An Oregon Moment: My First Beach Bonfire

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If you were to rank the ideal months for building and enjoying a bonfire on the Oregon Coast, December would rank near the bottom, nestled somewhere between, well, November (too stormy) and January (too January-y).

And yet there we were on Sunday afternoon, watching the sun set near Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, when my friend Steven suggested we extend our weekend trip to the coast a little longer. “We should build a fire on the beach after dinner,” he said.

The only clouds in the sky dotted the horizon, and the wind gusts lacked that biting tenacity that makes beach visits in December such a risky bet; it could be another five or six months before Mother Nature cooperated this fully again. What’s more, I couldn’t recall sitting fireside within a sand dollar’s throw of the ocean in all my years of visiting the Oregon Coast. It sounded utterly delightful. So I agreed.

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On one level, we would enjoy what Oregon Governor Oswald West called in 1913 “the great birthright of our people.” West signed into law that year a bill that preserved the Oregon coast as public property, ensuring it would remain forever free and accessible to the public. That landmark legislation laid the groundwork for generations of beachgoers to fly kites, hike, camp, build sandcastles, have picnics, take naps, read books, and build bonfires on all 363 miles of Oregon coastline. Everyone who has enjoyed a lazy afternoon or steamy evening on the Oregon Coast owes a debt of gratitude to Oswald West for his forward-thinking legislation.

On another level, building a bonfire on the beach is just … well … cool. So much divides us these days—sports teams, political candidates, whether to bring Jubelale or Brrr to Christmas dinner—but what’s not to love about building a fire on the beach? And in December, no less?

So that’s what we did. About an hour after dinner—and with the sun rapidly setting—we cracked open a pair of IPAs brewed in nearby Astoria, sat on a mostly dry log, and listened to the nascent fire crackle over the nearby waves.

Over the course of two hours, we swapped travel stories, talked about the memorable weekend we’d just enjoyed, and reflected on an eventful 2014. Occasionally, we let the fire, wind, and waves do the talking.

At one point, I walked alone to where the waves peter out and start their retreat back into the sea. I looked to the silhouettes of Haystack Rock and Tillamook Head, massive hulks of negative space, surrounded by thousands of stars sparkling like Christmas lights in the clear night sky; I listened to the waves crash endlessly into the surf; and I felt the springiness of wet sand below my tired feet. I had enjoyed this exact stretch of coastline dozens of times before, but never quite like this.

A chilly wind gust snapped me out of the moment, so I returned to the fire, warmed my hands over the flames, and cracked open another beer. I proposed a toast to Oswald West—ironically, an ardent Prohibitionist—and drank to this unlikeliest of opportunities.

Sure, it might have been December. But it was also my great birthright.

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