It was a sunny Christmas Eve day, the final one in an unlikely string during last year’s arid Del Norte December.
Five family members, two locals and three Oregonians including the 89-year-old matriarch, perched themselves partway down a Pebble Beach stairwell to behold an awesome display.
Pushed by an approaching storm still offshore and invisible, giant waves crashed the shoreline. It was one of winter’s highest tides, and the observers timed their visit with the help of a simple chart on the Triplicate’s front page.
All the gifts to come could hardly match the enjoyment of watching explosive splashdowns send up towering sprays in an oceanic fireworks show.
This year’s December has been the opposite of last year. But there are some breaks forecast in the line of storms, and the North Coast has plenty to offer the residents and visitors who are spending their holidays here.
Some of those folks shared their Del Norte holiday traditions with the Triplicate in advance.
Our newest City Council member, Ron Gastineau, told about holiday hikes when the skies clear.
“We head off to Enderts Beach trail for a day hike, or we head out to Point St. George to run around the bluffs,” Gastineau said. “Both spots give a great hike and a beautiful view of our ocean and surrounding community. At first it was a way for us to distract the kids from the Christmas gifts under the tree, but now it’s almost expected.
If the out-of-towners are hankering for a redwoods experience, there are easy strolls like Simpson-Reed Grove (via Walker Road right off U.S. Highway 199) and Stout Grove (via Howland Hill Road, unpaved and no doubt a bit muddy right now, although highly scenic). Plenty of more robust choices are also nearby, like the Hatton and Hiouchi trails accessed from several Highway 199 points, and the Damnation Creek and coastal trails reached via Highway 101.
Hiouchi resident Kelley Nolan said her family always heads out for a hike after their Christmas Day brunch.
“The whole idea is to get out as a family and just enjoy the beauty of where we live — rain or shine,” Nolan said.
If all went according to tradition, local resident Gina Zottola’s family just spent another Christmas Eve “grateful that we are still able to be together with my parents and to celebrate the birth of Christ.”
“We all make our favorite appetizers for Christmas Eve, sit and visit with one another, eat and be merry,” Zottola said. “Then we all move into the family room with the fire crackling where my Mom plays the piano and we all sit around her … and sing Christmas carols.”
On Christmas Day, “my brothers and sisters and I go fishing together on the Smith,” she said.
Some folks celebrate in quieter ways, ensconced in Del Norte’s hinterlands.
Out in Gasquet, Norma Cassady’s family is only now opening their presents — the idea of Santa Claus visiting after everyone goes to sleep on Christmas Eve still ingrained in their psyches.
“We believed in Santa well into our teens,” Cassady said. “It’s nice to have holiday traditions as treasures.”
And way down in Big Flat, Chuck and Melissa Blackburn will “spend Christmas by ourselves,” enjoying a nice dinner while they “reminisce and make phone calls to family members,” Chuck said.
Tonight’s the last night to indulge in what has turned into a Christmas tradition for local schoolteacher Janet Parker. She loads up the grandchildren and heads to Brookings for Nature’s Coastal Holiday, with more than 300,000 lights illuminating Azalea Park and cookies and hot apple cider included in the $1 price of admission for those 12 and older.
“They just love the twinkling,” Parker said of her grandchildren. “Last year we gave them 3-D glasses. They were really into it.”
As for those waves, there’s a high tide of 7.2 this morning at 8:58 a.m. While there were higher tides earlier this month, they’re still powerful now, especially when driven by the rainy squalls that are proving to be persistent holiday visitors.
Then again, for some folks who can find a warm, dry perch, those storms are their favorite Del Norte attractions.