People need escapes. There is no shame in admitting it, dreaming about it and acting on it. We live in a connected world and are assaulted daily by demands and constraints on our time and patience. Even if we never declare as much out loud, we all need a special place to flee from the tweets, the Tivos, the cubicles and the screen savers. Thoreau wrote: “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” So I urge you to turn off the cell phone and come with me to the place I retreat so often, I have claimed stewardship over it; Oswald West State Park.

There are others who can speak with authority on the man Oswald West and his importance as an Oregon governor. I will leave that to them. I became a Lord of Oswald during the first week of my journey as an Oregonian. That is how it has been between the park and I; a series of firsts with a simple agreement. From the first moment I set foot on its moss and fern covered trails, I agreed that I would share everything of myself with this place. In return, it would give me the restorative and curative powers of its trees, streams, beach, and rocks. It would become my retreat and I would give it my apprenticeship.

Other firsts followed at Oswald. I first put Oregon pen to Oregon paper in that place, overwhelmingly inspired to write in a way I had never experienced in the snow bound flatness of Minnesota. My first date with the woman that became my wife would be blessed by a rare warm late November Oswald day. I would hold her hand on its beach for the first time and our union would be witnessed by the sighing surf and waving trees. She too would become a Lord of Oswald. Both of my dogs, Cisco and Kirby, would chase their first tennis balls, run after their first seagulls and splash in their first salty surf there. And, when the time came, both would have their ashes placed lovingly at the altar of the massive, timeless trees that watch over the park like sentinels sent by Tolkein himself. There are no secrets between us and this place. It shares and revels in our joy, silently cradles us in our sorrow, and supports our decisions without judgment.

As Lords of Oswald, it is our duty to visit often. On a typical visit we go early, especially in the summertime when the many inland visitors have not yet awakened. The parking lot is largely empty; there is usually a scattering of Westfalia’s or VW vans belonging to surfers who find the same Oswald spirituality we do, but in a different way. The air is always cool in the early morning and we take the trail from the parking lot down to the cold, clear stream below. We cross the bridge that knows our foot falls so well, circle up to the highway and cross to the trailhead. The trees close around us and say ‘hello’ softly as we ascend into the green. Traffic sounds fade beyond the canopy. The mind wanders as we cease talking; we are instructed to be quiet and let our thoughts free. The trail meanders slowly and soon opens up to a bench overlooking the mighty Pacific.

The surf is always frothy and foamy and below, the beach stretches pristinely in either direction. We can always find surfers bobbing expectantly in the water, waiting for the perfect moment to practice their art. Surf dogs pace nervously back and forth below, waiting for their masters return. Depending on our mood, we will take the spiral path down to the beach and stick our bare feet in the soft, cold sand. We will talk softly and make big plans, discard others. Sometimes, on mornings where adventure beckons, we will take the trail to Cape Falcon. There, we will climb through brush and spider webs to the high bluff and survey our kingdom while basking in the sun. Other times, we will simply sit on the bench overlooking the beach and listen to the surfing dogs bark. There is a plaque there which commemorates one of the original Lords of Oswald, AP reporter Matt Kramer. It doesn’t matter which direction we go; as Lords of Oswald, it is our choice. Often, when the week has been long and the demands placed upon us to tedious to recall, we will just sit.

I am a Lord of Oswald. I say this not with conceit or malicious intent. I did not stage a coup or claim squatter’s rights at this place. It was a title bestowed on me as a simple agreement between myself and the park. I would walk the paths and beaches, talk to the trees and streams, and sit among the ferns and rocks. In return, I would talk softly when there was something to say, and say nothing when no words were needed. I would tread lightly and pay attention to the swaying of the trees. I would show others the paths and trails and make them mindful of each turn and contour. And, above all else, I would never call the office.

Dan Haag, Executive Director, Garibaldi Maritime Museum

Born and raised in the great white north of Minnesota, Dan Haag felt the pull of the Pacific Northwest in the early 90′s. Finding he liked wearing sandals and shorts year-round, he stayed. He married an Oregon girl and settled on the North Oregon Coast where he slowly mastered the art of year-round residency. Dan has waited tables, cleaned rooms, run a youth center, given kayak tours, washed dishes, spent time as a Sous Chef, and more – often times simultaneously. He finished his history degree through Linfield College and landed a job at the Garibaldi Maritime Museum, developing educational outreach programs for area schools. Today, Dan is the museum’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Dan shares his love of Oregon coast history with thousands of visitors each year. In his free time, Dan enjoys writing, exploring Oregon’s trails and beaches, doing his part to support the Oregon wine and beer industry, perusing the coast’s many bookstores, and working on his little beach house.

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  1. Marilyn says…

    Oswalk West is my secret hide away. How can it be yours? Did you see the “gnome houses” there? You do know they live there?

    Written on November 7th, 2011 / Flag this Comment
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