I went for a hike today along the Port Orford beach in southern Oregon. It was a beautiful afternoon. Maybe one of those times where you say to yourself: "I really can't believe the weather's this nice... in April... on the Oregon Coast."
But who am I to look a gift day in the mouth?
Despite the cold wind, I ventured out, perhaps carrying more camera equipment than a person in his right mind would ever need. (I mean, really – FOUR different cameras?) Fortunately, the only person I looked ridiculous in front of was a young father out beachcombing with his two sons, ages 4 and 6. They reminded me of similar outings I had enjoyed with my own boys when they were much younger; and long before that with my own parents. Ironically, my oldest son had been scheduled to go with me on this trip but had to back out at the last moment. Suddenly I was missing him a lot.
Regardless, I didn't feel alone.
For an hour, the Port Orford beach belonged to me and three strangers. We did that thing people always do in those situations. We tried to stay out of each other's way even though our paths kept intersecting and the children, in their single-minded awe at being outdoors with their dad, kept wandering into my shots.
~Finally, the father came over and asked me if I was doing some kind of study. With all the gear strapped to me, I guess I looked more scientific than weird. This came as a great relief and I explained that I was doing research for a new natural history website for young adults.
"Did you see the dead seal over by those rocks?" the man asked, correctly presuming that this would be something I would be interested in photographing.
The carcass was just a husk of withered hide and bones half-sunk into the wet sand, but it was fascinating nonetheless. One of the boys pointed out its flippers while the other ignored it altogether, more excited by the small pile of discarded crab carapaces he was collecting.
"It's nice to meet someone else who thinks a dead seal is cool," the father told me with a grin.
It's nice to meet a parent who doesn't hide the dead seal from his kids, I thought, but instead explains it to them. Reveals, even if only in the most rudimentary way, one of the wonders of Nature as it recycles flesh and bone back into the very soil you're walking on.
Nice to meet a parent who lets his boys collect crab carapaces and dig in the sand without feeling like he needs to slather them in Purell.
Nice to find someone who still thinks driftwood beach forts are awesome.
Nice to find a dad whose idea of an excellent Saturday outing is a stroll on the beach with his kids.
The four of us walked back together and finally parted company below the parking lot. After an hour out there, I was cold and sunburned and my back ached from carrying too much damn gear. The boys were dirty. Their dad was probably ready to sit down for a while. But I don't think anyone regretted it and everyone left with treasures.