Thursday, October 28, 2021
Oct. 28, 2021

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A hike up Overturf Butte affords a view of life in Bend, Ore.


BEND, Ore. — Recently on a hot July Saturday morning, my daughter, Lilly, and I parked at Overturf Park, located off 17th Street just south of Galveston Avenue, walked purposefully past a toddler enjoying the playground, the child’s presumed parents enjoying a spot of shade, mom plucking a soothing tune on acoustic guitar.

Lilly and I were on our way to the Cascade Highlands Trail, which starts at the back of the park.

It leads to Overturf Butte Trail and the top of Overturf Butte, where we got a glimpse of our old life in this west-side neighborhood, which we moved from when we bought a home on the east side 16 years ago.

Pre-development views

Back when we lived here, the houses that cover the west face of the butte — the ones seen above when driving on Mt. Washington Drive between Simpson Avenue and Skyliners Road — were mostly a gleam in developers’ eyes. A longtime local once told me how, before the building started, he used to hear the nighttime yipping of coyotes from the butte.

Fortunately, the city of Bend’s Overturf Butte Reservoir is located up top, and only so much development has occurred here.

When we reached the paved service road, we hung a left and continued up until we reached the Overturf Butte Trail, which has sections on either side of the water towers. Lilly stopped to use a DIY swing dangling from a juniper branch. Other signs of use include a wooden bench, a little box for sharing wishes and tchotchke affixed to another tree and a smattering of graffiti here and there.

Once we reached the rocky peak (elevation: 3,904 feet), we stood on the concrete slabs that once served as the foundation of a fire lookout here and gawked at the world below.

Few would rate this the best trail in Bend, but for an in-town hike with some elevation gain and lots of bang-for-your-buck views, it will more than do. And there may be no better view of Pilot Butte than the one from there, at least not one the general public can access. Yet surprisingly few locals seem to be aware that this trail exists.

Bittersweet memory lane

For this reporter, this short and simple hike was an emotional journey.

There’s a lump in my throat even as I write this because this trail holds a special place in our family’s collective heart, even if we’ve seldom ventured here.

For three years, from 2002-04, when Lucy, her twin Lilly and their older sister Caroline were but babies and a toddler, we lived in a little rental house two blocks east on Fresno Avenue.

This trail was a destination on family walks, as were Parrilla Grill, the long-gone Dairy Queen across the street and the erstwhile Galveston Avenue coffee shop Cup O’ Magic, whose business model begs for re-creation. It was homey and brightly lit, with comfy couches instead of the here’s-your-coffee-now-go metal or wood chairs that seem to be mainstays in shops today.

I digress, as older adults will do. I was in my mid-30s back then, and judging from my breathing on this hike, more capable of uphill climbing than now. The first section from the park plugs into a service road, across which is Overturf Dog Park.

Lilly and I made our way up the trail — perhaps my first time back here since the days I pushed or carried Lilly and her sisters up. Did I really push the double baby jogger up this thing, sometimes carrying a third child in a sling?

Of course I did. I know I did. It just that it seems impossible now.

Those days were overwhelming. Everything felt Sisyphean. We were two working parents with no close family in the area. One time, as I stood in the yard with Lilly nestled in one arm and Lucy in the other, a neighbor passed by and said what people said often back then: “You sure have your hands full.” Ha ha, yes. Literally.

I know I wore the stress of it all on my exterior way too often. Would that I could, I’d do it all over again, better this time, maybe with a smile instead of a grimace.

Today, Caroline is 21 and a student at Portland State University. Lilly and Lucy are 18 and on their way to Southern Oregon University and University of Oregon, respectively, in less than two months. Where did the years go?

I don’t know. All I know is my once-too-full hands are emptier now. My load is lighter; my heart is a mix of pride and sadness, joy and regret. I think of them heading away all too soon, and I know that the empty nest that once seemed far off and theoretical was actually the destination all along.

Nothing prepared me for the rigors of parenthood, and I’m not sure anything will prepare me for the next stage. Right now, I just try to savor my kids’ company, and the moments like those shared with Lilly on this hike.

You can’t go home again, but it sure doesn’t hurt to try.