Monday, October 22, 2012

Needles and haystacks

Bandon is the anti-Cannon Beach, all rust and myrtle wood. You get the sense that people are actually making a living the hard way here. Just south of town they're harvesting cranberries.

Dunes stretch for miles north of town, which sits at the crook of the Coquille River and the Pacific. Those dunes provide the setting for some of America's greatest links-style golf courses, with the gorse and weather that make it seem as if the player has been beamed to Scotland. There are plenty of million-dollar homes on the bluffs south of town overlooking the magnificent coastline where the edge of the water is pierced by needles and haystacks.

But the town itself feels more like what it is -- a small fishing outpost, with a modest lighthouse at the end of the river and honest-to-god crab shacks at water's edge where they quite literally pull the Dungeness out of the water and put them in the pot. This time of year the waters include Coho and King salmon as well.

Yes, the three-block-long downtown has the tourist stores, but the townspeople have spent their tax money on a beautiful marina and pier, complete with wood-carved depictions of all things evocative of the locale. The big building on the west edge of downtown is the Masonic Temple, with a craft store on the main level and the shades drawn upstairs. We passed on the chance to visit the local myrtle wood carving factory out of fear that I would feel obligated to buy something useless and expensive. Kathleen is not possessed of such silliness.

Hanging with the crabbers on the pier makes for a perfect afternoon, even as the rain sweeps in. The wimps (that would be your author) race for cover, but the true crab-seekers just tighten the hood and keep tossing the cages with raw-chicken bait. They pull them up every 15 minutes or so, usually with a haul of a half-dozen or more crabs, about a quarter of which are the proper gender (male) and size to toss into the cooler. The nice young man asked me to open his cooler for him, his hands occupied with a crab each. I eagerly flung it open, not knowing that its hinge was broken. He plucked it from the water before it floated away.

Our plan had been to eat in tonight, finishing off the leftovers from last night's too-large meal while the rain pelts the window and the ocean turns gray. Inspired by my crabbing experience, however, we'll be going back downtown to one of several crab joints, where they serve what they catch. Last night it was oysters from a commercial farm in Coos Bay. Tonight it's crabs from the Coquille, with no middleman required.

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