Bully Pulpit: The Perfect Day

Tim GilmerIt starts with no alarm clock and no expectations. Almost always, birdsong coming from the 100-year-old walnut trees wakes us. There is no pressure to get up, no waiting obligations, just the quiet sounds of a Sunday morning. Before long my wife Sam and I and our 5-year-old grandson, Cooper, are driving leisurely along the Willamette River.

At Oregon City we drive through the world’s most efficient and friendly Starbucks. I order two grande triple nonfat lattes for Sam and me and a chocolate croissant for Sam. Cooper quietly occupies himself with Sam’s iPad in the backseat. Next we drive through a McDonald’s across the street for pancakes and sausage for Cooper and an egg and sausage McMuffin for me.

Our destination, Clackamette Park, is only a quarter mile away now, bordered on the west by the Willamette and on the north by the Clackamas — a green island populated by tall cottonwoods, geese, ducks, pigeons, and sometimes seagulls. We park near the boat ramp so we can watch the boats put in and take part in the hunt for the rivers’ greatest treasure, Chinook salmon. But we have come to feed the big birds.

The pigeons are expecting us. They swoop low in a circle, turning en masse as if they are one organism, performing their synchronized flying act just for us. If we throw out bread crumbs, they cut their performance short for the feast. I toss the crumbs out my window, on the hood, on the roof, and the pigeons tap out their drum corps cadence with their beaks, cooing continuously. Cooper’s eyes smile as he laughs, his entire face lit with spontaneous joy.

The ducks come, not to be outdone, waddling and quacking, then the geese, towering over the others, and finally the loudmouth gulls, aggressive, demanding. Sometimes, to get rid of the gulls, I fling pre-made pancakes like Frisbees, the further away, the better. Once in a while an acrobatic gull snags one in midflight, bringing howls of delight from all of us, redeeming his feathered family with a single catch. The cottonwood leaves flutter in the cool morning breeze, as if applauding.

When the circus dies down, Sam and Cooper go down to the riverside so Cooper can throw rocks. Give the boy a stick and some rocks and he’s in heaven. Sam watches nearby as Cooper searches for the prefect rock, the one that will fly further than the last one. I sit in the car with my wheelchair and quietly observe. This is the moment when, decades earlier, I might have felt a twinge of sadness as I mourned my inability to join them. But on this perfect day of perfect relaxation, I belong right where I am. It is a world made for creatures and creation of all kinds, whether clothed in feathers, scales, leaves or flesh.

It is the season of perfection, when all of nature seems to understand that this day of rest, having come once more, is our path to peace.

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