Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Most Perfect Day In The World

In his autobiography "All The Strange Hours",   Loren Eiseley has a chapter called The Most Perfect Day In The World.  When he was riding the rails in the early 1930's, he found himself sitting on an empty loading platform by a water tower on a warm autumn afternoon with three other men whom he did not know.  He notes that the situation was ordinary but the experience, in a subjective form, was totally his, "severed from time and reality". 
"Every man", he writes, "must treasure such a day into which he can retreat when the years grow desperate."
Fortunately, I had such a day and, now that the years grow more and more desperate, I have a special place to go.  I relate it here.

In 1944, my brother, Alan, and I lived on a small rural homestead in southeastern New York State.  In the late Spring of that year, when he was 9 and I was 10, we were exploring fields and woods near out home.  Alan's dog, Gus, was with us.  Gus was a fine non-neutered male dog of the American Staffordshire Terrier breed.
After a time, we came upon a lowland expanse of thick brush about six or seven feet high.  It was completely covered with green leaves and appeared impassable.  But Gus disappeared into this forbidding looking small forest so we followed.  To our surprise, we found that we could see for some distance.  Thin black woody stems rose about five or six feet with a thick crown of leaves that formed a canopy.   The ground was damp and spongy and littered with sticks.  We looked around, pleased with what we saw.  We were inside the envelope of a separate place, unseen by the world outside.  We were in a magical place.
One of us picked up a stick and threw it.  Gus chased it down and picked it up, then stood there looking at us.  Bring it here, Gus, but the dog didn't move.  My brother went toward the dog who began to trot away.  Alan gave chase and I headed away at an angle to drive Gus back to my brother.  It worked.  Alan got the stick and threw it again and, again, the dog retrieved the stick and moved away.  And again we gave chase and repeated the game.
And so it went.  Two boys and a dog playing a running game.  Throw.  Chase.  Yelp.  Bark.  Laughter.  Shout.  Throw. Catch. Chase.  Over and over, on and on it seemed forever.
There was release of animal spirits, complete unfettered freedom of joy and play.  We seemed  to reach a state where there were not two species. 
Probably Gus tired first.  He stopped to sit and rest, his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth.
Alan and I had stopped.  We looked at each other, eyes bright with excitement.
Boy, that was fun.  Yeah, and Gus, he was perfect.  And so he was.  And so were we.  And so was the day.
I recognize that this experience, on the surface, is very ordinary and not uncommon.  But we, the three of us, transcended that.  This was, as I say, magical.  There was special connection of brain waves and heart rhythm that made us glow.
Nothing that I have ever seen, felt, or done has matched the perfect happiness of that day. 

On the back of this photo, in our grandmother's handwriting is written:
taken July 1944"
My brother is on the right.

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