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Sea lions heaped upon the docks, ranging from hound-sized to bear-sized.

Sea lions heaped upon the docks, ranging from hound-sized to bear-sized.

It started with an ordinary night out to eat at one of the very few restaurants in tiny Rainier. I stepped out of the Jeep in the parking lot, and was awash in the sounds of barking, growling, and moaning. Sometimes I can hear sea lions barking while standing on my porch, several miles away, but this sounded more impressive. Before going into the restaurant, I walked down to the beach in the dark, following the sounds, and came to the Rainier Marina. I could barely see the docks, but I could hear that they were occupied. I took this video for the sounds. Even after hearing it twenty times, it makes me smile!

The next morning was partially sunny, so I took my camera back down the hill to see what the scene looked like in daylight.

I wasn’t the only one with this idea, because other locals were parked on a hill overlooking the docks. I was armed with my Nikon and a zoom lens, and got some really fun shots.dsc_0007-2dsc_0009-2dsc_0012-2

Hey! Remember I had camera problems starting during my trip to Chile? At a camera store, before sending it off for repairs, the technician suggested a couple of ways to trouble shoot. One of his suggestions was to try a different lens. I had been almost exclusively using the Tamron lens because it can use the autofocus on the Nikon, and it goes from 35mm to 270mm! So convenient. I tried the 18-35, and also the 70-300, and viola! Problem fixed. It means my Tamron is dead, but not the camera. Yay!

It's a little blurry, since I have poor distance vision and the lens has to be manually focused. But what a great open maw!

It’s a little blurry, since I have poor distance vision and the lens has to be manually focused. But what a great open maw!

This one lunged along, on top of the others, to find a new spot.

This one lunged along, on top of the others, to find a new spot.

Look at these howlers!

Look at these howlers!

I chatted up one of the men in a truck, who turned out to be a local fisherman. He was very unhappy about the sea lion situation. He explained that the local fishermen view them as a menace because they eat the fish. Smelt populations wax and wane, but since the year 2000 their numbers have been so low they were added to the Endangered Species list as a threatened population. The huge sea creatures were gobbling up a lot of what is available, leaving even less for the humans. This is also a problem during salmon runs, with salmon populations already threatened by human activity like dams on the river. From an anthropologist’s perspective, I see it as a way that the fishermen respect the wild animals, and I think the rivalry is almost touching. People curse the seals and sea lions as though they are equal rivals for a limited resource, and it draws them together and highlights what they have in common. I recognize that I have the luxury of using this perspective because I don’t depend on fishing for food or for income.

Still, I had to bite down to keep from commenting to the fisherman in his truck, that while he professed to hate the sea lions, here he was, among other crusty old fishermen on the hill, having his lunch break with his windows down, listening to and watching them.

Cover up in enough blubber, and nap in a pile with your buddies, and I'll bet February becomes a lot warmer.

Cover up in enough blubber, and nap in a pile with your buddies, and I’ll bet February becomes a lot warmer.

Rainier sits on the Columbia River right across from the mouth of the Cowlitz River. This  year, like last year, a one-day, five-hour net fishing season was open on February 25th. People stand on the riverbank with nets and scoop them up. Reports are that no one got a fish this year on the Cowlitz. I imagine there will be even more cursing about sea lions now.

There are enough smelt to bring their wild hunters 45 miles inland from the sea, however.

In hopes of protecting our Marina, workers went out in January to build barriers to keep the beasts off the docks. The combined weight of hundreds of massive sea lions will sink the docks. Wooden fences were constructed, and lined with bright orange plastic netting, to make the fence seem more intimidating. The sea lions said a collective “Whatevs,” and pushed the fences aside and lounged on the docks anyway. I’m afraid the already-poor city of Rainier will have to build new docks, or at least do some significant repairs, when all is said and done.

Looking downriver toward Astoria, and the Pacific Ocean. That is the Lewis & Clark Bridge, joining Longview, Washington to Rainier, Oregon

Looking downriver toward Astoria, and the Pacific Ocean. That is the Lewis & Clark Bridge, joining Longview, Washington to Rainier, Oregon

The other thing I saw down there were the signs of commerce and industry. I know it’s factories and massive machinery and big dirty ships, but I have a childlike joy when I see it all. The lights at night (as you can see in the video at the top) are nothing short of beautiful to behold. The exhaust from the pulp mill is like a scene from a science fiction movie. Everything is huge! The factory towers, the ships, the bridge, the enormous docks across the river at the Port of Longview, in Washington. All of it delights me.

Sea lions have overtaken the Rainier docks. A pulp mill at the Port of Longview is across the river.

Sea lions have overtaken the Rainier docks. A pulp mill at the Port of Longview is across the river.

This ship's size is almost made modest beside the big sea creatures.

This ship’s size is almost made modest beside the big sea creatures.

The very end of the docks here still have their fences intact. I took the photos a couple days ago, and wonder if these fences have been wrecked too.

The very end of the docks here still have their fences intact. I took the photos a couple days ago, and wonder if these fences have been wrecked too.

Singing for their supper.

Singing for their supper.

For comparison, I took a second video with my phone, to give you a better sense of the whole view.

 

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Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

Sunrise and seagulls from Stonefield Beach

{Our trip begins with Day one.}

I had told Arno the night before that I wanted to be on the beach Christmas morning for sunrise photos. It helps to tell someone else when there’s a good chance I’ll blow off my own plans.

“Sunrise is at 7:52,” he announced as soon as I started moving. “We’ve got about 40 minutes. But first, I want you to open this.”

Arno handed me a Christmas gift and I sat perched on the high bed feeling excited about the gift and disappointed in myself. I had searched all over and found him just exactly what he wanted, wrapped it a week before, and left it at home. Darn it! (He has it now though: a GPS for his many many hikes into the mountains.) I opened a new lens! It takes my two old lenses (18-55mm and 70-300mm) and makes them one, 18-270mm. So convenient.

His organization was the opposite of mine: he brought multiple gifts, stocking stuffers (I forgot my stocking, too), and even a little decorated tree, which you saw in the previous post. I opened all my gifts and felt very spoiled. Glancing over the top of my pile of booty through the window, I could see the grey sky growing lighter over the ocean.

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Coloured sky lights up the sand and water

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

Seagulls stand in water from Tenmile Creek

I couldn’t wait to try out my lens! We jumped out of bed and made coffee, washed our faces, pulled on coats and gloves and I added my new alpaca Christmas scarf.

The temperature was above freezing, but it was cold out there at the beach. Seagulls were in a group, standing in the mouth of Tenmile Creek as it spread out at the beach and then emptied into the ocean. We joked that it was probably warmer in the freshwater stream than in the salty ocean.

Our bellies reminded us that it was time to eat something amazing. We headed back up the hill to see what Sherwood and Stephanie had cooked up for us at the B&B.

After breakfast, our big plan for the day was to Take It Easy. I had checked the tide table and knew that low tide would be around noon, so after we stuffed ourselves on baked grapefruit and cheese croissants, we headed back to the beach to check out the tide pools. We played out there for a couple of hours. The sun prevailed, there was no wind, and for a little while I felt warm. Other people came out too. It felt silly and fun to call “Merry Christmas!” to folks on the beach in the sunshine.

Sea-green anemones

Sea-green anemones

After the beach, we wandered south again on Highway 101. The first thing that caught our attention was the Heceta Head Lighthouse run by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. We left the highway and drove out to it, to see if it was any prettier than the Umpqua Lighthouse from the day before. Oh my, yes it is.

Haceta Head lighthouse

Heceta Head lighthouse

There is a half-mile trail from the parking lot out to the lighthouse, but first we went out onto the beach to get photos of it from a distance.

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

A pretty romantic way to spend Christmas Day

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper's House to the right. The weather was perfect!

Lighthouse on the bluff; Light Keeper’s House to the right. The weather was perfect!

We were both grateful for the long trail to the light house. We needed the exercise to burn off some of the holiday food. Above the lighthouse are more trails that head up and along the ridge, which we also walked, just to keep moving. It paid off with new views.

Looking out to sea

A view of the beautiful first-order Fresnel lens

Heceta Head lighthouse is all by itself at the head, and so picturesque.

The 56-foot tall picturesque Heceta Head lighthouse

inside the tower

inside the tower

base of the light

base of the light

inside the lens

inside the lens

Back down at the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint, people were whale-watching. It’s a great spot for awesome views of the ocean. Nearby, we admired the Queen Anne style assistant light keeper’s house (the light keeper’s house was torn down for the lumber) is now used as a Bed & Breakfast.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

View from the tower. That misty bluff you can see is the location of Sea Lion Caves.

At first we assumed the place would be closed because of the holiday, but it soon became apparent that the OPRD volunteer there was taking people on tours. It was my very first time inside a lighthouse. This one is newly restored and having a tour is a good way to have things explained that I wouldn’t have known to ask. For example, I learned that all the lighthouses along the coast have a signature, so mariners can identify them. Heceta head flashes every 10 seconds, the one at Yaquina every 20 seconds, and the Umpqua lighthouse has a red glass pane, so every third flash is red.

Next we continued south to Sea Lion Caves, and that was closed, as expected. However, we peered over the edge of the cliff and spotted the main attraction anyway. Sea Lions were lounging all over the rocks below us.

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lions crowd the rocks below Highway 101

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

Sea lion stretches to soak up the last few rays of the sun.

After that it was time to dress in Christmas clothes and head to our dinner in Yachats. (We had to ask our hosts how to pronounce it. We never would have guessed it’s Ya-Hots, emphasis on the second syllable.) Our holiday dinner was lovely. I even found a little phone reception and called my 93-year-old Grandma to wish her a Merry Christmas before I went to the table.

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

View of the lighthouse from Sea Lion Caves

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