May 3rd, 2020, 09:30 AM

My Favorite Place

By Bucky Fuchs
A Log Cabin typical to BBR
A Typical Black Butte Home, Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs
Black Butte Ranch, a hidden resort in central Oregon

My favorite place in the world is my grandmother’s vacation house in a little forested community called Black Butte Ranch that sits under the shadow of the Cascade mountains.

The ranch, named for the small mountain it’s nearest, is cut off from the rest of Oregon, hidden within the folds of the Deschutes National Forest. The air is dry, unlike Portland’s wetness and the coast’s salt, and tastes like the pine needles that carpet the earth. It’s fresh, and a deep inhale will get my sinuses full of dirt. This is the only place I get nosebleeds.

Each day I spend here will go about the same.

In the morning, I get up at about nine. No one sets any alarms in the house I’m sharing with my cousins, but the house fills with light, making it unappetizing to stay prone. I’ll go downstairs to find my oldest cousin already back from one of the pools, playing a video game on his laptop. If we want to play video games, we have about an hour to do it each morning. Black Butte Ranch was built so its visitors could live in nature, and our aunts will kick out of the house if we try to just hang out. That’s a decent fate, however.

When enough cousins have gotten up, we pack our bags, get on our bikes, and set out. Everyone bikes in Black Butte. The bike paths are used more than the actual roads, which isn’t to say that it’s an easy ride--it takes me a week to build up enough thigh muscle to make it up a particularly large hill without stopping and walking the rest of the way up. And each day, I suffer from the constant pain between my legs from the bike seat punching up into me, until eventually my nerve endings get annoyed at me for not listening to them, and the feeling fades away. The numbness is advantageous when I practice biking no-handed, and I use my legs and the bike seat to guide.

Bike Path, Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

 

We go to the Lodge first, near the front of the ranch. They make Italian sodas here--a mix of club soda, flavored syrup, and cream. They also make coffee here, and in recent years have attempted to create a cafe-like atmosphere, but I always get a cherry Italian soda with whipped cream on top. The cousins and I sip our Italian sodas as we walk by the lake behind the Lodge. The grass is caked with goose crap. Black Butte Ranch is a very popular wedding venue, and marriages and receptions take place right by this lake, which means maintenance is routinely called to clean it up. But the day after the wedding, it returns.

We finish our sodas and toss them in the trash. There isn’t recycling here--this bothers me, but I’m not sure who to talk to about this. I know that I can’t recycle an item with food waste on it, but I figure I could rinse it out at one of the dog water fountains.

We find our bikes where we left them, standing beside the bike racks out front of the building. There are too many bikes to actually use the racks, so we settle for the general area. I don’t lock my bike--no one locks their bike here. My mom told me that her bike was stolen once, but that was thirty years ago, and it’s never happened to me.

We bike across the Bumpy Bridge, a low wooden bridge lasting a few hundred feet that goes up and across Paulina Spring. The mouth of Paulina Spring is unremarkable--the stream entirely originates from a hole in the mud that no one can trace. But the area around the spring is something to admire.

Trees bend over to shade the stream, and their roots provide good ledges to jump from. I take off my shoes and hop across the big rocks sticking out of the water to try to get to the other side dry. It’s not a difficult task, but I allow myself to fail and step into the cold water. It’s clearer than the water we drink in the city, and cold despite the season. When I squat, I can watch minnows sneak from beneath clumps of moss and dirt.

Because it’s hot and I’m sweaty, I dunk my socks into the water. When I put them back on, and then my shoes, I don’t notice my soreness anymore. I cup my hands to take a sip of the spring water (my parents always told me it was safe, this is the cleanest water in the world), and we cousins set off to go to the pool.

There’s a pool by the Lodge, and a pool by Paulina, but we go deeper into the ranch to Glaze Meadow. Glaze Meadow has the nicest facilities: an indoor pool, sauna, an outdoor pool, a hot tub, sprinklers for kids, and a concession stand attached to a building that held a store selling swim supplies and branded hats, a massage center, and exercise room.

We swim, then tan, then make fun of my cousin for the thick line of sunscreen on his nose he insists he needs. We eat the sandwiches we packed and drink the Izzys that my aunt buys instead of real soda. My cousins want to play basketball, but I went too heavy on the mayo, so I walk alone for a bit. I take off my shoes and let the asphalt dig into my feet.

When I step off the bike path, I’m struck by pine needles and rocks and branches. By the time I return to it, my toes are glued together by sap from the oak trees, and my feet are tender with nicks from the rocks I trampled on and the dirt that lodged itself inside the cuts. When I go to bed later and put my feet under my clean white sheets, I will get the phantom pain of being pricked all throughout the night. There are bugs here, but not the mosquitos like down south, or the cockroaches in cities. Ants, the size of blackberries. They make me hungry in a way I don’t like to think about.

Pine Needles and Rocks, Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

 

Eventually my cousins get tired of playing basketball, so we ride back to my grandmother’s to relax for a bit before dinner.Wood Shed with Axe and Tree Stump, Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

 

There are piles of wood each house keeps outside, to light their fireplaces in evenings. When I get back, I see my uncle chopping wood in the backyard. He’s the default woodchopper in the family, but I’d like to learn as well. He shows me how to set up a block of wood on an abused tree stump, and to bring down the axe at the right angle. I’m very bad at it. The wood doesn’t stand straight, so I put a hand down to keep it vertical while I swing with the other hand. I imagine one of my fingers straying too close to the center of the block, or my muscles giving out, or hearing something and getting distracted, or any number of things that end with me coming back in the house with less fingers than when I went out. My uncle seems to have this same thought. So after a few tries, he tells me “good job,” pats me on the shoulder, and sends me inside.

My cousins are having dinner at my grandmother’s house, but my paternal grandfather also lives in Black Butte, so my dad drives my siblings and I over to eat with him. We have crackers and tomato soup, which I hate, but I love my grandfather, so I eat it happily and ask him questions about what it was like when he was an epidemiologist. He thinks I’m going to become a doctor, and I’d like to, but every science teacher I had in high school made me feel worthless, so I just listen in silence and pretend for a little while. 

When we drive back to my grandmother’s house, I find my family finished with dinner, and ready to go outside again. Black Butte Ranch is littered with golf courses--two sets of eighteen holes throughout the eight squared mile property--that are occupied during the day, but in the evening, at eight, just before the sprinklers go on, it’s the perfect time to run across the sandpits and play trapball as a family. It’s best if we’re on a hole next to one of the lakes, so we add “dodging angry geese” to the challenge. Geese can scream--not the loud honking I expected once, but more like a cry a deep-voiced child could make, or a cat screaming for a second dinner.Goose Crossing Sign with Black Butte in Distance, Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

 

Once the sprinklers come on and my uncles insist the game has ended, it’s time for we cousins to search for lost golf balls hiding in the undergrowth besides the golf course. Whoever finds the most wins bragging rights. And afterwards, we settle down back at my grandmother’s house and get into the hot tub that my grandfather built over twenty years ago and has been replaced twice because while Black Butte has the tastiest tap water in the world, its plumbing leaves much to be desired.

A hot tub is the best way to end the day with my legs sore from biking and my lungs shaking from the sprints I ran. But it can easily become the worst way, because of the dead frogs we occasionally find floating in the water when we lift the tub cover. Sometimes we find live ones, and I scoop them out from the water to place on the deck. This is worse, because they never hop away like I expect them to, but just sit there next to us, breathing heavily and watching us undress, until the chemicals overcome them.

I’ve seen more dead animals in Black Butte than I have anywhere else. It’s mostly dead rodents, like voles, found just outside the entrances to their burrows. Or the deer I see on Highway 20 when we’re first getting to the ranch, that also leads into the nearest town, Sisters. (It’s named for the mountains, the Three Sisters, and is a twenty-minute car ride from Black Butte Ranch. It’s far enough that I can say “I need to drive into town today” when I go to get groceries or see a movie at the tiny three-room theater, and it makes my friends think I’m out in the boonies. I could bike, too, if I’m really intent on not walking the next day.)

In the winter, my cousins like to spend a few minutes in the hot tub, then run out and lie facedown in the foot-or-two of snow in our bathing suits. We go two at a time and compete who can last the longest. It’s not pleasant, but family competition isn’t about having fun.

I get out of the pool when I start to feel lightheaded from the heat. My cousins call dibs on various showers and change into our jammies (I normally call them PJ’s, but my aunt says jammies and I like to indulge that for a few weeks a year).

My family ends up on the couches in the living room, and someone puts on a movie. In winter it’s something themed, like PeeWee’s Playhouse Christmas Special or Elf. In the summer, we have more freedom, and I suggest a Sharknado movie, which is always on around this time. My family groans when I suggest it, but once I turn it on, no one tries to change the channel.

My family members trickle out one by one to go to bed. I’m one of the last ones, because I actually do want to see the ending. By the time I go up to the bunkbed room the cousins share, some of them are asleep and I need to use my phone’s flashlight to crawl up. I get a top bunk because I’m one of the most persistent cousins, even though I fall dead middle when it comes to both age and height of the five of us. The one by the window is best, because I can look out over the treetops and watch the moon swim through the stars.

I fall asleep facing this light, and I sleep better than I do anywhere else. Maybe it’s the altitude, or the oxygen quality, but the first night I arrive at the Ranch, I always pass out immediately and wake up with the sticky feeling in my mouth that means I’m rested. As days pass, I’m so exhausted by my activities that I can fall into sleep quickly enough.

When the next day comes, I don’t dread it. It’s hard to have anxiety when I know I’ll be doing things I love, or to be depressed when I’m in my favorite place.

I would like to bring my friends here, so they can feel what I feel. If I could bring all my favorite people into my favorite place, I don’t think I’d need much else. They won’t come today, or tomorrow, but I know someday I’ll get them out here. It’s just a matter of time.

 

Black Butte Ranch can be contacted at info@blackbutteranch.com or at (866) 901-2961.

  • Golf Course, Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

    Golf Course

    Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

  • Looking at the Treetops, Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

    Looking at the Treetops

    Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

  • Nice View from Deck, Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

    Nice View from Deck with Dog

    Image Credit: Bucky Fuchs

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