Sky and water reflect, blue on endless blue.
Little birds nest in the sand while a vulture spreads its broad wings. Two humans walk maskless when others are far enough to be the size of ants. Behind the dunes, the sand is mushy and feet sink. An elephant seal calls out sounding like gurgling water in rusty old pipes. Barnacles cover cement and wood pushes itself into sand. Salt and grit whittle away at the skull of a whale that has found eternal rest.
Sky and water reflect, blue on endless blue.
I venture off to take photos of a hole in the ground, one I had stumbled upon once before. Finding the previously empty reservoir now being turned into a park, I am pleased but also a little sad to see the emptiness filled.
I wander around the neighborhood near my old art school. I knew the area was affluent, but it is amazing how that affluence can go unseen and untouched by a scrappy young student. The affluence is no more attainable now than it was then, but when noticed is more amusing than disturbing. The older one gets, the more one learns that money makes daily life easier but happiness is found by more simplistic means. It is not constant but is important to celebrate when clearly present.
This week we have a lot to celebrate. It is hopefully the beginning of the end of the horrific path our country has been on. We may have to continue to maneuver around in masks for a while to come, but at least there is hope for a semblance of somewhat normal life again. Basic human decency is nothing to be taken for granted. Fragility of stability is to be on constant watch. We are and must be stronger now.
I zig zag and climb up and down, circling around and repeating. I can feel my legs working and my breath deepen. I remember and create anew. I step and pause to reflect and see my shadow looking back at me. A hummingbird flutters near my eyes, not taunting me, but bringing me peace. This day is a good one, but never more important than all the rest.
I drive around in circles, looking for a place to park. I have no agenda other than to walk and take pictures, but today I am off kilter and a bit sad. I wander somewhat aimlessly, arriving at a hill. It is like a cartoon exaggeration of a steep street, but a perfect representation of my emotions at that very moment. I turn around before I reach its peak, adjust my temperament and start again. Riding the wave between is the balancing act of these pandemic days.
Finally parked, I head to the ocean, my steadfast friend. Here, the ravens dance as they always do. I am calm in their presence. The spirit finds solace in moments of simplicity. I cannot untether my connection to this place, even though I sometimes still feel like a tourist. The magic never ceases to surprise me, but I am easily wooed.
After a perfect amount of wandering, I return to the car and remove my mask. Contented and smiling, I wipe away the salt from the tears that dried on my sun-kissed cheeks.
Walking between two towns in the East Bay, I am pleased and also puzzled how quiet it is. I stay between two shopping districts on the residential streets, eventually landing in a cemetery up on the hill. Here, among the gravestones, it is calm and the view is sweeping.
I spot a headstone bearing my name, and I think, "Damn you! I am not done yet." I look back over the water to the vastness of the Bay Area and I am thankful. I see the cranes that rise their heads one block from my old art studio. I see the mountain that rises above my current home. I flash to my grandmother's back deck and how blown away I was the first time I saw the glorious view. In the decades of my adult life, I have stepped into and out of this coastal land many times, to visit family, friends and to make a home. I wish I could sit with my younger self, to grab a cup of coffee and have a long chat. She would have a hard time believing what we have gone through in recent days. She would also tell me to stop fretting so much, to live fully and completely, no matter the sometimes uncontrollable parameters. I would hug her and say thanks.
After strolling around the grounds of many lives lived, I turn back to where I parked. Along the way, I spot a ball in the grass, boldly printed with the name Wilson. Oh, I remember him! He starred in a movie with Tom Hanks where he played the best friend. I slyly take his picture and introduce myself. I have plans on how we can now be best friends. He is somehow immune to the virus, so we don't have to worry about masks. He is staring at me unflinching, and I realize he is unamused. I scurry away, laughing at my own goofy fantasy.
Most of the cemeteries in San Francisco proper have been exhumed, moved or hidden beneath new facades. All around the city one can find evidence of this. Gravestones and monuments show up on odd and unexpected places, in golf courses, along seawalls, in between freeways, on well trodden trails. Many bodies were moved to the fog drenched town of Colma, but many lie unannounced and unmarked, under the most popular tourist spots in the city. Often these are the workers, the immigrants and the orphans, the forgotten. Undoubtedly, their blood sweat and tears went into creating this place we celebrate but also take for granted.
My meandering mind mulls over the push pull of our government crumbling, the chaos of a broken system. I also pause to appreciate the work of warriors for real and positive change. It is often hard to find peace within the noise, the room to celebrate what is actually good. It is hard to understand the hate, dressed for battle in a theater of madness. The clock keeps ticking and we remain. Like a sweater with one loose thread, a slight pull in the wrong direction causes it all to unravel into a tangled mess. We will stitch it together again but we might need some safety pins, tape or glue to keep it from unraveling once more.
I stand now where Joan of Arc keeps watch over the museum, and where The Thinker has found a friend. The art inside waits for the watchful eyes it once knew. If art hangs in a gallery with no one there to see it, has it lost its vision? I once was told by a respected art professor, to make my work as if no one was ever going to see it. It was good advice for a young artist, the brightest shade of green. I still approach my art that way to some extent, but I hope not to be the tree falling in the forest, into a dead echo of silence.
For the ones that lie beneath, your presence is deeply felt. I greet you with an openness reserved for those I hold dear. Whomever you once were, you are no more, but your mark was made, your sweat filled brow turned into the dewey mist that falls upon the bay. I close my eyes and can hear your footsteps, the ones that created the paths of future generations. We spin in our own dust, carried like glitter in the wind, yesterday's stars.
Above the commercial area of North Beach is the neighborhood of Telegraph Hill. It is easy to spot with Coit Tower at its peak. I walk on the quietest streets and work my way to the tower. I stand just below and look for the parrots that call these trees home. I cannot hear or see them today and recall the many times I felt glee in their presence.
Stairs converge and there is a small gathering of people venturing to where the views are vast and necks crane. I stay back in my own curated adventure. What's down this alley? How old is this house? What's being built down there? Who owns that vintage car? Does that dog know the world is different now? Exactly how cold is the water in the bay? No one answers these imagined conversation starters. I can feel the muscles in my legs burn a bit as I go up and down the steepest streets, mazing and lazing about.
The first time I visited Coit Tower, I remember being more fascinated with the collected coins people threw in the window ledges than I was about the glorious view. What were their wishes and from where had the coins traveled? I also remember the time, when out pedaling and forgetting my lock, I rolled my bicycle inside to study the murals. They were primarily painted in the 1930s by students and faculty of the same school I attended just a stones throw from here.
Like most days, I try to stay the explorer, the optimist, the gatherer of images. I try not to let the weight of these recent months consume me. When I am out roaming about, even in a place very familiar, I see new things. I bring my collected experience and also a heart wide open, ready for the joy of the unforeseen. That joy is a bit bittersweet as of late, but it is joy all the same.
I have a couple different paths I normally follow when walking in the town where I live. These are not designated paths but repeated wanderings that are now routine. On this day, I veer off onto a hill that normally only gets a bit of side eye. I turn any direction that sends me further up. The landscape gets a bit more wild and the homes more hidden. My legs get that wobbly feeling they get when I am at great heights. To me, this is not a fear but an involuntary reaction, my mind just reminding me not to stumble into some great unknown crevasse. I imagine my legs like rubber bands when this happens and giggle quietly about it.
Navigating these narrow, no shoulder, roads can be a bit tricky at times. Mostly it is just me and the trees, but when it is not, I am an awkward walker. To create distance, I trespass into strangers driveways to let other parties pass. Other times, I am trapped, too close to an oblivious unmasked individual. Then, I can be found, back turned, staring into some shrubbery, hiding my disgust and shielding my masked face. The higher I climb, the less people I encounter. Redwoods create a feeling of otherworldliness and calm that I welcome.
As always, I prefer to find my way without a map. This works until I want to attempt to get home. I do get out my phone and ask the map lady to send me down the hill a different way than I came. In the spot where I stand, there is a narrow hiking path, a driveway, a residential street and the seeming end of the street I am on. I do what the map lady tells me and the dot runs along the wrong street and shows me eventually back up the hill. I turn another direction and hit a dead end. I return to where I came from and look for what I might have missed. Ultimately, I backtrack, taking the long way home.
One thing that this pandemic has taught me is that the slow, long way may seem cumbersome, but in the end allows for greater reward. I've always been one to lose time due to wandering, but what I gain is invaluable. It's never dilly dallying if it is made of dreaming and delight.
I don't feel much like exploring but know it is for my own good that I do. I have a particular destination in mind but find parking to be sparse. I drive around until I find an easy spot, then set out on foot in a bit of a mope. The longer I am outside my mood is lifted and my spirit less blue.
I walk down the hill all the way to the Great Highway. It is closed to traffic now, with four lanes open to pedestrians and cyclists. The wind is gusty, so the humans are hibernating. So many times I have come here by bicycle and had to fight traffic to enjoy my ride. It is wonderful to have so much space here now.
Just over the wall at the beach, there is a dog playing chase with a raven. The dog leaps high and the raven dips low. They frolic, both willing to dance with danger in order to have a little fun. I can almost hear them laughing.
When I turn to go back up the hill, a strong aroma penetrates the four layers of my mask. It is ham, the kind we used to eat during the holidays when I was a child. Oddly I savor it, even though I have not eaten meat in over thirty years. It is a comfort I will not partake in now, but it is the feeling that it evokes that is my keepsake.
I get out my phone and record some thoughts. It is not something that I do. I am alone on the street and no one is listening. Is this what I have become? A wanderer who babbles nonsensically to herself? Whatever the reason, I am laughing for now. This is what matters most.
Fires recently engulfed the area surrounding this beautiful beach. I watched the progress and air quality daily and expected to now see it charred and withered. Instead, there is evidence but not ultimate destruction. Nature finds a balance as long as we don't stand too headstrong in its way.
As we walk, a raven is in lockstep with our movements. We say hello as he skips beside us. It is delightful and quite charming. As I reach for my camera, he doesn't exit the scene like most of the corvids usually do. Seeing my curious glance, he does a little dance and pauses for a snack or two. Every time I look for his wings to be outstretched, he is just strolling at a safe distance.
The beach is sparsely populated, so we are able to breath freely at least part of the time. The salt air smells good and my lungs fill, crisp and clean. Various sea birds flit about feasting on what washes ashore. This is a good mid December morning, in the year 2020.
It doesn't always matter where I am if the sky is that mesmerizing hue that makes all things sing. It is not the deep grey blue of melancholia but a clean, bright blue I want to jump into and swim, diving deep, toes pointed, fingers outstretched. When I tire, it carries me, weightless, floating and serene.
I visit an area of the city where I worked when I was in graduate school and was living in the Bay Area for the very first time. The shops are empty now, devoid of tourists. It is nice but also haunting. In regular times, I still come here to visit the birds that eat the seafood behind the facade of fanciful fisherman themed trinkets and sourdough bread. I also come to drop coins in the machines at the Musée Mécanique and to visit the sea lions.
I want to venture to all my favorite places in San Francisco, but I don't; I won't. I hang mostly on the edges to be in but also out. I find myself looking in locations I have not looked before. The sense of discovery delights me. We are at the height of the pandemic and in lockdown again. I have not faltered in my cautious state, and this is my logging of time until we see the end. After the end, it will continue.
THE DISQUIETED QUIET
photography and writing
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