Astoria Brunch: Freshly caught greenling fillets wrapped around local bay shrimp and Dungeness crab in a mixture of lemon, olive oil, butter, garlic and tarragon, topped with a thick slice of applewood-smoked bacon and broiled. The corn, donut peaches and blueberries were purchased that morning at the Sunday Market. Pan-fried potatoes, avocado, toasted French bread, and mimosas garnished with blueberries and slices of perfectly ripe donut peach rounded out the meal. Greenling is a wonderful fish, comparable to sole. There’s a story behind the greenling.
Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of my first date with Barbra. We met on Match.com at a time in our life when we were each comfortable with who we were and knew what we wanted and did not want in a relationship. In our experience, those three prerequisites allow one to be perfectly honest when using Match.com, which is the key to making it work.
After several weeks of voluminous email correspondence and nearly daily phone conversations, all of which had gone swimmingly well, we decided to meet. At the time, I was living in Astoria, Oregon. Barbra was living in Sacramento, California. Spring break was coming up and I was planning a trip to San Francisco to hang out with a couple of buddies from my navy days. I’d be passing through Sacramento. It was perfect.
Our plan was to meet at Barbra’s house and from there to go downtown for lunch. After lunch, Barbra would give me a quick tour of Sacramento. The whole date was supposed to last about two hours.
So much for plans…
Nine hours, two delicious meals, and the long version of a walking tour of the city later, we reluctantly said our goodbyes. We were already making plans for a second date a few days later when I’d be on my way back to Astoria.
To say that our first date went well is an understatement. At every turn of conversation, we uncovered yet another point of compatibility. Barbra reminds me that I was too shy to hold her hand at first. I remind her that I could tell right away we were going to have lots and lots of time together, and there didn’t seem to be a need to rush anything.
We didn’t go fishing the very first time Barbra visited Astoria. I think it was the second time. She’d never been fishing before, but as an avid outdoorswoman, she was eager to give it a try. So early (early early) one summer morning, I put gear for two in my Toyota Tacoma and we drove in the pre-dawn to Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach. The fishing involved a descent down a steep trail to the beach, and from there a hike out to some rocks exposed at low tide where I could always count on picking up some nice surfperch and greenling.
It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. Barbra was thrilled to see all the life in the tide pools on the hike out – purple and orange ocher sea stars, bright green flower-like anemones, small fish, dark purple sea urchins, and even a large, red, many-armed sun star. Getting to the fishing spot involved a scramble over seaweed covered, mussel encrusted rocks, which Barbra handled with no problem.
True to form, the fish were there. Barbra’s first fish ever was a beautifully colored 15” striped surfperch. In the next couple of hours, we caught enough striped surfperch, red tail surfperch and greenling for several meals. Seagulls, oyster catchers and other seabirds along with seals and sea lions added to the atmosphere. Barbra had a blast, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was time to go.
It was then that I realized I’d committed the cardinal error of rock fishing. We’d stayed too long. The cold tide was rushing in, pouring in like a river through the very channels that made fishing in this locale so productive. We were cut off from the beach, and our rock was disappearing fast.
Still, I thought that if we moved quickly, we could wade to the beach before the water rose any higher. With our gear packed up tightly, we made our way waist-high into the rising water. Suddenly we were trapped. The water ahead of us was too deep to go forward. Behind us, too, the water had deepened. I knew that the moment I lifted my foot, I’d be swept off my feet.
I turned to Barbra. “We’re going to lose our footing. When the water knocks you over, let it put you on your back and just float with it. Don’t fight it. We’ll be OK.”
A second later, we were looking up at blue sky, backs down in the cold Pacific, rapidly being swept out toward open sea. I knew from experience fishing river mouths that at some point the current would slacken and that as it did, with any luck there would be a sandbar shallow enough for us to regain our footing.
I reached toward Barbra. “Give me your hand.” Barbra’s eyes were as big as half-dollars. She said nothing. She held out her hand, I grabbed it, and we floated on our backs, heads pointed toward the sea. As we floated, I let my left leg hang down, probing for bottom. If this plan failed, there were a couple of exposed rocks further out we might be washed into. Beyond that, we’d hit the longshore current, too far from land. Hypothermia would set in…
Suddenly my left sneaker made a familiar scrape against sand. The bar sloped upwards rapidly, just as it should have.
“I’m on sand! Put your feet down.” I raised myself, and helped Barbra to her feet.
We’d been carried out about 50 yards. With the tide still flooding there were no guarantees. Holding Barbra’s hand, I began gingerly following the curving lip of the sandbar back toward shore.
When we finally made it to the beach, we turned around and looked out across the swirling water. The rocks we’d been fishing from were completely gone. The current was still running, but not nearly as hard as it had been. We looked at each other and smiled. “Thought we might end up in Japan for a while there,” I said sheepishly. “Geez, I’m sorry about that.”
“I knew you’d get us out of it,” Barbra replied.
Climbing up the steep trail was a slog in our wet clothing. At the truck we took inventory. Other than a thoroughly cold soaking, we were fine. Even Barbra’s camera equipment came out of the ordeal unscathed. We climbed in, I turned on the engine, blasted the heat, and we headed home.
The day was still young. Back at my apartment, I took a hot shower. While Barbra got cleaned up, I walked the three blocks down to the Sunday Market and got us a couple of coffees from The Rusty Mug and blueberries, donut peaches and some salt-and-pepper corn from market vendors. Coming up the stairs to my apartment, I could hear a CD Barbra had chosen from my collection.
It was a Johnny Cash album…
What a woman!