NEWPORT’S HISTORIC BAYFRONT: Sea Lion Woman (The Reminder album) – Feist
As it turns out, sea lions and myself have a rather alarming amount of things in common. For starters, we both have ear flaps. Sea lions have the ability to walk on all fours; put enough bourbon in me and it may be the only ability I possess. They give birth on land; I, too, can indulge in this feat, but as of yet have opted against it. Sea lions can live up to thirty-five years; at the rate I’m going, I’d hardly bat for much higher. And along with being flagrantly sociable, not unlike myself, they frequent disco naps, delight in the finest quality seafood, and can balance a ball on their nose– the latter being a work in progress on my end.
The morning after my Walmart rejection, I woke with a rather sour taste in my mouth, convinced Newport wasn’t worth anymore of my precious travel time. However, in the name of second chances, and immense hunger, I broke out my trusted RoadTrippers app in good faith that something in this vagabond-discriminating town would sway my ever hardening opinion.
I half-heartedly scrolled until my eyes locked on a photo of a bright blue building with bold red letters promising fresh local seafood.
The Fish Peddler’s Market was situated in the heart of Newport’s Historic Bayfront. It sold food. I was convinced.
The social rise and fall of an American sea lion, aka an intense Newport distraction
As I sauntered along the dockside, the ambient chiming of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album lulling from my headphones was abruptly bombarded by what could only be described as the final, tragic hours of the entire world population of donkeys being brutally massacred, recorded, then magnified to a deafening degree.
I strained my gaze over the harbour to the rock walls bordering the bay, and akin to some kind of optical sorcery, the rocks began to move, nodding their newly developed heads and flapping their extremities. Thousands of sea lions, all intertwined, row upon endless row, harmonizing like some blubber clad Philharmonic contemporary.
Nonetheless, I was mesmerized. The more I stared, the more they came to life; flailing and bobbing, grunting incessantly as though engulfed in the throws of some life or death debate. I took the first entrance onto a wharf, determined to get as close as possible to what I now wondered was perhaps a giant sea lion orgy. But within a few feet of crossing the wharf, the sounds of the choir suddenly exploded, as if I had been teleported to nature’s front row.
I peered over the weathered, wooden railing where a couple meters below me, belly up, head to rear, and every position in between, more sea lions sandwiched themselves on a T-shaped dock.
A solo lion treaded the placid waters, pacing with tenacious intent along the edges of the bloated T. As he surveyed his sun soaked brethren, I sensed the plot about to thicken. With every lap, his desire to join the land lubbers heightened; his desperation palpable. The slightest inch of space was a challenge he ruthlessly accepted.
Rearing out of the water, he charged belly first, diving fearlessly into the blubber orgy. This attempt was met with an exasperated cry from all effected; reverberating cries ensued from an empathic few, unscathed but nonetheless irritated on their opposing corners. The solo lion was thrust from the dryness of the T and left to sulk deep below. Hardly discouraged, this dance continued, me absolutely absorbed, for far longer than I care to admit.
When finally, the solo lion found salvation– or rather enough momentum to cast an unsuspecting resident from his perch, thus replacing him and swiftly blending in, spewing the same exasperated cry he was given only moments before. The poor, and newly dejected water lion was now left to wallow and tread. Such, I came to realize, was the social rise and fall of the water mammal class system.
Seafood at Seadog’s
Finally, I retracted my grip from the rotted railing and exhaled. Had I known any better, I’d have thought an entire lifetime had just passed me by. Surely, the fish market would be open by now.
It was not. Nothing was, save for a charming little pub a few doors down from the scene of my very own live Planet Earth special. Being that it wasn’t yet eleven in the morning, the pub by the name of Seadogs greatly contraried the T shaped dock, with no one but myself and two middle aged gentlemen at an adjacent table. The brisk sun shone on our barstools through dewy windows overlooking the harbour; them and their Budweiser. Me and my mimosa– the internationally recognized and acceptable form of liquid breakfast.
We locked eyes and smiled, silently cheering our morning happy hour from afar.
“Where are you from?” The shorter of the two, or what I assumed as much from a seated position, spoke from under the shade of his baseball cap.
“Well, you’re obviously not from here. So where are you from?”
“Is it that obvious?”
He chuckled. His drinking partner, donned in a black cowboy hat, chuckled in tandem.
Suddenly, we were well immersed in conversation, and just as suddenly, my cheeky morning punch had moved from a second, to a third.
“So what brings you to Seadogs at this hour anyway?”
“I had to escape the sea lions. And I’m waiting for the fish market to open.”
“Oh, hell,” Piped the man in the stetson. “Don’t waste your money there. We just got back from a trip. We’ve got more seafood than we know what to do with.”
“Yeah, go give’r some fish, won’t ya. And check on the dog while you’re at it.” I contemplated, for a moment, their living arrangement, and smiled at the possibility of two grown men sharing a one bedroom bungalow equipped with bunk beds; both in full length, footed pajamas, each taking turns at night cuddling their shared cocker spaniel.
“Guys, you’re really too kind, but you don’t need to do that.”
“Course we don’t, but we wanna. Hang tight. Be back in a flash.”
Not five minutes later, Stetson had returned with two full grocery bags of fresh, fragrant, fish. Ling cod, razor clams, tuna, and an exorbitant amount of tiny sea creatures resembling something that might morbidly exit the innards of Sigourny Weaver, were it 1979.
“Christ. You weren’t kidding.”
“We canned the tuna ourselves. You won’t ever eat store bought tuna again, I promise you that.” Stetson adjusted his oversized belt buckle, straightening his back with warranted pride.
“I have no doubt. But please, let me pay you for this. It’s far too much.”
“Nah. Just stay safe, you hear. And give us a holler when you make your way back.”
“I’ll be sure to do just that.”
And with that, we parted ways. Though, their incomparable tuna would see me, well fed, all the way to the bottom of the Baja.
You want oysters? You go to an oyster farm
In our exchange of various conversation topics, most however, somehow revolving around the sea and its bounty, my new found fishermen friends had told me of an oyster farm on the outskirts of town. Back inside Van Morrison, we ventured around narrow, curving, seaside roads, the scenery shifting with each bend between industrial ports to rocky beaches until finally we approached the one and only Oregon Oyster Farm.
A humble establishment, bordered by a long and narrow dock, men clad in water-friendly dungaroos rummaging through bins, tossing shells, one might initially wonder if such a space was in fact even open to the public. That is, until you meander your way toward an unmarked entrance and are received by an entirely pleasant and enthusiastic Mexican woman indulging in her own tantalizing product– I took this as a good omen.
The interior of the Oregon Oyster farm is as modest as its exterior, a small space sectioned off with but a register, a row of varying hot sauces and a large black board with the names and coordinating prices of available oysters indicating a supposed retail section.
Overwhelmed by choice, and altogether confused by how to even order, I left my decision making in the hands of the enthusiastic female and wound up with six shucked oysters for a jaw droppingly affordable price. Because there is, fittingly, not a spec of seating surrounding the farm, I took my tiny plastic oyster dish and stood out along the bordering dock of Yaquina Bay.
The day was warm, and the oysters so fresh I almost felt guilty having sprinkled them with one of the many displayed hot sauces. I peared across the thick, white, rocky beach which seemed almost endless, and as if someone had been reading my mind, from behind me a voice broke the sunny silence,
“They’re not rocks.”
I turned my head away from the beach and saw a man standing with two heaping garbage bags at his sides.
“On the beach,” he nodded his head in the direction past mine motioning me to return my gaze to the sand. “Not rocks. Oyster shells.” Leaning forward, I squinted my eyes, and sure enough, just like the rocky sea lions, the rows of snow coloured rubble lining the salty water took their proper shape and morphed before my eyes.
“Pretty crazy, huh?” The man glinted with pride then carried on past me with his bags, his gumboots squeaking in unison with each shifting step.
Weekly or monthly? Camping in Yaquina Bay
As the highway wound back toward town, a small community of RV’s parked along a narrow strip of grass nestled itself quaintly between the road and water bank. Opposite, stood a well worn white building with red trim, a matching red roof and red wooden letters dangling haphazardly from shuttered windows; the Red Dog Country Tavern. This sandwiched commune, and the Red Dog’s promise of two dollar draft was enough to convince me to call Newport my port for just one more eve.
A man greeted me from inside a pale yellow, rectangle house with a brown A-frame roof; an american flag flapping gently next to a rusted pole yielding a sign that read, Sawyer’s Landing Marina and RV.
“You wanting monthly or weekly?” His eyes never leaving the small hanging TV screen from above the register, he chewed on a stick of what I presumed was beef jerky.
“Yeah, most people stay here long term. John, the guy with the wood, he’s been here for years. Most people are seasonal. Fishermen mostly.”
“I gathered. By the boats. And the fish.” He nodded in silence, eyes still glued to the screen. “Just one night for me, thanks.”
My eyes nearly sprang from their sockets.
“We’ve got showers.”
“How charming. Excuse me while I mortgage my campervan.”
“You’re funny. I’ll give you the night for 30.”
“Fine. Give me a piece of what you’re eating and we’ve got a deal.”
While I chewed away at a rather dry piece of mystery meat, I backed Van Morrison into the farthest stall from the A-framed house. The day was still relatively young and the sun was shining strong enough to brave the christening of my homemade outdoor shower.
Neighbourly in Newport
I suppose it goes without saying that if you want to seamlessly integrate yourself into a community, showering out of the back of your van with a mere curtain waving between you and your newly acquired neighbours is the way to do it.
Within minutes of re-robing, I was greeted by John, the fisherman, and his visiting friend, a lanky young man, no older than twenty-five with strawberry hair and cream coloured skin. Both donning the gaze of a man who’s never seen a woman, our talk was small and simple. After partaking in a sufficient amount of predictable awkward silence, I excused myself to begin preparations for what would forevermore be noted as the world’s most gluttonous solitary seafood barbeque.
I had barely dented the first bag, half the feast still taunting my engorged belly from the grill. I walked the seven steps to John’s firewood frenzied trailer and handed him and his lanky friend the rest. Partly because I’m nice, but mostly because I knew Van Morrison had another two thousand miles to drive and I needed to bank as much good karma as I could muster.
As I watched the evening set upon the bay from inside Mr Morrison, my nightly bourbon ritual cupped in one hand, mystery fish in the other, from the right of his open doors came the moonlit tracing of strawberry hair and cream coloured skin.
I nodded in greeting while I watched him fumble to find a way to casually stand in front of me. “Would you like a drink?”
“Oh, no thanks. I don’t drink. Doesn’t suit me.”
“Oddly delicious tiny sea alien?” I held my fish-filled hand towards the door.
He laughed, “Cuttlefish.”
“Is that right? Huh.” I took a sip of bourbon and he leaned against the door.
“It’s pretty cool what you’re doing. Driving on your own. Don’t think I could do it.”
“Ah, it’s not so bad.” I smiled at him and he looked at the sky.
“That it is.”
He then smiled, looked at his shoes, and hesitated, “Not near as pretty as y–”
“Whoa, gonna stop you there big guy. Unless you were gonna say my van, in which case, you may not be wrong.”
“Sorry,” he laughed, breathy and nervous. “I don’t do this much.”
“And what is it you’re trying to do…?”
“Kiss you. I’ve never kissed a Canadian before.”
“Well, we aren’t exactly a novelty.”
His pale cheeks began to glow an amber red.
“Yeah, alright. Go on then. But then you’re going home, agreed?”
”The next morning I found a shoe box sitting at my doorstep; its inside filled with an array of freshly picked vegetables and a note that read, They’re organic. Good luck and thanks for the seafood.
With Newport behind me, the ocean at my side, and a beautifully firm tomato at hand, I drove onward, feeling blessed, grateful for strangers, and only mildly concerned I had potentially contracted mouth herpes.