I’m sitting here at my favorite place, basking in the glory of a sunny, 83 degree day. The warm wind is blowing across my bare feet and legs as I watch a jetboat spin around on the river, and all I can think is, “I’m so fortunate.”
An hour ago I wasn’t thinking that. An hour ago, I was feeling like I could hardly breathe, like the future of humanity depended upon me getting here by three-thirty. (I didn’t make it until 3:55. Sorry, humanity.)
This favorite place—my happy place—is a little park beside the Willamette, just south of Milwaukie. Whenever I come here, peace slips over me, sinking deep into my bones. No matter what, I know I can come to this spot beside the river and relax. I’m not a person who’s skilled at doing nothing, but in this one place, I can manage. Never in my life has there been anything I could rely on to so consistently soothe me.
It’s small as parks go: just a couple of picnic tables and a two-seater restroom. The real perks come from what nature has provided. Cottonwood trees. An eight-foot high jumble of moss-covered boulders. A gently sloped expanse of grass that gives way to a rugged basalt shoreline. Because the rocks drop down sharply, and that’s where the fishermen and swimmers like to hang out, the place feels private even when it’s hopping with people.
Since I discovered this place in August of 2014, I’ve spent every available warm day here. The proof of that is in the current satellite photo on the iPhone map. There in the parking lot, in my favorite spot, sits my truck.
Often, time itself gets short-circuited here, and I reconnect with that anything-is-possible feeling of a kid in summertime—that glory of pure freedom, pure possibility. There’s just so much about this place that makes me feel like I’m ten years old. The trains rumbling over the trestle. The jet boats careening in an abrupt arc to thrill their riders. That graceful giant of a dinner cruise boat, the Portland Spirit. The ancient rocks that seem to resonate with an enigmatic force. And the ever-intriguing flux of the tides.
There was a day last summer when I sat here writing from late morning until early evening—pretty typical for me, actually. But this particular day sticks out: a hot, sultry afternoon, with a balmy evening sweeping in on its heels. After packing up my computer, lawn chairs, and cooler, I went down and sat on the rocks beside the water to watch the sunset, the slow, steady warmth of the stone seeping up into my muscles. Crickets chirped, the sweet scent of cottonwood hung in the air, and the wakes of passing boats softly lapped the shore. At eight o’clock, the Portland Spirit motored by. As the sinking sun serenaded me with color, the warm shades shimmering off the water, a feeling of contentment—of pure gratitude—swelled up in me. I didn’t want to leave. I sat on the shoreline, watching tiny fish break the surface, and—because I am a geek of epic proportions—sang Oregon, My Oregon quietly under my breath. As the gloaming grew deeper, I wandered back up to one of the picnic tables, laid down on the bench, and looked up at the bats, flitting across the darkening sky. It was the sort of amazingly awesome evening I wait for all year.
While those perfect nights might be elusive, the soothing energy is present all the time. This feels like the only place in the world where I can let go. The only place I can truly breathe. When I come here, it’s like I’m a missing puzzle piece that someone’s finally fished out from under the refrigerator, dusted off, and pressed into place.
A few days ago, as I sat drinking in the familiar landmarks, the well-known hue of the afternoon sunlight and angles of the shadows, a random thought popped into my head. I realized this park is as much mine as my own backyard. But not mine in the sense of ownership. Mine in the sense that I belong to it.
Could there be any greater comfort?