Category: Oregon

24 Oct

Oregon Coast foraging: the search for creatures that can’t move and don’t bite

Oregon 2 Comments by Christina Cooke


When a razor clam senses danger, it doesn’t hang around to see what’s going to happen, it gets the hell out. With limited resources at its disposal — no claws, teeth… limbs — this means digging with its body, and digging fast.

The Oregon Coast is bursting with edibles this time of year. And while harvesting is a chase in the case of the clam, for most creatures, it’s simply a matter of showing up and looking around.

To experience “living off the land” without the trauma of killing something furry, Donnie and I spent a recent weekend hunting things that couldn’t move, didn’t bite and weren’t going to wrack me with sorrow as I plucked them from their habitats and carried them off to the kitchen — i.e. clams, mushrooms and mussels.

We were surprisingly successful, given neither of us has a ton of experience, which was fortunate for our dinner menu.

Equipped with $7 shellfish permits from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, rubber gardening gloves and knee-high galoshes, we waded through low tide south of Cannon Beach, pounding the sand with the handles of our shovels to incite the clams to action.

When we glimpsed a “show,” or the dimple or doughnut shape that appears on the surface of the sand when a clam retracts its neck and starts to dig, we flipped our shovels blade-down and tried to intercept it before it escaped.

Though my technique needs some refining, Donnie has it down. Within a split second of seeing the sign, he’d sink his shovel into the sand, lever it to open the earth, then plunge his entire arm into the hole to keep digging with his hand. Even after he overtook the creatures, blocking their escape route a couple feet beneath the earth, they’d try to slip through his fingers and escape.


Donnie vs. the clam: DONNIE WINS! 

Donnie caught five clams. I got distracted by the sunset.


Layers: yellow, blue, yellow



The catch

Admittedly, clams do not look appetizing in the kitchen sink. But they do taste amazing once you blanch them, remove their shells, batter them and fry them up.



We stalked chanterelle mushrooms near a 55-foot waterfall over a jagged basalt cliff in Tillamook State Forest. The pale orange trumpet-shaped mushrooms, which have long ridges on the undersides of their caps, thrive on north-facing hills in second-growth forests near old stumps and fallen trees (they’re particular). They tend to show up in abundance a couple days after a good rain and, we decided, are most plentiful on Thursdays, after they’ve had time to regenerate from weekend foraging excursions.


Fern creature

We hiked a mile or so from the trailhead — not far — before scrambling up a fern-covered hillside, keeping a lookout for orange bursts amidst the browns and greens. Once we spotted the delicate forms, we plucked them from the ground, sliced off their bases and added them to our bag o’ goodies. Since they often grow in colonies, we learned that when you see one, you look for more.



We resolved to stop harvesting once we’d gathered as many as we could eat in one or two meals, but we found resisting the beautifully formed fungi incredibly difficult. Just one more. And this one too! Oh, and that one over there; it’s the most perfect of all — GAH!!


Back at our cabin in Arch Cape, we brushed the chanterelles clean, then sautéed them in butter, baked them in the oven and served them with pork, spinach and garlic over orzo. The next morning, we added them to an egg scramble for breakfast. Yum.

As the setting sun cast Nehalem Bay in pinks and purples, we clambered down the rocks buttressing the jetty to find Dinner Ingredient Numéro Trois. Out in plain sight and incapable of moving, the mussels didn’t have a chance; harvesting them was easy as picking cherry tomatoes from our prolific plant at home. We cracked the creatures from the rocks, targeting those larger than our thumbs and with the fewest barnacles attached. (You’ve gotta be careful though: since mussels filter whatever comes their way, no matter how toxic, they can be dangerous to eat during certain times of the year. You can check their status by calling the state’s shellfish safety hotline before you hit the rocks.)


Afloat by the jetty

We prepared the mussels the simplest way possible, using only their natural salty flavor as seasoning. We boiled them in a frying pan until their shells popped open, then scooped them out and ate them up.

Oh and also: we harvested cups of coffee and a growler of Ankle-Buster Ale from Lincoln City’s Pelican Brewery, where both the food and drink are worth the trip.

me beach

Me with my coffee score. Weekend complete.

17 Sep

On tour: The Old West Scenic Bikeway

Oregon No Comments by Christina Cooke

Riding the range

Donnie and I biked three and a half days through the John Day area of Eastern Oregon, along the 184-mile Old West Scenic Bikeway loop. I’ll be writing more about the trip later so I won’t give too much away — but I wanted to share a few pictures in the meantime.

touring rigs

 Bikes loaded with the essentials: tent, sleeping bags and pads, warm clothes, bars and goos, coffee.

Morning coffee

Morning brew at Bates State Park as the sprinklers whirred and hummed.

Scenic bikeway

The signs we followed.

Picture Gorge bike

On this trip, I finally learned how to snap photos WHILE STILL RIDING MY BIKE. This is a huge development; in the past, I’ve had to stop and firmly plant my feet before pressing the shutter.

Not what you think

Donnie demonstrates how to stay cool while riding in high temps (for those still unclear: by soaking your shirt with water).


Another principle of happy, healthy riding: apply chamois cream to below-the-belt hot spots! 


 Trail treats: Bud Light and Freezie.

water for riders

Finding water is difficult on several long stretches of road. We always carried extra in our paniers. Heavy, but a good safeguard.

Big Bend hello

Under the juniper tree at the BLM’s Big Bend campground. Several hours later, sitting on the ground by the camp stove, I looked down in the dark to see A SCORPION 6 INCHES FROM MY LEG. I backed away in time and developed a new paranoia.



J Dot RanchAlong the way: ranches, barns, cows, fields of hay.

cant ranch

Cathedral Rock

Oh and crazy geologic formations.

John Day Fossil beds rider

John Day Fossil

Bald eagle

Watched by a bald eagle.

Forest fire

When we rode by this wildfire in the morning, it was tiny. When we looked back hours later (and took this picture), its smoke had taken over the sky.


Despite what our instincts told us, we rode INTO this lightning storm in an attempt to get to our campsite by dark. When the strikes got too close for comfort, we ducked into barns on the side of the road and waited.

thunderstorm cover

The following day, we got caught in ANOTHER lightning storm. Seconds before the sheet of rain drenched us, we hunkered down under our tent fly on the side of the road and watched as everything around us got soaked. 

Out of the rain

We survived.

Rider on the crest


18 Mar

Life on stilts: Oregon’s Pickett Butte Fire Lookout Tower

Oregon 2 Comments by Christina Cooke


“Do we have to stay on guard the entire weekend, or are we allowed to take breaks?” Donnie and I wanted to ask the ranger at the Tiller Ranger Station when we stopped in to inquire about the area. We’d rented the Pickett Butte Fire Lookout Tower, a 12×12 cabin on 40-foot stilts a few miles up the road in the midst of the Umpqua National Forest in Southwest Oregon, and we wanted to clarify our responsibilities as the tower’s weekend occupants.


When they’re not in use, the Forest Service in Washington and Oregon rents out about 70 houses and fire towers that the Civilian Conservation Corps built in the 1930s for the “smoke chasers” who patrolled the forests for fires. For $35 to $90 a night, campers interested in hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, horseback riding, fishing and hunting on the surrounding forest land have a small base to call home. (Friends and I stayed in another of these cabins, the Ditch Creek Guard Station, last winter. The story here.)

Built on a hilltop named for William T. Pickett, the homesteader who claimed it in 1898, the Pickett Butte Fire Lookout offers a single bed; a wall heater, stove, mini-fridge, and lanterns all powered by propane; and wall-to-wall windows providing expansive views of the Jackson Creek Drainage area and distant higher peaks. We used the rickety plastic egg-crate pulley to lug up the necessities (i.e. sleeping bags, warm clothes, coffee, boxed wine, and cheese) and settled in. Lucky for us rain-weary Portlanders, we enjoyed clear, sunny, 60-degree days, and T-shirts — in February!


 Donnie, acclimating to life on stilts. In his favorite shirt.


The cabin’s interior.


Our mapping tool, on a wooden stand in the center of the cabin, would have allowed us to pinpoint the exact location of any smoke we saw in the distance. We spent hours practicing just in case.


 The privy, while handy on special occasions, was extremely inconvenient for regular use, being four precarious flights of stairs below. Not to worry: we figured out a workable system.


Physics at work: we used water in the bottom of a translucent bottle to magnify a headlamp’s light and an upturned bowl to up the volume on the music. (Cush camping, admittedly.)


 Veggie egg cheese scrambles + french press coffee = the breakfast of champions

When you’re living up in the air (in an area without many hiking trails at least), the activities of the sky outside play a pretty central role in your life. The sunset colored the sky deep pinks and purples and cast a warm glow over everything in the cabin.



And when we woke up the next morning, the clouds that had rolled in overnight still filled the valleys below us.




A random pretty: a waterproof leaf in the gravel road leading up to the cabin.

On Day Two, we took a two-hour road trip to Crater Lake for some cross country skiing, entering a white winter setting that was a stark contrast to our sun-drenched paradise. From the south entrance, we headed clockwise along the snow-covered road that circles the lake, meandering off trail a few times across the meadows sloping down from the rim.


Donnie and Wizard Island, the cinder cone at the west end of the lake.



Mount McLoughlin in the distance


Cutting the cheese (more literally than usual).



Oh, just stretching. Or something.

The dining options near Crater Lake in winter are limited, but upon a recommendation we picked up on the road, we stopped on our way back to base camp at José’s Mexican Restaurant, an unassuming hole-in-the-wall spot six miles past the town of Prospect. The family-run establishment serves up fajitas and enchiladas made with fresh ingredients and scratch-made tortillas. Delicious. Because the place was empty and we didn’t want to feel lonely, we ate in the adjoining Gorge Lounge bar, where a group of mustachioed locals chatted with the bartender while drinking Budweiser and Coors and half watching an obstacle course TV show involving rotating foam arms and whipped cream. One of the men started sputtering and snorting in a dramatic fake coughing fit before realizing we were behind him eating. He apologized, saying he didn’t realize the place “had company.”

After lowering out stuff our of the fire lookout on Day Three to head back to Portland, we made another stop. I wasn’t aware before, but the Umpqua National Forest boasts an extremely impressive feature: the world’s largest sugar pine. We had to pay homage.


The 400-year-old tree, measured in February 2012 at 255 feet, towers over its companions. The base of this tree has a giant chainsaw-induced wound from its run-in with vandals in 2000. (Who DOES that?!)

18 Mar

A day in The Dalles

Oregon No Comments by Christina Cooke

Many adventures begin in The Dalles, the end-point of the main Oregon Trail, a small city on the banks of the Columbia 85 miles east of Portland. The wide open roads just outside of town, sparsely trafficked and surrounded by rolling farmland, make for some excellent cycling.


When it’s pouring in Portland, you can usually find sun in The Dalles.

While I’d used The Dalles (rhymes with “pals”) as a departure point many times, I’d never actually stopped to get to know the town. And so Donnie and I decided to visit without bikes in tow. Rather than clipping on our helmets and pedaling off as soon as we arrived, we lingered for an afternoon, wandering  up and down the streets, observing the details we never noticed when we were on our way somewhere else.

We discovered a working-class city struggling for a comeback from the long-ago collapse of the aluminum industry — and succeeding in quite a few instances. We encountered a thorough mix of elaborate and gritty: ornate, turn-of-the-century properties sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with plain, uninhabited storefronts with “for lease” signs in the windows; a fancy French bakery, a brewpub in the old brick courthouse building, and recently renovated Moorish-style theater down the street from an empty car dealership, a cheap steakhouse, and a shop selling bedazzled tangerine-colored prom dresses.

The city is certainly trying: an urban renewal agency has invested in the port district, a snazzy underpass that connects the city with the river (formerly separated by Interstate 84), and various buildings downtown, including an historic hotel, a flour mill, and a Masonic lodge. (In 2005, Google established a server farm in town as well, but not much as changed as a result, because the company keeps its operation top secret.)

Here are a few of the sights we came across during our ramble:

madison lane

Sunshine Mill, a 130+-year-old wheat mill, which still contains the old flour milling equipment — and apparently now a wine bar, bocce ball court, and performance venue as well


A functioning-since-1905 blacksmithing shop, with a particularly cool sign.


No better recreation than bowling and prime rib. Amiright??

The ticket booth for the old, Moorish-style Granada Theater, which, built in 1929, was the first place west of the Mississippi to show movies with sound. It reopened in the last few years as a live performance venue. (Historic pics here.)



One of many vacant properties downtown seeking tenants. (You’d get jazzy windows!)

White and wires

A back alley

A shadow and its fire escape.

window lines

Oh, you know: air conditioners!

Steaks, burgers, beer

Down by the river-side train tracks.

While I’m sure we’ll still frequently breeze through The Dalles on our way to the open road, we’re also likely to hang around longer after we return — for coffee, pastries, beer, or a quick round at the bowling alley.

15 Mar

My story about an old-school book scout — with The New Yorker

Oregon No Comments by Christina Cooke

Exciting news on the freelance front:

Last week, The New Yorker published my story, “An Old-School Book Scout,” about Wayne Pernu, a Portland book scout who makes his living buying books for cheap at yard, estate and library sales and reselling them at Powell’s Books. Relying on his knowledge and intuition (rather than a barcode scanner) and reselling almost exclusively to the brick-and-mortar establishment (rather than on eBay or, Pernu is a rarity in his profession, and one of the last of his kind.

Check it out!