Friends-giving in the Umpqua

We woke up early, threw bags of clothes, sleeping bags, and food into Sara's jeep, and then rolled over to the local coffee shop to wake up a little bit more. Four hours of driving later, we reached Tiller, a don't-blink town at the edge of the South Umpqua River and the national forest that bears the same name. From the lonely highway curling inward toward the Cascades, we could see where the forecasted snow had settled: a couple thousand feet higher. We checked the gas gauge, filled up our water jugs, and headed into the forest.

After miles of pine-needle-covered washboard ruts that rattled every bolt of our jeep, we laid eyes on The Tower.

The snow had melted on the road, but blanketed everything else in the ethereal gauze of winter. What luck, we thought, taking in huge lungfuls of cold, clean mountain air and raising our faces to afternoon sunlight. After unpacking the gear, and hauling it up with the surprisingly strong milk-crate-on-a-pulley rigged up on the catwalk, we settled into our 12x12 hideaway. We had a simple agenda: cook, eat, explore, reflect.


But lest you believe that feasting in a secluded, off-grid cabin must be limited to simple one-pot meals, let me set you straight. With a little bit of propane (thanks NPS!), adventurous ingenuity, and friends who appreciate both a culinary throwdown and the beauty of Second and Third Dinner, there really are no limits. Behold, the menu:

First course: mussels in creme fraiche and hard cider with rosemary, served with Fremont sourdough 

Second course: pearl onions in balsamic and white wine glaze 

Intermission: running around in the snow with thermoses of Glühwein, to 'make room' for more. 

Third course: agave caramelized candy beets, pomegranate, and greens in balsamic dressing & sweet potato salad with fried green onions, raspberries, and goat cheese,

Entree: roasted duck with poached pears, roasted red turnips, and Glühwein glaze

Dessert: pear ginger pie with streusel topping 

All paired with: a seemingly endless supply of Bulleit-spiked mulled cider 

Needless to say, we rolled into our sleeping bags later that night like tired puppies with full bellies, already daydreaming about plans to outdo this adventure next year. We'd found a Mancala board in the cupboard, so we passed around the last of the whiskey while attempting to outwit each other. Eventually, we fell asleep laughing about the strange entries written in the Visitor’s Log by previous guests (and thankfully, saw no signs of the infamous ‘Deer-Man’ whose legend was referenced on several pages).

In the morning, we awoke inside a cloud. What had been forecast as a blizzard came only as a delicate dusting of powdered sugar over the evergreens beneath our airy perch. I reluctantly drug myself out of the warm cocoon I’d made on the floor next to the heater, and went out to the catwalk to stare into the Void.

The only sound punctuating the silence was of water dripping from the branches and railings back down to the earth. Deep breaths. Stretch.

I walked back inside to the morning greetings of my fellow adventurers. Water was already heating on the stove for coffee, and the early-morning clouds ebbed back toward the higher ridgelines. I rewarmed my toes, and then we cooked breakfast from the misfits of the night before: roasted lamb chops and leftover pie. The sun came out. 

This is what I remember and what I still long for from those childhood winters, free from the harsher noises of adult life. This is what pushes me forward in cultivating a lifestyle centered on reconnection with the instincts of an uninhibited youth—back when things were wild and free.

- Mackenzie Berg

An extended version of this post with more photos can be viewed at

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