The day I drove from the Portland, Oregon, airport to Oysterville, Washington, rain gushed from the sky. That night, walking back from dinner to Cottage # 1, my home for the next month, the driveway was under water. No matter, I thought. I brought knee high boots and a knee-length raincoat. I could do 24/7 rain for a month.
Yes, it continued to rain during my time at Willapa Bay AiR, and one afternoon, a windstorm blew a tree onto one of the artist studios, but rain was always interspersed with brilliant blue sky and bright sunshine. In fact, I came to love the rain, for it brought out the hummingbirds, washed interesting things onto the Pacific beach, allowed for good writing time, and created lush green grasses and trees.
Willapa Bay AiR is an artist residency on the Long Beach Peninsula, a two-mile wide, pencil-shaped strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Willapa Bay. I was lucky enough to be one of March’s six artists, all of whom arrived on March 1 and left four weeks later on March 28. Besides me—the essayist—my companions were a poet, a fiction writer, an installation artist, a photographer, and a composer. We each lived in our own cottage, tucked into a patch of Sitka spruce and Douglas firs. We breakfasted on treats left out for us by the chef the night before. Lunches were delivered to our cottages in blue baskets. For dinner, we gathered in the lodge and ate together, family style and vegetarian, laughing and talking sometimes for hours.
You could find me in my cottage, writing, from early morning until mid-afternoon when I’d take off exploring. Some days it was following the trail of Lewis and Clark (who first saw the Pacific on this peninsula); some days it was biking to the beach or visiting the nearest city, Astoria, Oregon; one afternoon it was clamming with my claw and bucket in the bay. Every day I walked to Oysterville, population 35, where the founding director of the residency lived with her standard poodle, Miles. I kept a list of wildlife sightings—black-tailed deer, Oregon juncos, Anna’s hummingbirds, stellar jays, eagles every day. One evening a herd of thirty Roosevelt elk passed through the property.
For a month, this was my family, my home, the only life I knew. I stayed in contact with my loved ones back home, and a couple of times, I’d pick up mail at the post office (General Delivery, Oysterville, WA), but writing, the bay, the beach, dinners with my new friends defined me. The month flew by.
These west coast folks didn’t understand barbecue, the difference between red and white slaw, the indulgence of a summer tomato sandwich with mayonnaise. On presentation night, I shared with them a new essay about the confederate flag, and they were wonderfully receptive.
When it was time to say goodbye, we all had trouble letting go. I stripped the sheets from my bed, returned books, papers, and the computer to my pack. An eagle passed overhead as I crossed the Astoria-Megler four-mile bridge over the Columbia River.
Before I left for Willapa Bay, a friend from home said, “You’ll come back different.” I don’t know how yet, but I know she was right. For the next little while, if you see me, I’ll be staring up at the sky, looking for those stunningly gorgeous black and white birds, eating vegetarian, adjusting to Eastern Standard Time, wishing for rain.