Life on the Beach

As you think about where you want to put down your rural-life tent stakes, consider what kind of town appeals to you. In Get Your Pitchfork On!, I describe some of the archetypal towns in the rural United States. Farm towns, ranching towns, sports towns … coast towns. I specify “fishing towns” in the book to differentiate them from “tourist towns.” Most fishing towns are on a coast, but not all towns on a coast are fishing towns.

Visiting the coast is very different from living there. Walking your dog on the beach can be serene and relaxing on a still, 70-degree morning during your summer vacation—not so much on a blustery 40-degree morning in February with rain blowing sideways. Coast-dwellers wear knee-high rubber boots and hooded jackets for a reason.

The thing that all coastal towns have in common are the unique conditions related to the land’s proximity to the ocean. The water carries caustic salt and is in constant flux due to the tides and the prevailing winds. The temperatures tend toward moderate, with less fluctuation between the highs and lows. However, on some beaches, cooling summer breezes quickly disappear once you go inland, even a short distance, leaving you sweltering in your “coastal” home.

Any time I am on the coast I marvel at its fantastic ecosystems. Miles of sand. Cliffside trees that are permanently bent inland due to the constant pressure of the wind. Colorful starfish and anemones in tidal pools. Sea lions cavorting in the surf. Not to mention the unique worlds of brackish estuaries and coral reefs.

Not all coasts are the same—the beach in Maine is nothing like the beach in Florida. Even the Gulf coast of Florida is different from its Atlantic coast, and its northern climate different from the Keys. Because I live in Oregon, I can best speak to its coast. Last month, my husband and I drove to Pacific City for a few days of R&R. The house we rented was right on the beach—we didn’t even have to cross a street to get to it, just walk out and over a dune.

But the mark of living “right on the beach” was all over this house.

corrosion1 corrosion2 corrosion3

The wind drives sand and salt air inland on a nearly continual basis and, because of that, everything made of metal—every light fixture, every doorknob, every hinge—was corroded. The windows were coated with a salty sheen.


The homeowner had built a wall between his and the next house to keep sand from filling the gap. The dune that had built up behind the house had been partially removed earlier in the year.

Further down the beach, hydraulic shovels were doing the opposite—building up the dune to keep storm surges from washing away the foundations of some homes that were a little too close to the water.


If you move to the coast and raise children, there is a good chance they will take up ocean sports. Be sure you and they understand the safety issues—rip currents, for example, are far more dangerous than sharks, sneaker waves or any other hazard.

I once was hiking along some boulders near a jetty with some friends. There had been a big storm the night before, and sand and jetsam were washed over all the rocks. I leapt from a tall boulder to a large, flat one. Instead of landing on hard rock, however, this particular boulder jiggled. I couldn’t get off it fast enough. JEEBUS-FRICKIN-GRAVY!! It was not a rock at all, but a sea lion carcass. I was very lucky to not break through the skin.

Depending on how close you live to the water, the constant roar of the ocean may become part of your daily life, so make sure you love it. I mention in GYPO a young girl who lives in Frenchglen, Oregon, one of the most remote settlements (can’t really call it a town) in the United States. She went to the ocean on a field trip with her class, and the noise made her feel crazy. She couldn’t wait to return to the silence of her pacific high-desert valley.

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