We rode the hilly forest road west to the coast, passing ancient barns, pastures, clear cuts, gravel driveways, little settlements with names like Noti, Austa, Walton, Mapleton. Blink and you've missed the town. Quiet places, roosters, moss, sheep and cows and horses behind stumbling fences, dark trees on the hillsides.

In the hollows between the steep mountain ridges the alders and maples grow thick, closing over the road like an emerald tunnel. Dogwood trees are blooming early this year, great splashes of white flowers adding brilliance to the dapple of sunlight and shade. Wild iris bloom purple and early, speckling the sunny green hillsides with lavender froth. Even the grass is blooming early. Creeks and rivers and small boggy lakes glimmered between the trees. The Siuslaw River's bare mudflats reflected the sunlight, plovers and sandpipers flocked across the greasy black surface, drowned logs lay exposed. The wide mouth of the river feels the salty surge of the tide. Reeds marched through the black wet soil. Children in bright jackets dug for giant razor clams.

We wended our way to the coast and turned north, out of the sunshine and into the high grey blanket of fog, passing salt marshes and sand dunes, finally climbing into the rocky promontory of the headlands. The cliffside shears away steep and treacherous, great basalt and sandstone cliffs in a jumble, buckled by some long ago tectonic shift. The stunted blunt pines cling to the rocks, nature's bonsai trees, shaped by the wind's hard unforgiving fingers and salty spray. Heceta Head juts a thousand feet straight out of the sea like a great tooth. To the south is Cape Creek and a narrow rocky cove where the waves churn and swirl against hidden barnacle-covered rocks, and at the far reach of the head stands a lighthouse. The ridge juts so steep and tall the highway runs through a tunnel, then doubles back on itself and winds as it climbs the next topsy-turvy crest. Our destination was the beach just north of the big buttressed cape that rises black from the sea.

Washburne Beach rolls seven wide miles north from Heceta Head, and we found a neap tide, the lowest of the lunar month. The waves were small and quiet, more of a hiss and a churn than a rush and a roar. This beach changes constantly. The cliffs erode, the streams rushing to the waves through the sand change course, the ocean shifts the sand from one rise to the next. Each high tide rushes and pounds the high sandstone cliffs, undercuts the bank, piles driftwood along the cliff walls.

Seven years ago the winter storms pulled all the sand from the beach, exposing a deep layer of aggregate, rounded rocks no larger than a human head, fossils, agates, petrified wood. We rockhounds found the transformation from a great sandy beach to a wide rocky shore ultimately pleasing. Bags of shiny clear agates, red and yellow and green jasper, chunks of petrified wood, fossilized shells, and fond memories of weekly beach trips came home with us. The storms also uncovered perfectly preserves stumps, twisted gnarled roots of long-extinct trees similar to Norfolk Island Pines, that had marched down to the water and felt the sea wash upon their knees. Proof that the sea had once been less salty, and the weather more mild. The stumps are massive, fifty feet across, and the base of what once were trees as big as a bus. Like giant sequoias on the oceanside. Yes the climate is changing; the climate has always and will always change. This is not a static system, this ball of water and rock.

The sand returned two years ago, or washed down from the cliffs; I find indications of constant erosion most visible at that strip of space between land and water. We prowled the windy shore at the edge of the tide, walking across the fine wet sand into the cold wind, our footsteps liquifying and disappearing behind us. We found sand dollars, some alive and fuzzy purple, some pale grey and delicate like eggshells, often with a tiny hole on the bottom of the shell. I found one the size of a dime, and slipped it into my pocket. Treasures from the sea.

Flocks of gulls feasted on sand crabs overturned by the low tide, unable to right their grey domed shells, paddle fins waving at the vibration of our boots on the sand. We spent ten minutes turning them over and patting their backs to encourage their escape into the sand. They burrow down like they're swimming.

We found a rocky creek and waded across, hunting for those elusive clear blue or orange beach agates as we sloshed through the water rushing down from the cliffs above us. We found a small handful of smooth-polished stones and continued south against the wind into the filmy fog to the rocks, host of tidepool animals. Gooseneck barnacles and numerous types of sea anemones, some with green waving tentacles, some smaller and ghostly white, all clinging to the craggy rock. Pockets in the rock hold water, and are home to the biggest anemones and purple starfish, shiny black mussels, cone-shelled snails. We looked and searched and explored until the slack tide turned and began to creep towards us with a rush and surge. We stood and watched three ravens, their iridescent feathers ruffled in the chill wind, pick at the barnacles and mussels on the rocks.

We turned our backs to the wind and headed north again, intent on a warm dinner and bottle of red wine and shared thoughts about the day.