The late afternoon sun had sunk behind a hill by the time we pulled into our campsite. Though it was shady beneath the trees, the air was warm.

I hadn’t been camping in years. My friends came equipped with tents, cushioning sleeping pads, and headlamps to stave off the darkness. I have one camp chair to my name; it’s nice to have friends who come prepared.

After setting up camp, we eagerly headed down to the nearby Nehalem River. Water gurgled noisily downstream. Here the river was flat as glass, fuzzily reflecting the opposite bank. Two gray ducks with rusty heads cut through the picture, paddling silently downriver.

Alders with burgeoning golden leaves stood next to tall conifers, a reminder that though I wore shorts and my friends swam in the temperate water, it was the last weekend of summer. Autumn was right around the corner.

I gathered some fallen alder leaves, mottled brown, yellow and green. The leaves were decaying, but their veins held together: stunning natural networks of fragile lace. Two shy salamanders with bright orange bellies let me catch sight of them before heading from the rocks into the privacy of the tall grass.

Dinner was roasted root veggies in tinfoil over the campfire. Later we broke out the s’mores. Breakfast was oatmeal sweetened with raisins and ripe peaches.

The next day, we doused the fire, packed up and drove to Manzanita to fully enjoy the 80-degree sun. After a long line and burritos at Left Coast Siesta, we headed to the beach.

The smell of low tide hit me salty and sharp at the back of my mouth before I even stepped foot on the sand. We walked down the busy beach, dropped our stuff in a pile, then headed for the ocean. Running into the waves, that forever-Oregon-Coast-cold water of the Pacific numbed my toes and made me gasp. The water was white and frothy. The tide was strong; we only waded in past our knees, though the rolling waves hit higher. Back on our towels, we dried off in no time, exchanging water for soaking in the sun.

White haze limited vision up and down the beach. Swim suit-clad beach-goers lounged in the sand, tossed a football around, rode the waves with boogie boards. Happy dogs chased each other into the water. Two kids peeked their heads up out of a sand pit they’d dug.

We couldn’t resist stopping for coffee and ice cream before making the drive back up to Astoria.

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