“You had a very Japanese outing,” said my wife, Catherine, after I got home from an outing last Wednesday. She had just gotten home from work, meaning a day cooped up indoors, and I was bragging/telling her about the outing I took with our family dog, Kaloo, along with Mr. and Mrs. Map Guy.
We'd spent a good chunk of Wednesday along the cold, clear Fall River, which gushes to life from the ground east of Crane Prairie Reservoir and flows eastward to its confluence with the Deschutes between La Pine and Sunriver.
Wednesday was early in the last week's streak of precious Indian summer days, during which, if you had chosen to stay indoors, you should have been forced outside, perhaps placed in a pillory with a nice view of the sun.
After I waxed enthusiastic about the sunny day, the limpid waters, the towering ponderosa pines, the photogenic everything, I then confessed some guilt: We'd covered a shameful lack of distance. Just a hair over 1 1/2 miles.
That's 1.6 miles round-trip — an embarrassing distance to usually goal-oriented hikers. It was all the more embarrassing because we killed at least two hours there, strolling and standing and taking photos and gawking at the scenery. I'd call it “breathtaking” scenery, but we had a surfeit of oxygen, what with barely moving and all.
That's when Catherine referenced an article in the December 2012 issue of Outside magazine that's still floating around the house: “The Nature Cure,” a feature on shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing (read it yourself at tinyurl.com/d3rvrz6.)
“The Japanese go crazy for this practice, which is standard preventive medicine here. It essentially involves hanging out in the woods,” writes Florence Williams. Forest bathers will take 75-minute train rides to escape heavily populated and hectic Tokyo just to decompress in a forest, touch a tree branch, smell the flowers.
Online, the piece is titled “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning,” and reading it will make you grateful that, depending on where you live, you can get to all sorts of places like Deschutes River Trail, Shevlin Park, Dry River Canyon, Peterson Ridge in minutes.
A 75-minute drive could take you well into Deschutes National Forest, or the Ochocos, even to the west side of the Cascades, where green is in abundance year-round.
I'm not sure how long it took us to get to the Fall River's headwaters, though. It's about 30 miles from Bend to the old guard station adjacent to the river, but I lost track of the drive time because, well, I somehow drove right by them.
In fact, we were almost to Crane Prairie before we turned around, then on a whim took a detour to look at Pringle Falls on the nearby Deschutes River. The water level was so low we didn't bother to pause here.
All the U-turns and K-turns I made began to make Map Guy car sick. He might argue I intentionally applied more force than necessary while accelerating and braking in reverse, but it was necessary — for making him sicker after he started complaining.
Fortunately, he was in for a cleansing, medicinal forest soak. The health benefits of immersing oneself in the outdoors aren't just anecdotal. Williams writes of Japanese researchers who have found that “leisurely forest walks, compared with urban walks, yield a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 7 percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure and a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate.”
I like a trail ride, hike or run as much as the next stressed-out dad with three kids, a full-time working spouse and two pets, but it's nice to know that just getting out and doing nada in nature is also beneficial.
After we parked, we peeked in the windows of the guard station — a cozy, two-bedroom, 600-square-foot cabin that you can rent for $90 a night part of the year — we moseyed and meandered around the peaceful spring.
We had a reason to dilly-dally, and in truth, we were a little more goal-oriented than I'm letting on: We were looking for a geocache. Map Guy had with him directions, but not the coordinates, for a geocache somewhere near the headwaters. He told me it was a new approach to geocaching, one that was more like a treasure hunt.
We were looking for an “ammo can painted a tan color and hidden fairly well.” Among the cryptic clues: “You will see several large Ponderosa Pines that should impress you as these large trees are far and few between. Have you ever seen a Burl as large as that before?”
As we wandered around every ponderosa with a burl, those bubble-like growths that are on (seemingly) dozens of trees around here, we argued and debated things. Could the randomly capitalized words in the description even be part of a cipher?
Not so much, as Map Guy would say.
A few days later, he emailed me his mea culpa: “Remember how the geocache had no coordinates, so I thought it was a new approach? Not so much. My computer had logged me out of geocaching.com, and the numbers aren't there if you're not logged in. Soooo.”
On the way back, we stopped at Fall River Falls. Five miles back toward civilization on Forest Road 42, we turned on gravel road 15415 (note: when heading east, the road, which runs to the south, is located two-tenths of a mile before milepost 10). The parking area is about three-quarters of a mile down this bumpy road, on the left.
The small but beautiful falls, nestled amid lodgepole pines, are absolutely worth a stop. The river drops somewhere in the neighborhood of 13-14 feet before continuing on its way, a sunny meadow near the base providing an excellent viewpoint of the falls, not to mention surrounding foliage decked out in its fall wardrobe.
Though it was a warm, sunny day, ice formed on shaded plants adjacent to the base of the falls. We gawked a while, the dog braving the frigid waters again and again as dogs are wont to do.
I made vows of returning soon, just as I probably had after my last Fall River visit nearly two years ago.
In actuality, I know it could be a while. There are just too many other options for a good soak in the forest.