Friday, February 26, 2016

The amazing thing I found down at my York River beach

The beach at Harbor Hills

At least a few times a week, perhaps more, I walk a few blocks down to the neighborhood beach on the York River at the end of Harbor Hills Road. I walk by a piney lot that a neighbor told me is the final repose of the bones of slaves resting in unmarked graves. I wonder if that's true. I have no reason to doubt, but I find it startling. And mysterious. I walk down a hill where on the corner is a house with distinctive Cape Cod-style siding that always reminds of something I might see on the Oregon Coast. It takes me back to the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport. 

There's a couple of spots on the road where I've encountered snakes. A copperhead once with its distinctive brown diamonds and then a long, skinny black snake another time. It's quite a journey down to that beach.

One time I glanced out my kitchen window and saw a summer storm had cropped up. I was hustling down to photograph the sinister clouds as they rose in ambush over the York River. I was nearly there to capture it all when the clouds unleashed their thunderous fury. I turned for home and ran, chugging uphill in a downpour as the pine trees bent around me, arriving home soaked, my ears ringing. I remember feeling quite happy I made it.

I'm drawn to the beach and it's dun-colored sand for the view, the peace, the water, the sky and the sun. It's a place to pray, a place to think, a place to ponder and wonder. I've been visiting the beach for a little more than two years. There's an inlet from the river that flows high and low with the tide and opens up into a long, narrow pond that's like a shallow natural harbor filling the low spot between two stubby hills. I suspect that's where the area got its name, as a harbor among the hilly bluffs jutting up above the York River, but I'm not quite sure. It's all silted in now and I wonder if it was once a place of shelter for boats, maybe back to colonial times. Who knows. Google doesn't seem to know.

The most remarkable thing of all has been how much the beach has changed in such a short span of my visits. The inlet's path changes almost daily sometimes. The wind, waves and tides alternately heap up sand and drag it away and the inlet's path and mouth has been altered steadily, moving farther and farther downstream of the river.

The changing path of the Harbor Hills inlet
I like to take my kids down there. When the weather is warm for a good part of the year they love to frolic in the little stream and catch minnows and small blue crabs. They don't notice the influence of the greater forces on that little stream. I imagine they're not like me, watching the stream carve out a path through the ever-changing sandy obstructions. Or noting how the new path of the stream yields little treasures, like a bed of colorful pebbles and stones that surprised me the other day. The pebbles, shells and even pieces of smoothed glass seemed so out of place, like they had been dropped there. I posted a photo of them on Instagram and said they were stars that had fallen out of the sky onto my beach.

Unexpected treasures, or fallen stars
As I've watched that little stream change course I've come to appreciate it. It always finds a path, no matter the barrier. I like to listen to it on its meandering track back to the river as it whittles away at the sand in its course, never relenting, always moving one way or the other depending on the tide. When it's warm out you'll find me wading in the Harbor Hills stream, sometimes alone, often with my kids and fishing for crabs and minnows.

Mostly when I get down there I see footprints. Several people like to take their dogs down there. There's people who walk around and I can see where they stop at the water. I wonder if they're like me. If they notice how the beach is changing. How it's captive to the fury of the storms that gather force across the mile-wide river. I wonder if they notice the unrelenting stream, the life of that little stretch of beach.

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