Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Many Pathways to Enjoying Life on the South Coast
By Tom Baake
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Birdwatchers gather during an outing earlier this year at the Millicoma Marsh Trails in Coos Bay’s Eastside district. Another session at the trails is set for this Saturday. 

An appreciation for the outdoors sometimes leads to a quest for increased understanding. Those of us who live or visit here are fortunate to have so many opportunities to find out more – literally from seashore to mountaintop. You can take guided tours of forests, farms and tidepools, get hands-on help at fishing clinics, join with local hikers on scenic and historic walks, tag along with birdwatching enthusiasts, learn to identify native plants and mushrooms, hear frequent talks on geology and marine biology, attend weekly sessions on traditional skills, join workshops on such esoteric subjects as creating art from kelp, the list goes on and on...

There are other avenues to knowledge as well. Recent years have seen a profusion of many fine new books on local history and what might be termed the natural world. From the reminiscing of pioneers to the shenanigans of present-day officialdom, the books keep coming. Also joining their ranks are such scholarly examples as Patricia Whereat’s 2016 book, the Ethnobotany of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, published by Oregon State University Press.

With chapters on indigenous languages, cultural background and history, ethnographers, plants and traditional culture, trees, shrubs, forbs, ferns, fungi and seaweed, this book covers a lot of territory. How and what Indians gathered, hunted and ate, for example, is just a portion of their understanding of the natural world.

There’s time for fun, of course – Ms. Whereat  describes how long sticks of elderberries, about 7 to 8 feet in length, were cut to make throwing poles in a hoop and pole game “played whenever the weather was good.” After being seasoned, tapered, smoothed, straightened, oiled and wrapped with sinew and pitch near both ends to prevent splitting, the poles were bent into hoops or set into the ground as goalposts, while others were used for throwing.

On the subject of books and the proliferation of local titles, under a new arrangement, library-goers in Coos County now have access to everything in Curry County libraries, opening a veritable treasure-trove.

We’re also fortunate here on the South Coast to have resources such as the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, whose staff dedicates time for educational programs, outings, seminars, even kayak trips. Each week’s Shopper usually contains at least one announcement for a South Slough activity, and of course you can see a full schedule at their website.

For example, this Saturday, June 10, from 10 a.m. to noon, they’ve organized a birdwatching session at the Millicoma Marsh Trails in Coos Bay’s Eastside district. If you’ve never visited this area before, now’s your chance not only for a guided trip, but also for some expert help in locating, viewing and listening to the impressive variety of birds right out our back door.

I joined a similar session at Millicoma Marsh earlier this year, where in addition to spotting such familiar specimens as snowy white egrets and blue herons, we saw buffleheads – their coloration is much like an orca’s – two kinds of woodpeckers, coots, a loon, and a white-tail kite, which is about the size of a crow and is often mistaken for a hawk but can be unmistakably identified by its bright red eyes. Also very bright red were the Anna’s Hummingbirds.

Keep an eye out for birds, critters, maybe even whales during a South Coast Striders hiking group outing beginning at 10 a.m. this Saturday at Sunset Bay State Park. Get details at www.coostrails.com.

As might be deduced even by this briefest of wrap-ups, the pathways to greater learning are many and on-going – perhaps that’s the best part. Lots to do and see! (Don’t worry, there won’t be a test.)

And since I mentioned farm tours earlier, a fun adventure for the past two summer seasons has been the Wild Rivers Coast Farm Tour. The Bandon Visitor Center has a flyer/map of participants, although all you really have to do is drive south along US 101 from Bandon to Port Orford and you’ll see a half-dozen farms and roadside stands. Some offer a variety of produce and others specialize in blueberries (still a little early in the season). The Travel Oregon website has further information including links to most of the participating farms so you can find out days and hours of operation, and plan your visit accordingly.

Plus at the end of the day you’ll have lots of good stuff to eat. My kind of tour! 

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.) 
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