I'm rolling out the cliché, but it's oh, so true: One of life's greatest joys is to see the world again through a child's eyes.
The magic of Santa. The awe of hot air balloons filling at twilight. It's hard to beat that dawning wonder on a little one's face.
Now I have one more thing to add to the list.
Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, which sits on acreage along the Metolius River just north of Camp Sherman, is sure to conjure such delight. It's open year-round and offers a close-up with nature that's hard to beat.
Spring didn't flirt with Central Oregon the day of our outing as it has in recent weeks. But that didn't diminish the fun of watching a 19-month-old giggle and squeal as he threw food pellets into a pool. What seemed like hundreds of medium-size trout surged and slithered over each other at the surface, the water roiling as if a thunderstorm was spraying it with heavy raindrops.
The fish hatchery sits on U.S. Forest Service land and is operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. It's along a paved road that takes you past idyllic fishing holes and campsites.
Its purpose since opening in 1947 has been to hatch and raise fish to stock myriad lakes. Signs at the site say rainbow trout and brook trout, as well as kokanee, chinook and Atlantic salmon, all hatch here.
The Atlantic salmon go to Hosmer Lake, according to the facility's 2013 operations plan. Kokanee salmon are for Paulina Lake. The chinook support salmon reintroduction efforts in the Deschutes River.
One pond also features a few decent-size sturgeon, providing a close look at the ancient fish.
Even though the facility has a distinct purpose, it's also a popular tourist destination. The plan says 60,000 people a year check out the hatchery.
I thought we might have the place to ourselves this day. It was Presidents Day, a holiday, but a weekday nonetheless. And the mercury had dropped into cold territory.
Yet cars filled the small parking area. One angler was pulling on his waders when we arrived. He wandered upstream. Others likely jumped on the trails that line the river for a gentle stroll.
Hats and mittens on, we set out to explore the grounds. It's very parklike, with grass and interspersed picnic tables. Small signs tacked to trees help visitors know their species; the property is dotted with ponderosa pines, incense cedars and at least one grand fir.
There are several clusters of ponds. The first one contains an array of fish in different sizes and varieties.
It was there that we first spotted a gumball-like container to plug in a quarter and get a generous handful of fish food. These fish seem to know who will feed them — as you approach the ponds, they come toward your shadow, as if hoping for a snack.
One of my companions on the outing, exuberant 5-year-old Henry Bachmann, jumped up and down at first toss. So did his toddler brother, who had to be closely corralled to keep him from plunging into the ponds.
The facility has a demonstration stream, where several significant-sized trout swim in a simulated natural habitat.
And beyond is a large pond that at first glance appears natural but is actually also a man-made structure. Fish populate it, as do Canada geese. (The geese can be aggressive in wanting food also. They weren't there this day, but based on previous visits I would advise against feeding them.)
If it had been warmer, a visit to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery could have easily made for an entire day. Next time, I'll plan to bring a picnic, check out the fish and take a stroll along the Metolius — it's a must to walk back onto the one-lane bridge to appreciate the river, which this day had a streak of that gorgeous glacial green just upstream.
We, however, cut it shorter than that. The kids were ready for more than snacks, and there is a restroom but no food available at the site. We packed it up and headed back to town.
But the glee those little ones experienced at watching fish fly out of the water stayed with them all day.
As such, it stayed with the adults, as well.