Best Coast

Our first hike along the Oregon coast took us straight up a mountain; upon reaching the top, we were rewarded with an unreal aerial view of our surroundings. On our way down, we encountered a few others ascending the switchbacks, and offered them smiles and words of encouragement.

One frail-looking hiker must have been in her seventies, and was moving slowly with the aid of a walking stick. “Almost there!” we said as we passed each other on the trail. “Oh, I know,” she said, kindly but dismissively. “I do this walk three times every week.”

I want to be her when I grow up.

Here’s what else I’ll remember from our drive up the coast:

  • Our neighbors in the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park campground, who donated their own firewood when our campfire was burning low.
  • The tidepools at Cape Perpetua, littered with inky mussels, purple urchins, green anemones, and pink sea stars.
  • The dozens of tsunami evacuation zones we drove in and out of.
  • The jewel-toned seaside motels and B&Bs in Yachats.
  • The seafood at Local Ocean in Newport—roasted garlic and Dungeness crab soup, lingcod tacos, pan-fried oysters.
  • The world’s smallest harbor at Depoe Bay.
  • Watching the sun set over the beach from our hotel balcony in Lincoln City, wrapping myself in blankets to ward off the chill.
  • The drive through miles of wheat fields to reach De Garde Brewing, where we enjoyed the best sour beers of our trip.
  • The marionberry cobbler ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, worth every bite despite the inherent tourist-trap nature of it all.
  • The dramatic sea stacks at every scenic viewpoint, from Cape Kiwanda to Three Arch Rocks to all the nameless others.
  • The insanely fresh halibut fish and chips at the Old Oregon Smokehouse.
  • The weather-beaten brown clapboard beach houses of Manzanita and Cannon Beach.

On our last day in Oregon, we woke to overcast skies and drizzling rain, and spent the morning in gritty Astoria before taking the scenic route back to Portland. We stopped at the Coffee Girl, which is propped precariously on a drive-in pier (!) in the Columbia River, next to the old Bumble Bee canning facility. We sipped our coffees and watched the fog roll in over the water, trying in vain not to think about our impending flight home.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400, Tri-X 400

The Blue of Distance

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance.”

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

A New Flame

The longest relationship of my life is the one I’ve had with running. And we’ve made incomparable memories, running and I.

Over the course of thirteen years, though, we’ve had our share of rough patches; there have been long stretches when heading out for a jog felt like more of a chore than a joy. But the moment I set foot on the Shevlin Loop Trail in Bend, Oregon, a flame was rekindled—and it’s been burning brightly ever since.

The sun was sinking as I set out, and almost immediately, the trail began climbing over burnished orange hills. My usual runs are conducted on city sidewalks in the Great Plains; this roller-coaster trail was studded with tree roots, and should’ve felt out of my league. But there was a creek rushing below, and evergreen-scented air all around. The more difficult the trail became, the more I craved the challenge.

For years now, I’ve been trying on cities like they were pairs of jeans, trying in vain to find one that fit. Bend was the first place to check almost every box, and I’ll be fervently awaiting the opportunity to return. And as I wait, I’ll be lacing up my shoes every morning in Chicago, running out the door with renewed vigor—and training for the day when I can make myself at home on the trails.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Getting Lost

We left Portland as tourists, but for the rest of our circuit around Oregon, we were wanderers. Not long after returning to Chicago, I picked up Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost to read on my morning commute—subconsciously yearning for a reminder of our drive through swaths of national forestland sans cell service. We knew our destination, and had a sense of our route, but weren’t completely confident of our exact whereabouts.

I’d served as designated driver in the city, so for the next few days, I had the distinct pleasure of switching to the passenger seat. After a detour on foot—we hiked Eagle Creek Trail to Punchbowl Falls, in order to dip our toes in icy river-water—I watched the Columbia River carve the gorge that separates Oregon from Washington. I counted each berry farm and orchard we passed along the Hood River Fruit Loop; I watched Mount Hood disappear and reappear, ever closer, from behind a wall of evergreens.

We emerged from the forested mountains into a rain shadow, where unannounced canyons plunged dramatically away from the road, and scrubland turned golden as the sun sank. We crossed the Warm Springs reservation and drove into Terrebonne as darkness threatened; directly ahead, the silhouetted monolith of Smith Rock sprang up from sea level, making it clear that we’d arrived.

We set up camp in a pristine site surrounded by rock-climbers, and packed up early the next morning to hike Misery Ridge at Smith Rock State Park. In the desert heat, it lived up to its name, but the views justified the pain.

We’d more than earned our breakfast—and for that, we headed to Bend.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400

Thicker Than Water

I became the unofficial family paparazzo five years ago, over Thanksgiving weekend. I’d just purchased my first medium-format film camera, a boxy twin-lens reflex manufactured in the late ’60s, and had become unreasonably enamored of its numerous quirks. After stuffing ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie, I accosted various family members with it, and the resulting photos were my favorite images of the year.

I was hooked.

Each year thereafter, I continued to harass my brother and cousins, prodding them to pose for me in the hotel rooms we piled into every Thanksgiving, over the breakfast table at my grandparents’ house, and at every other celebratory occasion that brought us together. They became my muses.

When we visited Oregon in June, my brother and almost all of my cousins—by now, all located on the West Coast—descended on Portland for a reunion weekend. We found ourselves mired in a blistering heat wave; I insisted on taking their photos anyway.

All too often, I hesitate to pick up my camera when I’m busy having fun (or when everyone else is busy having fun). I don’t want to be disruptive, or ruin the simple pleasure of living inside a moment.

But without exception, I never regret photographing my family. As the years pass, and the images pile up, I go back to them again and again and count my blessings for all the people I call my own.

Camera: Mamiya 6
Film: Kodak Portra 400