When my children were young, I took them up to Brookings-Harbor, Oregon each summer to visit with my parents who lived up the hill and across the highway from Whaleshead Beach. We usually spent 7-10 days. Mom always had “stone soup” waiting for our arrival – and a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies. Mom got up early every morning and prepared a picnic basket. Dad often kept the kids occupied in the forest behind their house or making sling shots or hunting salamanders. We’d all head to Whaleshead or Lone Ranch Beach to explore the tide pools. We drove south to Smith River or over to Oregon Caves. We went to the aquarium in Crescent City and drove up to Humbug State Park, the Prehistoric Gardens and West Coast Safari Park where they held and petted baby Bengal tigers, bear cubs, cougar cubs and were surrounded by a herd of friendly deer, rams, and goats while peacocks strutted their stuff.
My daughter and I have gone up twice with her two children and had a blast. This year, my oldest son’s children are just the right age for the trip. Together with Shannon and her daughter, off we went. Our first stop was a KING RANGE BOOKS in Garberville. Evan King, my nephew, just opened the store and has a booming business selling“gently-used” books. I love bookstores, and Evan’s is packed from floor to ceiling. He’s even had a few local authors in for book signings.
From Garberville, we drove north for our next traditional stop at the Gem and Mineral Museum along 101, just south of Fortuna. It’s a treasure trove of natural wonders and had the children hunting for small purchases. They were saving their trip money for future possibilities, and we agreed to stop again on the way home. Next stop, the Trees of Mystery. It was foggy, so we didn’t do the gondola ride, but wandered the Indian Museum with its growing collection. Then up to the Best Western on the Beach in Brookings. We headed out the door to hunt for heart-shaped stones before our visit to the cemetery where my parents are buried. Mom and Dad used to hoot with laughter that they would end up on Dead Wood Drive just past the Dead End sign. Another few feet and you’re in the Brooking’s cemetery. It was raining, so the family stood under the umbrella while I placed the heart stones as a memento. “We’re back. We miss you. We love you.”
It was a trip down memory lane for me as we hit all the old places listed above. No Bengal tigers this year, but we petted a black bear cub, held twin fox kits and a caracal cat (Egyptian), an apricot skunk, a bobcat kitten, a couple of lively ferrets, and were surrounded by friendly deer, rams, goats and a baby donkey that followed two of my grandchildren around the park. The peacocks were feeling amorous and we all laughed as the males strutted around, fanning their gorgeous feathers and shaking their booties while the peahen turned her back and pecked at the ground. You could almost hear her muttering, “Get lost, Buddy. The last thing I want in a mate is some bozo who is so impressed with himself.”
My elder son stood at the chain-link fence snapping pictures of the Bengal tiger. The animal started to pace, kept glancing at him, clawed at the wooden platform, snarled. My son was not aware that the neighboring cage held a female Bengal in heat. The male grew more agitated. My son got some great shots, but he stopped shooting right before the tiger charged the fence in full fury and stopped about two feet from him, yellow eyes fixed on him with a message: “If you don’t stop taking pictures, next time I’m coming through the cyclone fence to eat you.” Trevor said he hadn’t had an adrenalin jolt like that in years!
We came home tired, happy and in possession of little treasures we’d beach-combed or purchased along the way. Maybe next time, if there is a next time, we’ll go up to the Dunes (where Star Wars was filmed) and on to Oregon Sea Lion Caves. Or maybe we’ll just go to the same old traditional places. Maybe we’ll dig another deep hole in Whaleshead Beach and drop in another big hunk of drift wood, decorate it with strings of seaweed and surround it with rocks and shells – a monument to the joy we’ve had on the Oregon coast, a thank you to Mom and Dad for the good memories.