I love Oregon. I love everything about Oregon. Except maybe the hot, allergy-inducing summers, the cold winters when I have to defrost my car before driving to work, and having wet hair all the time because people in this state don't believe in using an umbrella.
Last week, when the heat finally reached a degree that was intolerable to me and interfered with my avoidance of sweating, I headed off to the Oregon Coast with my dad and my son, Silas. We usually go to Brookings, because it's hard for me to keep driving after I see that we've already come within sight of the Pacific Ocean, but this time we kept heading north and stayed the night in Gold Beach.
The locals in Gold Beach informed us that the weather was intolerably hot there, as well, seeing as the temperature was well into the 80s.
To my family, the weather and the breeze felt fresh and cool, and we were able to play in the water and the sand. I guess it's all a matter of perspective, Ashland even in the middle of a heat wave probably feels refreshing to those used to the heat of Las Vegas or Palm Springs, Calif.
As a child, I would go with my family to the Oregon Coast for a week of camping almost every summer. I remember eating tofu dogs cooked over a campfire (you can take the family out of Ashland, but you can't take the Ashland out of a family!), swimming in rivers and traveling down to the ocean, which had the distinct aroma of fish.
I'd roll down the windows of the car, take in a deep breath and just know that we were close to the ocean. Now, as an adult, I no longer smell the lingering aroma of salty fish when I near the coastline. It's hard for me to figure out if the fishy smell has disappeared in the years since my childhood, or if I just can't smell it anymore. I know that my sense of smell has been greatly diminished over the past couple of years, but I never hear my son, Silas, complain about a fish scent, either.
Silas is like his mother in many ways, and certainly in that he wouldn't have a complaint that he would feel afraid to voice. On our way back from the coast, we went into Crescent City to visit the aquarium there. Silas had visited once before and had a great time. When I tried to convince him to do something new and different with this trip, he said, "Why can't we ever do fun things again!?" It's true. Why not go back and do an activity that has already been tried and proven? With that logic guiding us, the three of us headed to the aquarium. Silas patiently waited through the tide pool, the performing seals and the tanks of fish to get to the activity he'd really been waiting for, the shark-petting tank. Silas and my dad stood at the edge of the tank stroking the (very small) sharks on the back as they swam in circles. I just took pictures. I touched a shark on our last trip to the aquarium and felt like I fulfilled any desire I would ever have to touch a shark. I think of sharks the same way I think about spiders: I can understand that they're an important part of the ecosystem, I can respect their right to live their lives, but I don't want them near me, no matter what size they are.
Now, back in Ashland and a few hundred miles away from the nearest shark or potentially fishy-smelling ocean, I am able to appreciate the seemingly cooler weather. A few hot days is all I need to remember how pleasant it can be when the weather's in the 90s, just like a few sharks can make me remember how harmless my house spiders really are.
Zoe Abel grew up in Ashland, Oregon. She remembers a camping trip where her older brother told her of the dangerous "freshwater sharks." Zoe stays out of the water to this day. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.