Sometimes I am hit with an inexplicable urge to fly a kite. But not just any kite. A swooping, diving, looping trick kite. The kind that look so cheery and benign hanging from the ceiling of the creaky kite shop but transforms into homicidal birds of prey once out in the open sky surrounded by plenty of sand pail toting children and wetsuit clad knee boarders.
Or in my case, my patient father.
For my first full day home in Portland a few weeks ago, upon witnessing the unseasonably gorgeous warm weather, Dad and I headed west. We drove leisurely through a tunnel of towering evergreen sentinels, Douglas fir and other conifers draped in moss, flickering past our windows like primordial forests of Tolkien lore.
I always forget just how high the trees in Oregon really are. The giants of the world’s forests. Or at least the continental United States.
We emerged into the perpetual tourist rush hour that is Cannon Beach on a sunny day. Cannon Beach always makes the lists of the country’s best beaches. Frankly, I prefer other craggy wave-tossed stretches of the Oregon Coast, but I wanted a kite and Cannon Beach always has kites. We hit the pavement among sunglasses and ice cream licking holiday crowds, salt-worn artist galleries and boutiques, the siren call of a bookstore, and the rose-encrusted tennis courts of the local park. Rose bushes come in only one variety here – supersized.
We discovered the kite shop tucked away in a little house guarded by a driftwood picket fence, a scruffy store with a sloping floor that groaned with every step. I scanned the kites lining the wall and fell in love with a lavender, pearl, and black beauty.
Kite in hand, we headed for the beach.
Oregon beaches are not your typical vacation brochure of gleaming golden sand and miles of beach blankets and little red umbrellas. No sheen of tanning oil and bikinis as gorgeous (or not so gorgeous) young things swim and strut and lounge. It’s not even Virginia Woolf “To the Lighthouse” where even the waves are refined and cultured.
Oregon beaches are unbridled, the Pacific waves a stampede of wild stallions crashing into shore and shaping the land into dramatic cliffs and lonely outcasts. Cannon Beach is home to a few of these. Haystack Rock, an infamous silhouette of an ancient volcano, now stripped away by the sea and inhabited by massive colonies of birds. Grassy bluffs of demur beach houses and humble earth tone inns. Sand strewn with driftwood benches, shells, seaweed, and pebbles tossed up in the last storm. A tiny bachelor lighthouse way out in the ocean perched upon a rock.
As families picnicked, dogs dashed through waves, and a casual parade of Oregonians in windbreakers strolled the sand, we unfurled my new kite. Dad managed to help me avoid becoming too entangled in string.
It’s been a decade since I last flew a trick kite. I’m amazed I didn’t become a string mummy.
The wind wasn’t great, starting and stopping in fits of rage and calm. I slowly mastered my kite, crashing at top-speed, spraying my father with sand, and straining to keep my kite in check and away from any unsuspecting heads. Luckily, here the beach is never crowded. I had room to fly.
Flying a trick kite is more physical than I remember. I used long-forgotten muscles and dashed across the sand. Afterwards, my shoulders ached and complained. Maybe kite-flying isn’t the best idea with fibro.
As I dived and looped and let my exhilarated laugh ride the wind with every mishap, and Dad patiently tossed my kite back into the sky, a low, dense fog crept in. The lighthouse vanished. Dog walkers and beach combers disappeared. Haystack Rock played a ghostly peek-a-boo as sunlight still danced on the ocean waves. It was beautiful.
Exhausted, we climbed back in the car and headed north to Astoria, one of the oldest communities in the West. I climbed the spiral staircase inside the Astoria Column, ignoring my bitter knees, for the clear vistas across the coastal mountain forests. From here I could see all the way out to the ocean, the expansive meeting of Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. Saddleback Mountain begged me to ride along the same path once explored by Lewis and Clark, Robert Gray, and countless others, including my own distant relative Wilson Price Hunt, whose name is painted into the historical narrative winding up the sides of the Astoria Column.
We kicked up our heels at the Wet Dog Café to a local musician, dug into salmon fish and chips, and sighed as the hues of sunset tinted the sky and the massive cargo ships in the river winked on their lights.
Best Father-Daughter Day ever.