A thrashing November rain rattled the bus as it rolled away from Newport High at 8:03 a.m. Damn! Three minutes behind schedule!
I received a text from a super slacker running late: would I wait? Hell no! We couldn't waste one second if 35 of my journalism and photography students wanted to begin Operation: Oregon Beach Legacy, our mission to produce a special edition of the school's news magazine, The Harbor Light, documenting and celebrating the state's unique history of publicly owned beaches.
We planned to release the publication during spring break, when so many tourists enjoy free use of our beaches and have no idea of the historical heroic efforts to protect them from privatization. The release would coincide with the release of a new curriculum about Tom McCall, the legendary two-term Oregon governor who in 1967 signed the famous Beach Bill into law.
As for the curriculum, I say — it's about damn time! Oregon kids have stomached enough Lewis and Clark and Oregon Trail mythology to last ten lifetimes and need to learn why the state became such an acclaimed model for conservation and progressive governing in the McCall Era. Oregon teachers, find this curriculum online, shape it to your needs, and then implement it with passion — not as a requirement. Might I suggest going to the beach and playing with your students as the unit's outcome?
And on the subject of legendary Oregon Governors, a thrashing rain rocked the bus as we headed north on Highway 101 to our destination, Oswald West State Park, north of Manzanita. West was governor in 1912 when he rode his horse from Cannon Beach over Arch Cape and Neahkahnie Mountain and into Nehalem. He later said the ride inspired him: "So I came up with a bright idea... I drafted a simple short bill."
The bill was 66 words long and masterfully read:
The shore of the Pacific Ocean, between ordinary high tide and extreme low tide, and from the Columbia River on the north to the Oregon and California State line on the south, excepting such portion or portions of such shore as may have heretofore been disposed of by the State, is hereby declared a public highway and shall forever remain open as such to the public.
The Oregon Legislature passed the bill in 1913, and with his law, Oswald West changed Oregon forever and all of our lives. He helped create a unique relationship between a state's citizenry and a specific natural resource unlike any other in the country. He created a special place that my students enjoy practically every day of their lives.
West later wrote in his 1949 memoir, "No local selfish interest should be permitted, through politics or otherwise, to destroy or even impair this great birthright of our people." This "great birthright" is our publicly-owned beaches and I make my seniors memorize the quote if they want to pass my class. The state department of education doesn't recognize it as a curriculum standard. Nor do they mandate a field trip to celebrate Oregon's sheer awesomeness.
A thrashing rain battered the bus as it stopped at the park at 10:43 a.m. Time to unlock, unload, rock, report, and roll!
We had approximately two hours to take photographs, interview people, write poems, eat lunch, visit a sacred site, and let our creative animals run wild on the beaches. We brought along food, fire, soda, surf boards, tea, rock and roll, hula hoops, hacky sacks, a football, teen angst, middle-age angst, and a couple of love birds. We would dance like fools in the rain and flood our senses with thoughts, images, desires, and later produce the special issue and distribute it up and down the coast during spring break. If this wasn't hardcore gonzo Oregon journalism at its finest, then the genre didn't exist!
We would not bring bottled water or umbrellas.
The path ended and the staff beheld the untainted and raw beauty of Short Sands Beach. "Bring wood and oil!" I screamed, quoting my favorite line from The Lord of the Rings. Within seconds, a mountain man in training had a blazing fire going.
Some kid told me his cell phone worked, which I had assured the staff on the bus was a total impossibility in the park. The word got around fast and many students went to their pockets like Wyatt Earp went to his holster at the O.K Corral.
Damn! I felt the earth move under my feet and figured Oswald West and Tom McCall were spinning in their graves. (Memo to self: contact officials about installing a secret electronic dampening field in the park.) For a moment, I considered confiscation but then watched drops from heaven splash down as a girl scrolled her fancy phone. I prayed: "Let it rain and let it ruin."
There wasn't a soul around! No one to interview except our inner angels and demons! We ate our lunch, chewed the fat, and listened to a couple of positively dank (teenage for cool) mix CDs specially prepared by students for the field trip. How my 20-year old CD/cassette player withstood the rain is beyond me. Maybe it was waiting its whole machine life to play Led Zeppelin at Oswald West State Park as 35 kids rocked and rained out.
After a soggy lunch, I led them up the rooted path to the Matt Kramer Memorial, the most sacred spot of Oregon journalism, dedicated in 1972 to the veteran reporter who, well, let me quote the plaque:
"The people of Oregon hereby express their gratitude to Matt Kramer of the Associated Press, whose clear and incisive newspaper articles were instrumental in gaining public support for passing of the 1967 Beach Bill. This landmark legislation guarantees forever the public's right to the free and uninterrupted use of one of Oregon's most popular recreation attractions, its ocean beaches."
We laid hands on the memorial and swore an oath to uphold the truth with our journalism and the power of reporting with objectivity and a religiosity for facts. I told the staff, "look where great journalism can lead." And I wasn't talking about the memorial. I meant the free and publicly-owned beaches the memorial overlooks.
I wonder if they'll ever erect a memorial like this in Oregon to a blogger?
Time to play! We returned to base camp and collected our toys and went to the beach. The lovebirds snuck off and I sent a runner after them. I winged a football to a couple of foreign exchange students who made some tough catches. One girl grabbed some kelp and we jump-roped as the surf filled our shoes.
The hacky sack came out. I found myself screaming every sentence. I was losing my mind. At some point, a kid took the ten thousandth photograph of the mission. I yelled out I had 20 bucks for the money shot. A hard rain never stopped falling.
A thrashing rain fell as the bus rolled to a stop in front of Newport High at 3:15 p.m. Hell yes! Three minutes ahead of schedule!