The last day of our Weird Oregon trip, Sunday, October 25, dawned bright and sunny, but well below freezing. The Astoria Column, our first destination, rises 600 feet above sea level from Coxcomb Hill where ocean breezes chill even on warm days. So Kelly and I lingered in our hotel room until checkout. Finally, dressed in multiple layers for the day’s journey we set off. We found our way not only by GPS, but also by following the cleverly painted markers on the road shaped like the Astoria Column. It kind of feels like a treasure hunt as you wind your way up the hill.

On the way, Kelly told me that when he was a teenager he and a buddy from Tillamook used to drive the hour and a half just so they could race up the 164 spiral steps to the top. I think there might have been mention of ice cream and burgers in there somewhere too. We agreed we probably wouldn’t “race,” but we looked forward to the exercise and view from the top.

Patterned after Trajan’s Column in Rome built in 113 A.D., the Astoria Column was completed in 1926. Its fourteen scenes painted on the outside highlight northwest history—the native wilderness, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the arrival of the railroad. We tried to identify each scene, but our necks gave up before we could circle the column that many times. Again, we had to settle for outdoor viewing since the stairs were closed due to COVID. A lot of people were enjoying it anyway.

Down the hill a bit, a canoe marks Chief Comcomly’s gravesite, a Chinook native who helped Lewis and Clark in their expedition. Even in the biting wind, the view was exquisite and worth the visit.

While we warmed up on our way out of town, we read about a couple of Columbia River sea monsters: Colossal Claude and Marvin. Regular Claude sightings by ship captains and their crews occurred from 1934-1950. The men described it as forty feet long, with long tan hair and a head like a horse or camel.

In 1963 divers for the Shell Oil Company spotted another unusual animal off the coast. They filmed something fifteen feet long swimming in a spiral pattern in the water and sent it to authorities for identification. The experts did not agree—it could be a collection of jellyfish, a chain of salps (invertebrates that move together in coil patterns), or the spine of a plesiosaur or other kind of prehistoric creature. Locals dubbed the animal in the film Marvin.   

So caught up in these stories, we were miles down the road when I realized our second stop, Fort Clatsop, was far behind in Astoria. The original seven buildings constructed by the Lewis and Clark gang in March of 1805 had rotted away. Historians designed a replica to be built on the most likely site of the original in 1955. After a fire destroyed it, they built an even more authentic version in 2005. Kelly and I agreed to add Fort Clatsop to our list of “future trips” and continued driving south on 101 toward Fort Stevens near Hammond, Oregon. 

Despite the cold, Kelly and I had a great time walking the expansive grounds for two hours looking at military vehicles, guns, and underground buildings. There are trails everywhere, which I’d like to go back and walk when the weather is warmer, plus a Frisbee golf course with a killer view of the Columbia. We learned Fort Stevens was the only military base attacked in the continental U.S. during World War II. When Japanese submarines began to fire on the Fort, Maj. Robert Huston realized they were landing far short. He wisely instructed his men not to return fire and give away their location. It worked; the subs gave up and left, and the Fort and all the men in it were saved.

As we wound through the neighborhood on our way back to the highway, we came across another small herd of elk. The full rack of antlers on the bull looked intimidating. And even though he seemed pretty calm I wondered how the neighbors felt with him guarding his harem so close to their homes.

On the final stretch, we decided to stop in Seaside. We love walking and visiting shops in this sweet coastal town. It has the deepest stretch of beach between land and sea I think I’ve ever seen.  It was significantly warmer by then so we walked along the promenade. From the other end a marvelous jazz musician serenaded us on his saxophone. On the way back to our car we discovered a new shop with smoked salmon, chocolates, and other delicious local products. Don’t tell, but we did a little Christmas shopping!

At this point we both echoed the message from Kelly’s hot sauce packet at lunch: “Take me home.” After ten days of traveling the great state of Oregon we were totally weirded out, in a good way, and ready to get home. Most of what we experienced was not as weird as it was interesting and unique. Some of it made us laugh or feel a sense of pride; much of it elicited exclamations of wonder in the natural beauty and variety of Oregon; some of our history struck us with grief. I guess we could view our lives the same way.

As I look back on my less than sixty years, many memories bring laughter; I’m proud of some of the things I’ve said and done; mostly, I am filled with wonder at how God brought beauty from even the worst times in my life. I grieve over the times I spoke or behaved badly, and habits or relationships I continued in that harmed both me and others.

Although Kelly and I learned some of the wicked past of Oregon, we didn’t let this information ruin our trip, or convince us to move to another state. We did ask God to cleanse and heal our land, however, and for the people of Oregon to have hearts to seek Him now. It’s not enough to be shocked about the past if history just repeats itself in our generation.

Paul told the believers in Corinth, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). I want to live without regrets. That doesn’t mean I minimize the sins of my past, but that I leave them at the foot of the cross where Jesus covers me with His forgiveness and gives me a fresh start. He takes away sin’s power to hurt me, and turns those memories into an impetus for change. And every day of this journey I’m closer to my forever Home, where Jesus reigns in perfect radiant light.

If you are a weird, fallible, Jesus-loving follower of the living God you know He can transform even a strange year of extreme challenges into a time of wonder, delight, victory, repentance, and new beginnings. Despite tragedies and disappointments, if you trust in the Lord, you can choose gratitude because you’re on your way Home.

Thank you for coming along on our journey. I hope you will share your weird and wonderful discoveries from 2020 with us as well.