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'Tis Season for Coastal Storm Watch in Oregon

January 18, 1987|LEWIS GREEN | Green is a free-lance writer living in Seattle.

OCEANSIDE, Ore. — Something about a storm, its force and energy, transports me back to my youth, makes me feel 10 years old, exuberant and eager to meet life head-on.

When skies become a gray caldron and send winds across the ocean, when waves rise, swell and shatter against craggy headlands, and when sheets of rain batter our fragile defenses, I am swept away by nostalgia. I become my father's son again, sitting in the front seat of a 1954 Ford station wagon, watching the Atlantic take its toll on a five-foot-high, two-foot-thick seawall.

Thirty years have passed, I've traded coasts, and my dad said goodby two winters ago. But I still love the howl of the wind and the roar of the ocean.

The Storms' Wake

For days at a time, winter gales spend their energy on the Oregon coast, bringing wind, wreckage and treasures from the sea. In the storms' wake, beaches are littered with driftwood, agates, shells, fossils, occasional glass floats and Indian artifacts.

Tide pools, stilled by lulls, teem with starfish, sea urchins and anemones; razor clams and scallops collect on sandy beaches. The seashore becomes a beachcomber's treasure house.

Oregon's big blows usually arrive between January and March. From time to time I still enjoy viewing them the old-fashioned way, from behind the windshield of a car. I like to brace my metal armor against the onslaught at one of several state parks along U.S. 101--Face Rock Viewpoint near Bandon, Cape Foulweather north of Newport, Boiler Bay near Depoe Bay or Cape Meares near Tillamook.

But for the most part I've mellowed with age, and there is no longer a parent or a son or daughter to share the adventure. These days I usually prefer the confines of a cozy hideaway to a rain-splattered concave window.

Still, the view is the important thing. To capture the essence of wintry howls, eyes should look across wide sandy beaches to rocky headlands reaching out toward the elements. But because storms can't be ordered up like ham and eggs, full-force gales shouldn't be necessary to whip up interest in a place. Bandon, about 80 miles north of California, is just such a place.

The Right Attitude

Besides featuring an abundance of natural ingredients with its long stretches of beach, ocean-based pinnacles, wind-swept bluffs and frequent storms, Bandon boasts the right attitude. Its townspeople have turned the barrage of 50-m.p.h. winds into an organized sport.

This effort is spearheaded by Paul Bjelland and Cliff Shaw, who enjoy winter's tantrums so much that they formed a club called Bandon Storm Watchers. When watchers aren't braving the elements they congregate for weekend field trips, lectures, wine tastings and food parties.

Although the club sounds like fun, it's not for me. I enjoy a setting that allows a special friendship to flourish. For that, Bandon's seaside bed-and-breakfasts create the perfect milieu. They are along Beach Loop Drive just south of town.

Spindrift Bed & Breakfast is the home of Don and Robbie Smith, who operate in the tradition of a European guest house. Their cedar-frame house sits atop a bluff 50 feet above the beach. While both rooms are comfortable, the one called Seaview is easily the best choice: Tall picture windows look out to sea and a brick fireplace chases away any chills trying to sneak inside.

While Spindrift is cozy and draws the image of a family visit, nearby Cliff Harbor Guest House favors spacious accommodations with emphasis on privacy. The two-story house enjoys a grassy perch pocked by rolling dunes. Its two guest facilities offer different experiences.

The Harbor Suite is elegant and romantic; the Cliffside Studio is born of the coast. Two sides of this large room are wrapped in windows that look west to the Pacific and north to Bandon lighthouse. There may be no better room in Bandon for storm watching.

Shops and Boutiques

But there's more to this town than storms. Art galleries, gift shops and boutiques pepper the sidewalks of Old Town; crabbing, clamming and fishing are excellent; vistas along Beach Loop Drive offer views of monoliths such as Face Rock, Cat and Kittens, Elephant and Table rocks.

It is arguable that Bandon represents the storm-watching capital of Oregon but it is not alone in its quest to claim the title.

Two-Faced Town

Like Bandon, Newport is a town with two faces, one old, one new. It lies along the coast about midway between California and Washington. The town changes out of its fast-food clothing into seafaring garments along the Yaquina Bay Front, a salty blend of piers, fishing boats, wharf-side buildings and seafood restaurants.

Ocean House, a large country bed-and-breakfast surrounded by gardens and shaded by evergreens, poses on a bluff overlooking the surf at Agate Beach just north of town. The location stares storms in the eye, and a stairway descends to excellent agate-hunting grounds.

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