves that might drown her. She scared the birds into flight again, stopped, wheeled around and ran toward a family of three just coming onto the beach. What if she jumped on them? I was too far away to do anything except shout a useless “off!” They pet her and she ran back toward me, crossed the water and bounded away in the other direction, so far I could barely see her. Her tan fur blended in with the sand.

“Annie!” I called, starting toward her. But I have been with dogs long enough to know that if you run toward them, they’ll keep going, thinking this is a game. So I turned back, running across spongy quilted surf sand, through the river and toward the entrance.

Annie sped toward me, but veered off at the last minute toward Beaver Creek, beyond the river, beyond the lake, where the water was deep. I dropped my sweatshirt and shoes by a log and hurried over to find her nose plunged deep into the beach grass, butt in the air, hunting some enchanting smell. Aha. I clicked the leash on and pulled her toward the water. Now we would see.

The sand gave way beneath my toes as I walked my dog into the river. As soon as the water grew too deep to walk, Annie started to swim. It was the most beautiful, most natural thing. Her paws stroked smoothly through the green water, her chin resting on the surface, no effort at all. “You’re swimming! I shouted, hugging her wet fur. She licked my cheek

When we came out, we sprawled by the log, both of us soaked and covered with sand. Sitting there on a warm fall day under a blue sky etched with white clouds, I felt young, strong and blessed. Anything seemed possible.

Instinct


A break in the rain. A touch of blue through the clouds. Instead of sleeping by the pellet stove, my dog Annie paces by the door. Something rouses her from her winter hibernation. I feel it, too. Must go out. Though I try to do my indoor chores, the beach across the highway beckons.

Then comes a frustrating phone call. I am still trying to find a home for Annie’s brother Chico. My last resort was the no-kill shelter an hour away from here. I had called to make an appointment to “surrender” him next week. The girl who called me back this morning said they have their quota of “bully” dogs and cannot take him right now. I can call next week to see about getting him on a waiting list. Meanwhile, I may have to bring him home. I took him to a kennel because I could not contain him. Even a six-foot fence wouldn’t hold him. Neighbors were starting to complain.

Annie and I have had a good time together, truly bonding. I have faced the truth that I can only handle one dog, and Chico has made the choice which one by his need to run away. But I love him and don’t want him to be euthanized. Apparently being a little bit pit bull is like being a little bit black in the slavery days. People don’t want you if you’re a “bully dog,” even though they are not necessarily killer dogs. In fact, they’re naturally sweet, loving and eager to please.

So Chico might be coming back to the house next week. Meanwhile, Annie and I must take advantage of our time together. We even tried sleeping together, but she has this need to be very very close and sticks her feet straight out, her nails digging into my face, my arm, my chest. It was nice, but I sent her back to her own bed.

Back to today. Instinct called us outside, led us to the beach. It’s a balmy 50-something degrees, hazy, a little drippy, but tolerable. We went to Ona Beach, a couple miles south, with a long wooded trail to the sand. We skirted big mud puddles and sloshed across soaked grass. Annie darted here and there, sniffing, pouncing, trotting, her tail wagging, her eyes bright.

Across the bridge over Beaver Creek, we reached the sand. So many smells. Seaweed. Poop. Dead murres. Crab shells. Fish slime. We walked and ran south, Annie darting up and down the wet rock cliffs, throwing herself into the sand to rub on something smelly, pulling me to where the waves shot their frilly underskirts toward our feet.

At my age and with so many past foot and ankle injuries, I’m delighted that the dogs have taught me to run again. The little girl in me sent my feet skimming across the sand behind my dog, and all my worries dropped away. When we got tired, we found a sheltered spot under some trees. It was like our private fort. Sitting on pine needles and moss, we snuggled and watched a group of teenagers go by, one girl in a Santa hat.

Rested, we trotted north around the bend, skirting the edge of the creek. Suddenly Annie ran and jumped into the creek. The backwash soaked my shoes and socks, but I was too busy laughing to care. She took a big drink, jumped out and jumped back in. She went deeper, and I saw my dog discover for the first time that she could swim. Instinct. She and Chico are half lab. The dog paddle is like running in the water. Now she wanted more and more of it.

But it was time to go home and dry off. On the short ride home, she stared out the window, smiling, and so did I.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next week. All I know is that when nature calls you out, get away from the computer and go.