Readers: Your Oregon mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read quite possibly the longest blog ever posted on Powells.com. Over 6,000 words.
You shall see many photographs too, most of them never seen before, many of them rescued from long lost archives I found but through the grace of Oswald West, photographs so utterly Stone Oregon cool, so important to this state's unprecedented legacy of beach conservation, that I urge you to spread the word about this blog to all sentient Oregonians. Forward this post like Paul Revere rode his horse! Election time looms and we need to judge our candidates on one issue and one issue only: who cares the most about the future of Oregon and doesn't suck on the teat of ideology when it comes to solving problems. We need visionaries! Gods!
They walked among us once, you know, in Oregon. Today, their deeds seem as distant as when hominids left the trees and began to walk upright on the savannas.
One such Oregon God was named Bob Straub and the epic story of his heroism for Oregon and how he almost singlehandedly saved a special stretch of holy Oregon sand on the Oregon coast from utter destruction is the subject of this Oregon blog. Did you see how many times I mentioned Oregon in that last sentence? Not enough!
A version of this essay concludes Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon's Sesquicentennial Anthology, a 500-page anthology commemorating Oregon's 150th birthday, published in 2009. It sold out in four months and I have no plans to reprint it (I've moved on), although perhaps I should for the sole reason that I want the story of Straub's heroism to find a much larger audience and serve as a model for future American politicians.
A while back, I offered this piece to the Oregon Historical Quarterly because I desperately wanted my research and findings published in the state's unofficial journal of historical record. The editor rejected it as too personal, not properly footnoted, and basically not conforming to conventional historiography standards (which I know like the back of my hand).
Thank God I never entered academia, the emotional cloister. At one point, I was close. Had I become a professor, I doubt I would have ever written a passionate sentence about Oregon, much less seven books about it. Maintaining a long (discreet) distance from subjects you love, while often necessary in historical research, seems ultimately unsatisfying to me, sort of like masturbation instead of intercourse. But as Woody Allen once observed, at least masturbation is "sex with someone you love," which about sums up the audience, meaning fellow academics, for much of traditional writing about history.
The subject of this blog is Nestucca Spit, in Pacific City on the northern Oregon coast. Go to Google Earth, punch it in, and behold… without Bob Straub, a relocated, four-lane Highway 101 would have rolled right over it.
I lived near Nestucca Spit for 11 years, from 1997-2008, and rambled down it over a thousand times, alone, with my lovers, my dogs, in all kinds of weather, but usually in the rain. It became my church, my playground, my writing studio, my therapist's couch, my aphrodisiac. I did some of the best and craziest shit of my life there. I wrote several hundred thousand words about it and took God knows how many photographs. As a result of my countless hours on the spit, which by the way cost exactly nothing to enjoy, I like to think I became an Oregonian of merit.
Yes, Oregon almost put a highway there. So, here's the heroic tale how Bob Straub slew this insane monster for all time. Open a bottle of wine or crack a beer or pour yourself a double whiskey and begin. I'll leave you with one last thought. In the million or so (it might be two million) words I have written about Oregon since I embarked on the writing life back in 1999, this is far and away my favorite piece. I like to think it's the most important, too.
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Saving Nestucca Spit or, Thank You, Bob Straub
In 1964, at the zenith of its fanatic Oregon Coast Highway 101 straightening mission, the dictatorial State Highway Commission issued an edict: The state shall relocate the highway from Beaver to Neskowin in southern Tillamook County and the people shall like it. Especially the tourists. The commission's chairman, Glenn Jackson, arguably the most powerful and connected political insider in Oregon of his era, or any era of Oregon history, wanted this highway relocation and others on the coast for one reason: to provide motorists a conveniently scenic view of the ocean as they drove past it at 70 miles an hour. As Jackson said in 1965 in support of the plan, "We looked at it from the standpoint of what alignment would serve the interests of the greatest number of people…we could preserve the area for a few with the inland route, or make it available to many on the beach route…"
In Jackson's mind, and let's face it, the typical American mind from a sick era when Americans rated "driving for pleasure" as their "favorite outdoor recreational activity" (from a 1962 report to President Kennedy), looking at the ocean from a fast-moving vehicle constituted a meaningful interaction with nature, and government should do everything within its power to facilitate it. That meant moving the coast highway closer to the beach at every opportunity. Better yet, on top of it. Naturally, some visitors might actually want to stop and play on the beach, so to accommodate them, the Highway Department, the state agency then in charge of state parks, built public access points and campsites near and practically under elevated sections of Highway 101 that ran on or near the beaches. What could be more convenient than providing a "windbreak," as one highway engineer told the press? (Check out Beverly Beach and Fogarty Creek State Parks in Lincoln County if you want to see where Jackson's vision of recreating at the Oregon Coast triumphed. Highway 101 utterly dominates the experience.)
Glenn Jackson wanted the highway relocated. And if Glenn Jackson wanted it, he got it. For 20 years he prevailed in Oregon politics. If you were a politician and crossed him, you could forget about winning higher office or a new road project for your district. In this way, Highway 101 was always straightened and shoved closer to the beach because Glenn Jackson never lost political battles, especially when it came to highways.
Initially, the state proposed three routes for the highway's relocation. All of them posed an ecological disaster to Nestucca Bay and certain annihilation of the small unincorporated villages of Pacific City and Neskowin. But two of the routes didn't call for a stretch of highway down Nestucca Spit. Both of these were more expensive to build. The straightest and cheapest route was right on the beach.
The state took public comment on the desirability of the three proposed routes and heard from the year-round locals and the weekenders with their second homes. By and large, the locals wanted a new highway wherever it might run and the weekenders wanted one if it didn't traverse the spit. One activist group, Save Our Spit (SOS), emerged as the leading opponent of the beach route, but they supported either of the other two routes without reservation. In other words, virtually everyone was in favor of some kind of new highway that drastically promised to remake — if remake is the word — the landscape of southern Tillamook County.
To read the 1965 and 1967 public testimony from those favoring the relocation down the spit is to blow one's historical mind and puncture the soul: These people truly wanted to sacrifice a unique natural space for the sake of the tourist's automobile — a space, I might add, that seemingly none of them had ever bothered to visit. They couldn't imagine why anyone would want to enjoy the seclusion offered by walking a sand spit. They enthusiastically invited a four-lane highway to destroy every reason they loved living in the area. But as their testimony nakedly proves, they loved more money a whole lot more.
In March of 1965 the Highway Commission approved the route that called for a highway down the spit, the very route they wanted all along. The plan called for bulldozing dairy farms near Sandlake, paving over parts of the Sandlake Estuary, decapitating the hamlet of Tierra del Mar, pouring concrete over McPhillips Beach, blasting through Cape Kiwanda, drilling pilings into Nestucca Spit, building an elevated highway on beach sand by pouring acres and acres of fill, spanning Nestucca Bay with a steel bridge 90 feet above the water, dynamiting through a headland called Porter Point where pagans picked mushrooms, smashing through a Christian youth camp, Winema, filling Daley Lake and Neskowin Marsh with construction detritus, and, at the end, cutting a 150-foot swath through Neskowin adjacent to the golf course.
My first book, Grasping Wastrels vs Beaches Forever Inc. (2003) contained a short essay about Bob Straub's defeat of the plan for the Nestucca Spit highway. In that essay, I recounted how Straub took his case to Washington, D.C., to the Secretary of the Interior since the Bureau of Land Management had a crucial stake in 80 acres at the southern tip of Nestucca Spit; how he argued in public with Oregon Governor Tom McCall, who supported the relocation; how he held multiple press conferences and came down to the lion's den in Pacific City to rally supporters and get himself burned in effigy.
In 2006 I disinterred the State Highway Commission's voluminous file on the proposed Nestucca Spit highway. To my knowledge, I was the first historian to access it. I read the file in one sitting and the experience left me in total astonishment because I thought I already knew all there was to know about this story.
Formerly, I had believed the proposed relocation amounted to nothing more than an amorphous plan, with the state putting out feelers to see how the public would react. After reading just a few pages of the file, I knew I was wrong. As the documents make incontestably clear, the Nestucca Spit highway was a done deal. Funds had been allocated. The engineering was completed. The power of eminent domain had been asserted. Rights of way had been acquired. Construction contracts were up for bid. Ground was set to be broken.
Someone monkeywrenched the shit out of this done deal and that someone was Bob Straub.
In the spring of 1966 Bob Straub flew into the highway relocation fight like a murder of crows into the propeller of a light plane. He loved Pacific City and Nestucca Spit, and loved bringing his family there. He wanted to protect the public's right to freely recreate on their publicly owned beaches and he didn't want highways despoiling them. In a letter to a state highway engineer in April of 1966 he wrote, "I feel very strongly about the destruction of irreplaceable Oregon beach frontage…which will be caused by the proposed 101 relocation." In another letter, this one to the Oregon Highway Commission in 1966, he wrote, "We have no business in Oregon building highways that do violence to the beauty of our incomparable scenery along the Coast."
Bob Straub served as State Treasurer at the time; you know — bond ratings, fiscal policies, revenue forecasts, investments, thick ledgers in those days. He was also running for governor against then-Secretary of State Tom McCall. The election was set for November 1966. Let me repeat: Bob Straub was State Treasurer. He was interfering with a proposed relocation of a state highway on the Oregon coast that was well outside the purview of his real job. At the same time, he was seeking the state's highest elective office. But he wouldn't let the spit die.
As the file documents, candidate Bob Straub was spending a helluva lot of time on saving a three-mile stretch of beach from certain death by highway when he probably should've been campaigning full time. In the race for governor, the highway became a political issue. Republican Tom McCall favored the plan. Democrat Bob Straub did not. But McCall defeated Straub and that result should have ended the debate over the highway's relocation. It did not. The loss was irrelevant. Bob Straub had started the fight well before the race for governor and, and after he lost, he ratcheted up the intensity.
So how did he ultimately prevail when the odds seemed insurmountable? Simple. As the file makes perfectly clear, Bob Straub on the matter of saving Nestucca Spit was a relentless pain in the ass. He wrote hundreds of memos and letters of query and protest to state and federal agencies. He wrote Lady Bird Johnson and told her Oregon was violating the spirit of her beloved Highway Beautification Act. He visited churches and apparently preached on the sanctity of Oregon's beaches. He challenged engineers' and geologists' reports. He demanded to see budget numbers. He organized a Mother's Day March on Winema Beach. He carried around a huge roll of paper with the signatures of 12,500 Oregonians opposed to the highway and displayed it at meetings. He visited Washington, D.C. He sent a photograph of his comely daughters frolicking on Porter Point to federal officials. He called and wrote U.S. Senator Wayne Morse, telling him to lean on the Department of the Interior, and its Secretary, Stewart Udall, because Interior had a crucial connection to Nestucca Spit. This was the same Stewart Udall who had written in his 1963 environmental book, The Quiet Crisis, "America today stands poised on a pinnacle of wealth and power, yet we live in a land of shrinking open space, and of an over-all environment that is diminished daily by pollution, noise and blight." Doubtless, Straub had read Udall's book.
But if anything in the file that stands out as representative of how much of a pain in the ass Straub was in his quest to kill the project, it is two letters he wrote in 1966 to the State Highway Department. In one, he demanded to be picked up in front of his Salem office at his appointed time, chauffeured to Pacific City, and be taken directly to a certain location on the spit he knew from experience didn't jibe with something he'd read on a map of the highway plan. In the other letter, Straub suggests a highway engineer join him and members of various conservation groups (e.g., the Izaak Walton League) to "hike over the proposed beach route in order to accurately know where the highway along the beach will go." They could all drive together, Straub intimated. On a Sunday.
In July of 1967, Oregon's landmark Beach Bill, which Governor McCall signed with great flourish, quoting Oswald West about "our great birthright," became law and protected the dry sands area of the state's ocean beaches from privatization and future development. Obviously a highway down Nestucca Spit constituted such a naked violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the Beach Bill, that continuing to support it was a rapidly losing political hand for the new Governor.
That hardly mattered to Glenn Jackson. He wanted Highway 101 on Nestucca Spit, and once it was built, he doubtless had plans to straighten other curvy sections of the highway down other northern Oregon coast sand spits: Nehalem, Bay Ocean, and Netarts. Build the first tough one and the rest would be an ocean breeze.
At some point in 1967, perhaps earlier, Straub contacted Secretary Udall and brought to his attention the fact that Oregon was planning to build a highway on Nestucca Spit on some of the land owned by the federal government that it had granted to the state exclusively for outdoor recreation.
In one of his 1967 letters to McCall protesting the Oregon Highway Commission's plan, Udall wrote:
…in all candor I must report that my key conservation advisors…unanimously oppose the beach route proposed by your Highway Department. Our experience in outdoor recreation land use planning tells us emphatically that any major highway is totally incompatible with the wise preservation of small parks and beaches.
Wise land use planning demands that all available alternatives be analyzed before a final decision is made. The record in this case shows that there are viable alternatives to the proposed relocation of Highway 101, and that at least one such alternative route was studied by your Highway Department in 1965. The old argument by highway engineers that it is "cheaper" to route a road through a beach or public park was always outrageous from a conservation standpoint.
We are confident another route can be readily worked out which will give the traveler an excellent view of Oregon's superb scenery without desecrating a beach that should be left unsullied for future generations. If the new route costs a little more, so what? In our time a wise resource use demands that we always search for the best solution for the long run — and never simply settle for the cheapest solution.
In one of his letters to Udall defending the plan, McCall wrote:
Dear Mr. Secretary:
…I made it plain that I wanted no part of any anti-conservation-recreation position…that a relatively few cottage dwellers at the north end of the spit were generating the fire against the proposed highway. It is my firm impression that they are Oregon's noisiest minority — and their simplistic emotional attacks have attracted some converts.
I have visited the area ten times. Usually, one finds hundreds of boaters, bathers, sun-worshippers and vehicles crammed on the beach at Cape Kiwanda. Sighting south over the Kiwanda throngs and down the three and one-half miles of spit, one generally finds no more than two or three persons on the spit itself. Here is an area where the traffic is unbearably heavy on the accessible sands and the magnificent potential playground is virtually deserted.
In late August 1967 the Department of the Interior issued a press release. In part it read:
Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall today instructed the Bureau of Land Management to disapprove the application of the Oregon State Highway engineer for a variance to permit highway construction through the Nestucca Sandspit area in Pacific City, Oregon. The Secretary's instructions affect Bureau of Land Management acreage which was vested to the State of Oregon exclusively for outdoor recreation purposes.
Still, the Highway Commission and Glenn Jackson refused to give up and apparently decided they could route the highway partly through, yes through, Nestucca Bay (built on millions of tons of rock fill) and down the inside of the spit, thereby avoiding the land granted by the Department of the Interior. I say apparently, because at this point in the story, the historical record, as revealed by the Highway Commission files that I read, becomes unclear.
What is known is that on November 29, 1967, the Highway Commission held another public meeting in Tillamook to solicit public comment on the proposed routes, including the redesigned one that avoided the Department of the Interior's holding but still essentially traversed the spit, which of course, was the route the Commission wanted all along. At this meeting, which went on for nearly nine hours, supporters of the beach route again had their say. The words useless and wasted came up a lot, as in, the spit was useless and wasted if a highway couldn't bring more people more conveniently there to enjoy it.
Bob Straub had his say too, and gave a speech at the Tillamook Elks Club that surely ranks as the greatest speech by a politician in Oregon history in defense of conserving the state's natural resources for future generations. Here is the full speech. Read it all.
I think the people…all over Oregon have just as much interest and just as much right and just as much authority to determine whether the magnificent beach resource of Oregon shall be used for highway construction, as do the businessmen who are located on the Oregon coast. I want to make emphatically clear my strong, determined opposition to the destruction of the priceless natural heritage we have in Oregon — our magnificent beaches — by building on them a high speed, interstate highway, such as Highway 101. I am opposed to building a highway on either a beach or a sand spit on the Oregon Coast — here or elsewhere on the Oregon Coast when an alternate route is available.
It is unthinkable that we should even have to be debating and consider in the latter part of this century the issue of whether part of that beach resource should be destroyed by building a main highway on it. And, yet on this proposed beach highway, that's been outlined this morning, the right-of-way itself would consume 109 acres across beach and high value recreation areas. At least an additional 100-foot strip on each side would be made useless for recreation. This makes a total loss of a minimum of 320 acres of among the finest sections of beach and ocean view property that is left in Oregon.
Now what kind of highway are we talking about? The Highway Department has displayed during their informational hearing some very excellent photography of parks on the Oregon Coast and some very excellent shots of the Coast Highway. I looked at them closely, and I appreciate the excellence of the art — I scrutinized them a little bit and I want you to notice as you look at them during -the intermission — the absence of vehicles in the picture — the absence of trucks. I don't think there's a truck taken in the entire series of photos that are shown here. Is this the kind of highway that we're talking about that's being planned for this Oregon beach in the Pacific City area — a quiet seldom used, non-commercial, peaceful kind of a highway? No, it's not. The beach route has been built by the Highway Commission as a scenic highway. It won't be a scenic highway. At no point on the entire three miles of the sand spit, where this highway is being cut through the heart of what could be a magnificent park. Not one place is the ocean visible to the automobile driver. The high foredune will block his view over the full distance.
Supporters of this highway say the highway is an access road that is needed to serve the "recreation" area. They even go so far as to say it is the only way to get access to this park. We all know who knows the facts, that this is not true. What kind of highway then are we talking about that's being considered for rerouting and building on our Oregon beach area? U. S. Highway 101 is an interstate highway designed to carry heavy commercial traffic. It is sure sometime in the future to become a four-lane highway in time. It is hardly a mere access road. By the State Highway Department's own statistics, it shows that this highway is being designed as a 70-mile-an-hour highway, designed to carry a maximum of 430 vehicles an hour. A majority of this traffic will be through traffic, not interested in local recreation, but only anxious to get quickly through and out of the area. By the Highway Department's own figures, the traffic will average one vehicle every nine seconds, including one truck every 45 seconds — log trucks, lumber trucks, freight trucks, commercial trucks — all kinds of trucks. One truck every 45 seconds — one vehicle every nine seconds — by the Highway Department's own statistics.
This isn't the volume of the traffic on Highway 101 today and it isn't the volume that will be on the highway tomorrow, but this, ladies and gentlemen, is the volume of traffic that this highway is being designed to carry. Who can deny that in the future the volume will reach the planned proportions? Who can even deny that in the future sometime this highway will be enlarged to a four-lane highway? Let's not kid ourselves. Once that asphalt is poured on the sand in the Pacific City area, nothing will be changed in the future except to make that asphalt wider and thicker.
Why don't we learn in Oregon? We should be planning for the future, the long-range future, not just for today and tomorrow. The strength and success and best hope for Oregon's future economic development and well-being lies in our ability today to clearly foresee, plan for, and protect long-range needs. Our beach resource is a limited resource. The demand for it, the need for it, the value of its beauty is stronger and stronger every day.
Arguments in support of the beach route, and I'm referring to either of the two routes, either the beach route, either the one that cuts through the park or the one that cuts through the Wi-Ne-Ma beach area, fall of their own weight, because superior access can be provided by keeping the highway inland and building access roads down to the beach area and they fall by their own weight, because a superior scenic highway can be provided if a highway is constructed with some elevation rather than building it right down on the beach. Yet, if this beach route is chosen, if the Highway Department has its way, and wins this fight, these arguments become the basis, by precedence, for selecting the same type of route up the entire Oregon Coast. Human environment and scenic and recreational need will not be considered. The same reasoning used to win their way in the Pacific City area. Reasoning based on economic, on immediate economic, reasoning based on the convenience of this location, reasoning based on the ease of opening up the beach area for recreation by rerouting Highway 101 through the beach area will apply with equal validity to the remaining three sand spits north of this area, will apply with equal validity to the invasion of beaches north of this area. If the reasoning is valid at Pacific City, if the premise is right in the Pacific City area, it also will be right in Netarts Bay, at Bay Ocean, and at Nehalem sand spit, and Highway 101 will be built right up the coastline.
What I would hope would be the precedence that should be adopted is the beaches and coastal areas will be saved for recreation, for scenic beauty, as places where the awe and the majesty of the nature, the force and the reach of the ocean can be observed and contemplated without distraction and danger from vehicles zooming past and without the distraction and the fumes of log trucks or lumber trucks, commercial trucks passing you as you try to absorb the peacefulness of the ocean — one every 45 seconds. I hope that we as a result of this controversy, good can come out of it and the most good that I can think that would come out of this is for the Highway Commission to adopt a policy that will not build highways through State park areas or on our Oregon beaches or sand spits if there's an alternate route available.
Certainly, this is the precedent — certainly this is direct — certainly this is the belief that the vast majority of Oregonians hold and the policy that they want followed. Every measure of public opinion that has been taken on this issue shows overwhelming support for a policy of keeping the highway off our beaches. A recent interview-type survey conducted by the Northwest Ballot Box organization showed that 87% of Oregonians in the State of Oregon are against building this highway on the beach. A radio poll was taken this week in Portland by Radio Station KEX showed that 91% of their sample was against building this highway on the beach. Inexperienced volunteers, during four-week period, easily obtained over 12,500 signatures on petitions opposing this highway being located on the beach. 12,500 signatures is a lot of signatures, ladies and gentlemen, reproduced on a continuous sheet of paper. That paper rolls out for one quarter of a mile — that's a lot of people in Oregon who have expressed themselves in four weeks' time as being opposed to the destruction of our beach resource.
Gentlemen, you have no right to ignore this clear evidence of public opposition. Now, in addition to the recreation and the conservation aspects, which I think are valid and strong enough reasons certainly to relocate this highway and keep it off the beach area. Even from an economic analysis point of view — if we're thinking long range, rather than just a quick dollar today, we'll recognize the importance of preserving the asset, the resource, that is the most valuable resource for future economic development that we have in Tillamook County and probably in all of Oregon. That's our beach resource. The highest economic value on the coast and probably anywhere in Oregon is the land that lies between the ocean and the highway. This is the area of high value land available for maximum economic development, human habitation and enjoyment. The wider that strip is kept, the more economic value and the more human enjoyment will result.
A few individuals, a few short-sight promotional type organizations, like the Oregon Coast Association, are beating the drums for this beach route as a way for them to make a quick dollar, and destroy the process, their most valuable asset which creates these business values. Gentlemen, they would sell out too quickly and too cheaply. They would use up an irreplaceable capital resource for the immediate income that it would produce. I can only say that I know of no successful business that operates on this short-sighted principle that'll long survive.
In summary, then, let me say that this beach route, and I refer to both highways that cross Wi-Ne-Ma Beach, is not needed either as an access road or as a scenic drive. I urge — let's close the door in Oregon to building highways on beaches or through parks and choose rather one of the numerous alternate routes that are available which will better serve the scenic needs, the access needs, and the future needs of the people of Oregon.
I'd like to believe the speech won the day, won all the spit's enemies over, but I'll never know for sure. I do know that at some point in early 1968, Bob Straub went into Glenn Jackson's office and brought the roll of signatures with him. He rolled it out right there. Not too long after that, the proposal officially and quietly died and I've long since given up hope of finding the document where Glenn Jackson admitted defeat. He probably never put it down on paper.
It took almost four years, but Bob Straub had saved Nestucca Spit and some 30 years later, I would come to find this magical Oregon place. It was during my countless hours on the spit that I learned to love Oregon. I began to appreciate the visionary governing and conservation ideas conceived and legislated by a previous generation that made it possible for me to ramble down a publicly-owned ocean beach without ever paying a cent for the privilege of doing so.
How did I thank Bob Straub for saving Nestucca Spit?
Right before I moved away from the area and relocated to Newport, I went on a mission. Here's the report:
Visualize the width and depth of Crater Lake. That's how vast a historical oversight has existed on the matter of Bob Straub and Nestucca Spit for over 40 years.
On this fine afternoon I will undertake the ultimate mission to rectify that oversight.
I leave the dogs at home. They bark their disapproval because they know where I'm going. Unfortunately, I need full concentration to complete the mission, and Sonny has been known to wander and find trouble.
As I drive to the beach with the supplies in the back of the truck — hammer, nails, shovel, posts, sheet of plywood — I ponder all the visits to the spit over the last decade. What a glorious and instructional love affair and religion! I owe this place and I owe its savior.
The parking lot of Bob Straub State Park is empty. Perfect. No human being around to ask any questions or report suspicions to the authorities.
My associates are tardy. I unload the supplies and walk over to the park's sign of rules and regulations. On the pavement, I notice a used pink condom next to a white splatter of gull shit, a perfect juxtaposition that symbolizes the divine freedom of Oregon's ocean beaches. Someone got laid in a vehicle near the beach while a gull flew overhead; the couple didn't rent a motel room, pay a toll, or worry about being rousted by a security guard for the privilege of coupling. I like to think they rolled down the windows, turned off the music and heard the old sexy man of the sea.
I begin to read the sign and learn of a prohibition against "construction" of any kind on the beach. I won't be constructing anything. I will, however, "install" something. I read more. I know the sign doesn't contain a word about Bob Straub's heroics. It never has and probably never will unless I get around to running for Governor.
Not a word! No public signs anywhere on the Oregon Coast educating visitors about Oswald West, Tom McCall, and Bob Straub's successful efforts to save Oregon's beaches from privatization and exploitation.
To repeat: today I undertake a mission of historical rectification, a final ritual in praise of Bob Straub and the spit before I move away from the place I have called home for 11 years.
The mission is somewhat involved and I need help to execute it properly, so I have enlisted two confederates, one of them gorgeous, the other high.
R, the gorgeous one, my companion on multiple Nestucca Spit sojourns, knew what this ritual meant to me. When I asked for her help, she readily agreed. "She's my little Rock and Roll. Tits and ass with soul," Keith Richards once sang, and that's the way I'll always feel about R. The other confederate is R's best friend, J, one the best stoned Oregon dudes around. Salt of the Coast.
The team picks up the supplies and we take the trail into the dunes. J and I lead the way. He carries one post while I carry the other one and a short shovel. A hammer, bag of galvanized nails, and a laminated newspaper editorial protrude from the back pockets of my Levi's. R brings up the rear lugging the piece of three-foot by three-foot plywood I'd painted and stenciled two nights ago. A film camera dangles off her shoulder.
We walk a quarter mile south down the spit and come to the excellent spot I'd chosen after countless reconnaissance probes. Our installation will be set back 30 feet from the path, face north, and angled to offer a sly view. It will be sunk deep into the sand and positioned expertly to avoid the full force of high winds. I want it to last.
I dig the first hole and then J digs the other. Godammit! I forgot the level. We'll just have to eyeball it. The posts go in, we move sand into the gaps, and then tamp it down tight with a piece of driftwood and our fists. R takes photographs while J and I work. I lift the plywood up and J pounds four-inch nails through it and into the right post. He's very stoned and hammers badly but gets the job done.
My turn. I pound nails into the left post. R comes over to pound a nail in too. We all back up from the installation and behold: a sign is born. I hammer the laminated newspaper editorial below the sign's lettering. I wrote it back in 2003 after Bob Straub passed away and it appeared in a Portland newspaper. In the editorial, I thanked him for saving Nestucca Spit.
It wasn't thanks enough.
Green letters decorate a white field. Two sentences. The stenciling came out funky, really funky. I never could craft. The sign reads:
IN 1967 BOB STRAUB SLEW THE PLAN TO REROUTE 101 ON NESTUCCA SPIT. THANK HIM.
Mission accomplished. The team poses for photographs and slaps hands all around. We adjourn to the Mexican restaurant in Pacific City for celebration and margaritas. We boast of erecting more signs.
Two days later I bring the dogs to the spit for one of our last rambles before I move to Newport. The sign stands grand in the foreground as clouds to the south blanket the top half of Cascade Head. I walk up to the sign and give it a substantial push; it doesn't budge. I look down at the sand and count at least 20 sets of footprints all around it. There are even remains of a small fire. And a condom. Used.
If you visit Bob Straub State Park (renamed for him in 1987) walk south along the dunes about a half mile from the parking lot and you'll find my personal thank you. That is, if state park officials, who apparently have no love for Oregon, haven't removed it.