Castlepoint (or How I Learned to Enjoy a Day at the Beach)
We did more at Castle Point than watch sheep not run in a straight line. Remember how I picked this beach over all the other beaches in New Zealand because it had a lighthouse? Remember?
And I bet you thought you were going to escape without having to look at my lighthouse photos.
Let me start by explaining to you my relationship with the beach. It’s complex, really. I’m not sure my condition has a name, but if it did if would be called something like Oregonitis or Grey Sand Syndrome.
I loved going to the beach as a kid, only we called it the ‘coast’. The Oregon coast is super beautiful–very dramatic and rocky and windswept and desolate. Full of sea lions and tide pools and fossils, grassy dunes and A-frame houses. The Oregon coast is great.
Which is why I thought it was odd that I so disliked the beach when I got older. I found it wildly boring. And I kept getting sand in my sunscreen. It was too hot. There were people everywhere. The salt water made my skin itchy. Seagulls. Ew.
By the time I was in college, I decided that my love of the coast had been nothing but a juvenile preoccupation. It turns out that I’m just not a beach person.
And then I moved to Vietnam. Beaches in Vietnam are horrible for all the reasons listed above, plus they’re full of garbage. I have a fond memory of swimming in Nha Trang and using the breast stroke to swim, not because it’s my favourite but because it was good for clearing a path through the discarded plastic bags in front of me. Also, I’m pretty sure the post-swimming itchiness was not just because of the salt water. Ew. Probably, Vietnam would have made me hate the beach even more if it weren’t for a birthday party I went to in Saigon.
A whole slew of expats were sitting at this long table made out of pushed-together smaller tables at a Spanish restaurant, drinking pitchers of sangria, and I discovered that of the four people at my smaller table, three of us were from Oregon. Two of us were from the same town. Fact: Oregonians are great travelers. Whether this is because we are especially open-minded and adventurous, or because we are desperately trying to escape has yet to be established.
Anyway, I started talking to this girl who had also grown up in Eugene. We were ten years apart in age, but Eugene is perpetually stuck in 1975 so our experiences were very similar. At the height of our Prince-Puckler’s-ice-cream! Humble-Bagel! Nancy’s-Yogurt! fervor, she brought up vacations.
“My family used to go out to John Day to look for fossils!” she said.
“My family would find them on the coast!” I replied.
“I loved the coast! We used to look for tide pools!”
“And poke the sea anemones!”
“And climb the dunes!”
“And eat salt water taffy!”
“And visit sea lion caves!”
“Aw,” I replied sadly. “My mom wouldn’t let us go there. She said it smelled too bad.”
“Oh,” she said.
We paused, looking for more commonality. “And collect agates!” I yelled finally.
And then we high-fived and each drank a pitcher of sangria. It was really beautiful.
But that’s when I realised what my problem was. What I had grown up thinking was the “beach” was actually a weird, gray mudflat full of hippies poking at sea anemones. See, it doesn’t get sunny at the Oregon beach so ‘beachy’ activities are non-starters. Packing for the beach means putting on a windbreaker and filling a thermos with chicken noodle soup. Also, the sand is perpetually wet so even if it were sunny enough to warrant sunscreen, there’s no loose sand to make it all gritty. The salt water doesn’t make you itchy because you’d have to be completely insane to get in it.
The reason one goes to the Oregon coast is not to relax in the sun. It is to put up with chapped lips in the hopes that you’ll find some really swell specimens for your rock collection. Or that maybe you’ll find a sand dollar. Or a dead jellyfish. There’s no end to the amount of stuff you might find. It’s really wonderful.
So when I went to non-Oregon beaches, in places with bathtub-warm water and golden sand, I was confused. What do you do? What do you look at? What is there to explore? I hear ‘beach’ and I expect action! Because you need to keep your blood pumping to stay warm.
Once I figured out that it was just a mismatch between expectation and reality that was keeping me from enjoying the beach, I began to actively solve the problem.
At first, I tried to adjust my expectations accordingly: when someone suggested the beach, I would pack appropriate items like sunglasses and books. For all the sun and all the sitting. I got really good and reapplying sunscreen ad nauseum. And at… Sitting.
It turns out the beach is still really boring.
So I adjusted reality to meet my expectations. Which is why (finally, we get to the point) every time I go to the beach, I insist that there is a lighthouse or a cool rock or a sheep festival to distract me. Which is why I took my friend two and a half hours away when there are perfectly fine beaches within twenty minutes of my house. Which is why you now have to look at all my lighthouse photos: because the whole reason we go to the beach is to take pictures of lighthouses.
In my defense, it was a particularly awesome lighthouse. The monolith in the background is the eponymous Castle Rock. So there were lighthouses and rock formations. This might be the best beach in the world.
The rock formations (made of sandstone and limestone) were apparently formed underwater and then shot up at some point due to what, I’m going to hazard a guess, was serious tectonic plate movement. Its underwater heritage left the rocks totally embedded with fossils (see the first photo of this post), which thrilled me. It also somehow resulted in a number of boulders just kind of hanging out on the cliffs.
Which thrilled me just as much because they added a much needed graphic element to my photos. Thanks nature!