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Utter bliss at Willow Lake, for a while

Our picnic lunch wasn’t all a picnic is cracked up to be. No fried chicken or potato salad. No chocolate cake. I’d failed to plan ahead again.

We slapped together some tuna fish sandwiches, tossed in a few mandarin oranges, and pointed Giovanni the Honda toward Butte Falls. Destination — Willow Lake, about seven and a half miles east of the little mountain town — a perfect nature escape.

The drive up Butte Falls Highway is enjoyable, with multiple signs of regrowth and building happening after the tragic South Obenchain fire last September.

Willow Lake is the picture postcard of an Oregon mountain lake, with Mount McLoughlin rising, majestic and snow-capped in the distance. The slight rise in elevation to about 3,000 feet offers a welcome cool-down as the days warm. Fishing is good for trout, bass and crappie. ODFW plans to stock the lake with 4,000 legal-sized trout and 1,500 trophy trout the week of May 17-21.

The lake’s 63 campsites just reopened to accept reservations through October. In addition, there are four two-bedroom cabins ($150/night), and two new yurts ($45). Remember to bring bedding and cooking necessities for all accommodations. Visit the Jackson County parks website for more info and to secure a spot.

Day-use is available year round during daylight hours, with only the restrooms near the boat ramp open. Off-season visits offer a calm-before-the-storm until the crazy summer ballyhoo hits. For Lane and me, the $4 day-use option (I placed $3.87 in the envelope without incident) proved an irresistible way to spend a bright spring day, even if we did have to make do with tuna sandwiches. We made up for the lack by stopping at the BF store and stoking the basket with Fritos and bean dip.

Any picnic table was ours for the taking. But for a handful of boaters, noteworthy birds, a friendly butterfly and a few ants, we proved the only inhabitants. We spread the tablecloth over our choice, hungry enough to eat tuna. I happen to like tuna. I grew up on the stuff. It was the GF bread I could have done without.

Across the lake, two capped men floated in a red fishing boat. I imagined they were Dad and Uncle Dick laughing over stories about their Nebraska boyhood.

Our view was unparalleled. Lake water made a shy lap at the shore. We heard it clearly since there was no other sound, except the occasional gust rousing the evergreens. Lane sketched the mountain, while I tried reading a book, but when I’m surrounded by nature, I don’t care to leave it for a different world. It’s amazing what discoveries purposeful observance yield.

We spread the cow blanket over a grassy area and lay there, first hearing then seeing an osprey. Across the water, a bald eagle flashed its white crown under the sun. Last time we were there, a gray fox loped across the road in front of us. Just as the afternoon turned a pale shade of twilight, we heard the iconic, lonesome cry of a loon and thought we were on Golden Pond. I called Lane an old poop. It was utter sweetness while it lasted.

Then, they descended. A small herd of raucous middle school-aged boys and their mom. Peace was rent asunder and chaos prevailed from then on. I mean, out of all the tables at lake’s edge, why flock to the one next ours? Not only did they yell to be heard on the opposite bank, but they strolled to where we lay, previously serene, to claim further territory.

We surrendered, gathering our things, grateful for the time we’d had, and moved. Then we noticed another gang of Mom plus kids, only this time it was the mom screaming with gusto at her children. Apparently, they hadn’t responded properly to her generosity in bringing them.

I realized the solitude had been a gift. The lake is the perfect spot for rowdy kids to cut loose — the perfect escape for all ages.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer/author. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.