It was an early foggy morning a while back and the dogs and I took the path to the beach.
In the distance, the ocean rolled a greenish gray and in the foreground I saw several people walking their dogs on the extreme low tide.
I felt absolutely wonderful, almost giddy. Praise be to the Oregon gods! Praise be to former Oregon Governor Oswald West for saying, "No local selfish interest should be permitted, through politics or otherwise, to impair this great birthright of our people," with the birthright defined as Oregon's publicly owned beaches. Praise be that two score and two years ago, in 1967, this state passed the Beach Bill with Tom McCall's signature, and protected its ocean beaches by placing the dry sands areas in the public trust forever.
I really feel sorry for other coastal states that didn't protect their ocean beaches like Oregon did. I'll bet everybody reading this feels the same way. We've probably had the shared misfortune of visiting a beach that was privately held or garishly exploited.
We descended the path and reached the sand. I looked left... stopped... and... beheld — the Horror.
"What the ___?" I said aloud. The dogs growled.
I stood there transfixed by an obscenity, and I swear I could feel the bodies of Oswald West, Samuel Boardman, Tom McCall, Matt Kramer and Bob Straub rumble beneath my feet at this flagrant affront to the soul of Oregon.
The Horror was roughly 80 square feet of beach cordoned off with yellow "Caution" tape. Some family had staked out the sand for their exclusive use to light a bonfire that evening.
And what an efficient family it was: five brand new shovels, folding chairs, Uncle Sam party hats, a table, driftwood neatly stacked, and a snug fire pit dug with smooth stones embedded in the sand to reflect heat. I'll bet they worked at this for hours and drank bottled water while doing it.
Yes, the Horror! And doubly so for me as an Oregon public school teacher because I deplored the selfish anti-Oregon values taught to children here. I know exactly what my Newport High School students would have done had they discovered this outrage. I had taught them well.
But I found it first and a good teacher should lead by example.
It took me less than 30 seconds to rip out the stakes and wad up the caution tape.
I could have razed the camp with Old Testament-like wrath, but that wasn't necessary. I have no problem with anyone enjoying a bonfire, or preparing in advance to do so, but no one has the right to privatize any section, no matter how small, of an Oregon beach, for exclusive personal use. If a family wants to reserve it, then have a couple of kids sit there all day, build forts, read books, and tend the fire. Now that's what I would call proper Oregon parenting!
I went to throw the tape away, but at the last minute changed my mind. I ran to the truck for some paper and pen, wrote a note, and left it behind with the tape. I didn't sign it, although now I regret not doing so. I also should have left behind some of my books about Oregon history.
The note read: "Beaches in Oregon are publicly owned. No one gets to reserve them for private use!"
Six hours later I returned to the beach and the caution tape had been untangled and staked around the fire pit.
Not good enough. Lesson not learned. No compromise in defense of Oregon's ocean beaches. There's enough of that going around already.
It took me less than five seconds to tear down the tape again. A friend looked on this time and I hope I didn't alarm her with my zealotry. That's what you get with me on the beach when something like this happens.
I left no note this time, although I had a lot more to say.