We're scattering the ashes of a beloved friend at sea near Brookings, and the fishing boat rolls in the gentle swells. You don't hurry a thing like this. You savor details — the sunshine, common murres bobbing like toy boats and diving for whatever small fish they can catch, the flash of sandlike ash into the blue water — and file them away forever.
So when we're back ashore, there's not enough time left in the day for hitting the long trail we were hoping to walk. We have a policy of never visiting the coast without hiking. So, set on getting in at least a short one, we head up the North Bank Chetco River Road to Alfred A. Loeb State Park, where a trail winds through a mixed forest of myrtlewood, that Oregon icon endemic to tourist joints along the coast.
It's a beautiful spot, but we immediately encounter a woman walking two dachshunds who says she's heading for a nearby trail that's prettier and more interesting, and she shows us the way to the Redwoods Nature Trail a half-mile or so farther up the road.
"This one's way better," she says, setting off with the dogs, Sparky and Ginger, on their leashes. "You'll love it."
As it turns out, the short trail (a bit over a mile with about 300 feet of elevation gain) has a distinct claim to fame: It visits the northernmost grove of redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) in the world.
The woman, Sue Calnek, of Brookings, says there's been a problem with sudden oak death in the area, but it's not obvious to nonforester eyes. Calnek and the dogs climb slowly, and we follow, leaving the road below and entering a lush, little valley where a small creek splashes over rocks spilling down the hillside.
Turn left where the trail forks, and quickly find yourself in a mixed forest of Douglas fir and tanoak — but no redwoods, which is interesting considering the trail's name. Don't worry. You don't have long to wait. There's soon a redwood here and another there, then lots of them.
These aren't super-gigantic monsters like those near Crescent City, Calif., or down through the Redwood National and State Parks on the Northern California coast. They're smaller, although that's an odd word to apply to trees that are still enormous, and they're less red and more of a grayish brown. They also are amazingly straight and tall enough to give you what birders call "warbler neck" if you spend much time trying to see their tops.
Lower down, it's a green world. There's sorrel, trillium, leggy rhododendrons and lots of moss. There's bracken, the most widespread fern in the world. And there's sword fern, the rhizomes of which the Haida people north of here used to roast in the spring when food was hard to come by.
There are huckleberries (alas, we were too late) and wild currents, which are not bad at all. The trail tends west and north as it climbs. As it begins to descend, you find yourself in a green ravine with still more redwoods.
A rustic footbridge is a good place for a snack. Note the cedar chips spread on the trail. That's to prevent hikers from carrying out the oak disease. As you descend, the redwoods become fewer and farther between, until down along the Chetco there are none at all. This seems opposite of the pattern of the giant redwoods to the south.
There are many redwood hikes more spectacular than this one, but if you find yourself in the Brookings area with just an hour or two to spare, you could do far worse than spend it in this lovely spot.
Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at firstname.lastname@example.org.