View of the Pacific Ocean from Cannon Beach, Oregon. Photo by Jennifer Willis.

research is a beach

Sometimes you just need to do some on-site research.

I’m working on world-building for a follow-on series to the Rune Witch books, to be set in a small community along the Oregon Coast. So, darn! I had to go to the coast for work. I’m such an unreasonable and demanding boss.

I had a tight timeframe for being away from my desk, which meant leaving the house at 6:30 in the morning. I swung by a MAX stop in downtown Portland to pick up the intrepid and always cheerful Wendy Wagner, who’d agreed to ride shotgun for the day.

And we immediately got lost. In Portland. Okay, so we didn’t so much get lost as take a not-quite-correct turn while trying to get to the nearest onramp to Highway 26 West. We drove up and up and up into the hills until we finally spotted something familiar and made a turn onto another long and winding street that eventually deposited us at the Sylvan/26 interchange. And then we were on our way!

Our first stop after driving most of the way to the sea, was a quick visit to the Klootchy Creek Giant, the old and massive Sitka Spruce which had been estimated at between 500 and 750 years old and was eventually felled by windstorms in 2006 and 2007. This tree was a major player in Moon Dog Magic (previously published as Valhalla) and appeared as the recently deceased Yggdrasil—the World Tree that anchors the cosmos into existence. It had been a very long while (fifteen years?) since I’d last visited the Sitka Spruce, and I wanted to both pay my respects and get a sense of the current site for the upcoming last book in the Rune Witch series.

I thought I’d remembered a platform around the tree from my only other visit to the tree, years before the windstorms that ultimately killed it. I even included such a platform in Moon Dog Magic, when Managarm cuts off a hunk of the Tree to make his nefarious set of runes. But this time there was no platform in sight. Oh, well. Artistic license?

After wandering around the park site, pondering a slow-moving creek and what looked like a homemade air-gun practice target, and then delighting over and accidentally frightening a family of wild bunnies, we piled back into the car and headed to Seaside.

The plan was to visit the Seaside Historical Society Museum. I wanted to get a better sense of the history of Oregon coastal communities and I was especially keen to view the museum’s dioramas of the city at various stages of development. Alas, there was a disconnect between the museum and its website; the latter promised a 9 o’clock open time, which was key to our keeping our schedule for the day. Instead of waiting around for an hour for the museum’s 10 a.m. opening, we headed to Bagels by the Sea—an excellent recommendation by Wendy. It wasn’t an indulgence. I’d been awake since 4:30, and I was hungry! That toasted tomato and basil bagel with sliced avocado on top was just what I needed.

From there, we moved on to Cannon Beach, and it was fabulous! Mostly we walked around the commercial and residential areas, which was precisely the on-the-ground research I’d been hoping to do. We strolled around the main shopping district for a little while—it’s not particularly big, concentrated in several blocks along Hemlock and a few side streets. We took a quick stroll onto the beach and looked at the surf and Haystack rock. And we wandered along a number of residential streets—all surrounding the commercial district, so there were a lot of rental properties and maybe not so many full-time residential homes. There was one particularly adorable house with purple trim and a crazy-looking wizard’s garage that Wendy and I actually screamed over. I took quite a few photos for reference as I work to build my fictional Naghatune Bay community.

The only sour note of the day was lunch. It’s not yet the high tourist season of summer, so a number of eateries were closed. It was also important to find a place with adequate vegetarian options, so when we stumbled across a cafe with a mermaid in the window and a black bean burger on the menu, we thought we were golden. Not so much. Service was slow, and the food was unremarkable. We had to remind the lady that we were there, even after she’d seated us. When she brought out our utensils, her fingers were covered with avocado, which she left smeared across my napkin. She was difficult about taking our order and had an attitude when we paid our bill. As we stepped up to the register, Wendy whispered to ask me to go first because the lady made her nervous, and I didn’t blame her.

On the way back to Portland, we stopped briefly at Camp 18 because I was determined that Wendy should get the massive cinnamon roll she’d mentioned earlier in the day. As I sipped on a decadently sweet hot chocolate, we marveled at the antique saw blades on display inside the main tavern and watched birds at feeders outside the windows.

It was a lovely day! I did get a bit of a sunburn, despite wearing sunscreen. The weather forecast had called for overcast skies and rain, but it was mostly sunny. Personally, I’d been hoping for some gloom and drizzle, as had Wendy. Somehow we managed to avoid the many confectioners—ice cream, house-made taffy, and other sweets—though we did stop in a particularly alluring art gallery (and I normally don’t like art galleries). The trip gave me an excellent head-start on planning my own coastal community and got me feeling pretty jazzed about the new series. And I got some quality one-on-one time with Miss Wendy, so the day was a pretty huge win most of the way around. We’ll just do lunch better next time.

Posted in thoughts from the spiral, writing & publishing.

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