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 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.
The beach is beautiful as always, but it appears that the birds have been suffering a bit. There are more than a few carcasses in the sand. Perhaps these mark the end of well lived, flight filled days - but perhaps not. I'd like to ask the ravens, but they are busy feasting on the feathered dead (disturbing but true). They also dine on watermelon and french bread.
Mist rises and falls, forming temporary clouds on the surface of the water. Surfers dive in and out of wide waves. One loses his board which finds its way to the sand, resulting in a passerby becoming a good samaritan. I lose my mind to salty daydreams.
I don't put any rocks in my pocket today, but that doesn't mean I'm not looking for treasure. I recently read of an abandoned coal mine here. I count the gaps in the rock, guessing where the void falls deep. With my camera, I collect images of what shall be left undisturbed, the shared space of critters and man. I thank the winged ones for letting me walk among them, because it is we who have taken way too much.
Venturing away from the realities of current days, we teeter on the edge of what will become - or what will be our demise. There is so much damage that needs repair in a wounded tired country.
This once vibrant military base is one of a few in the Bay Area. It is now quiet and isolated, a ghost town, really. There are still some active parts of the shipyard, but overall it is a skeleton of the past. The rust coats heavy steel and wood slowly peels. The air is dry and turkeys wander.
An eagle is stuck in perpetual launch, encased in glass, protected from passing time. A wooden box calls to me like unearthed treasure. I imagine the beautiful objects hidden within. I know it is not real, but the momentary pretending brings me joy.
I walk a toward the fishing pier to a road I previously thought was a dead end. At a certain point there is a security guard and a sign for authorized vehicles only. This is the road for the workers that maintain the bridge. I notice a bike path and ask if I may walk here. I get an ok from the guard and head up the hill.
I am pretty much alone for most of my walk, and I admire the bridge from underneath. It reminds me of the erector set my brother had when we were kids. All the parts seem purposeful but also precarious. It is an impressive structure and feels otherworldly from this perspective.
The hills are dry and exude a certain scent, hot brush that waits for rainy season. Is it the end of summer headed into fall or fall headed into winter? I have lost track, and seasons vary only slightly in these parts.
I stop before the hill meets the top of the bridge and the cars roll by. I'm enjoying the landscape below, this flipped perspective. It is unusually quiet here. The city sits in the distance waving hello. I miss freely walking on its city streets, ducking into art museums, galleries and local coffee shops. I miss the spontaneous encounters with strangers and friends. I miss losing time because I am actively filling it, not for all the reasons that burden us now.
A scantily clad man rushes into the ocean waves, fists up, boxing with the water. While submerged, he loses his pants for a bit. He comes out smiling and still boxing. I have no idea what this is about, but everyone finds their inner peace somehow.
Dolphins leap at a short distance. Such is the magic that the ocean provides. Ravens squawk and gather in the morning sun. Happy to find them here, I wish to attend their party. A lone shoe has lost its business casual human. Walls along the fenceline are exuberantly painted.
Above this beach, wealth takes a heavy sigh. This remarkable place is not theirs but belongs to all who step foot here. The bridge casts a shadow on the headlands, beaming bright but also capable of darkness.
Sand always reaches between my toes, no matter the height of my boots.
The air was clean enough to go to the beach this morning. This is our constant cycle these days. Check the air quality, measure the covid risk, and decide the heatwave tolerance level. It is the 2020 disaster dance of west coast sanity seekers. We are mostly here for the environment after all. It is so strange to interact with it in this odd and dysfunctional way. Nevertheless, at the beach, contentment is found.
The waves are raucous and surfers find solace in flowing with the push pull of the water. Salt drenches sun soaked skin of those who see the ocean as their second home, or maybe even their first. I grew up in the south near a river where, at the time, people dumped old refrigerators and used car parts. Sure, it was also pretty in certain areas, but it wasn't much more than a glorified creek. So, to me, the ocean has always seemed so grand. I realize I repeat this sentiment over and over again, but some things are well worth repeating.
As the smoke clears for the morning, I head into San Francisco. I park on the end of California and venture up a hill that takes me to a golf course. In non-covid19 times I might have wandered deep in to explore what I could find on the carefully maintained grounds. Now, I follow the rules for reasons of safety and social distancing. The designated walking path takes me to the other side of the golf course where the land meets the water. The view is amazing and the depth of feeling it evokes could never be captured in pictures. Vividness of color (or lack of), beauty of composition, and luck of timing can never come close to expressing what happens in my gut when something touches me deeply. It can, however, be a reaction or retelling of what is seen, a new story that exists on a different plane of reality.
Down the road are homes of great wealth. This is a unique world which is somewhat foreign to me. It is beautifully manicured, full of caretakers and builders. The facade needs constant maintenance. Walking through is free. I wonder who lives here and what their lives are like. A quick search reveals a few well known celebrities. I doubt I'll ever be their neighbor but no harm in pretending. And yes, this is a frivolous, empty kind of joy, but it is entertaining.
Further in, I spot a sign that says "public beach". Of course, I have to follow it, and I land at China Beach. There is a road down which is wide enough for social distancing. There, I find a lone fisherman, a swimmer who obviously does not mind the cold water, and two young men enjoying the view from above. Beyond that, it is me and the birds. I feel gleeful, because in all my years living in the Bay Area, I had never been here. I had seen it from above, but just assumed it was inaccessible.
The Golden Gate Bridge stands tall in the distance, an icon of this joining of land and sea. Seagulls rest in the sand, only slightly hindered by my human presence. I hop over the water that reaches the rocks to see the other side of the cove. I am filled with delight and know this is exactly where I need to be at this second, on this day, in this very strange and difficult year.
Grass coats my boots. I wore them knowing I would be avoiding any designated pathway in favor of what lies adjacent. I remember that as a child, I cut the grass barefoot. The cuttings slowly gathered between my toes. I ducked to push the mower under young trees as junebugs flew into my forehead. When my brother mowed the yard, he talked to himself loudly. I could hear him outside through the closed windows. He seemed happy, so I never bothered to ask him what he was talking about.
Today I am close to the beach but do not linger for that is a popular destination. I long to lazily linger again, to lollygag among the masses. Maskless runners pass by as I hug the trees (not in the literal sense, but in terms of my close proximity).
I wander into the private part of the parking lot, where I know the great blue herons nest. I have missed the spring when they are in the tops of the trees. I still am lucky to see two fishing, one in the marina and one in the pond across the street.
At the tourist destination close by, there are normally newlyweds getting their pictures taken, but not today. It is a relic of a 1915 exposition and is an iconic destination in San Francisco. It holds a certain magic and I fall for the facade and fantasy every time I see it. Wandering around its artificial lagoon, I admire the birds that call it home.
Beneath the bridge that carries me back across the bay, this city gives me pause. It adds to my character, and on very rare occasions takes it away. Wherever I land, I will always be fond of San Francisco. Like New York City, many people long for what it once was. I understand that inclination and believe many things in both places have been lost. However, the more you explore, the more you find the hidden corners, the stories untold, the grit that holds it all together, the more you appreciate what it is today. Having lived on both coasts and in between, I lean toward the sunny side, even when the sun is covered in the summer fog.
THE DISQUIETED QUIET
photography and writing
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