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.
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.
Out here the houses are close together and have great character. The lack of front yards either leads to sparseness or it results in an over zealous attempt to plant as much as possible in a tiny amount of dirt. I used to do the same when I lived in San Francisco years ago.
A twenty something me excitedly planted flowers inside a square of concrete. I had planted them a few times before. Each time the small space got filled with trash and dog poop. My love of flowers kept me optimistic and I continued trying. My upstairs neighbor, who was fond of having parties and throwing cigarette butts on my backyard flowers, accused me of being a martyr. I resented his bitter critique and scowled as he walked past me on the sidewalk. The raccoons fought me on the other flowers I planted in the shade between houses. It was the beginnings of what would become a greenish and stubborn thumb.
Now, on my walk, I notice several dilapidated old vehicles with an abundance of character. I imagine them new, tanned youngsters behind the wheel, following the sun that ends where the fog begins. Today they are held together with tape and rope, and dreams of what once was. They hold story upon story of where their wheels went and of the days they sat still. I admire their sun soaked and salted patina.
Moving past memory and present day pondering, I cherish the blue sky. I seek and find a state of calm. When the shadows become too long, I seek the brightness that created them. My camera documents while I do this delicate dance. Time circles around itself and feet are firmly planted, except when they are not. Squint, click and step.
I climb a set of narrow stairs to get to the peak. From here I can see the city from above. If I zoom into each area, there is a memory of past steps, rolling around on two wheels, aiming different cameras at what strikes me.
Colors are different here in California, more vibrant, and at times almost electric. I remember the first time I wielded a camera in this place and how elated I was at the vibrancy of the images I collected. In my home state, everything looks as if it has a dull brownish filter. On the east coast it is a slight hint of grey, the remnants of a winter sky. Here, cool blues mash up against golden light. All images can be doctored to have the same appearance, but standing here and now, my eyes don't lie.
This day I feel anxious. Is it the height at which I stand? Is it the pandemic woes? Is it nothing at all? I am not sure. Beauty overtakes my bewilderment, and I am present in this place. I am happy to be here now in spite of all that is troubling in the world. Comfort is found in the the bluest of blue, eschewing meandering melancholia.
I see Frida Kahlo in a window and imagine us as friends. I wonder if she can see my subtle limp, as hers is not so subtle. Together, we paint the day.
The blue sky has returned from the orange haze that blocked the sun for days. The air is no longer thick with ash, and hearts are no longer quite so heavy. I walk on a street that has been blocked to allow for car free pedals and strolls. I am happy to be among humans again. Isolation can stifle ones soul and creativity. Being able to move around with other people, even at a distance, even without interacting beyond a hello, is a gift.
I park near my favorite restaurant which has the best bread and butter I have ever had. If it was the last thing I ever ate, I would be fine with that. A few doors down is one of my favorite coffee shops. The owner is an artist with a way with words and coffee beans. Beyond that is an art supply store with beautiful paints and a desirable collection of paper and pencils. This is not why I am here, and I am still not venturing into my old haunts, open or not.
The ocean calls to me the way it always does, but I challenge myself to walk the other direction. It is unusually warm for San Francisco, but summer here generally does not start until fall. I've lost track of time. I click and step, click and step, never letting go of my camera. I walk up 27 long blocks, avenue to avenue. I walk back on a parallel street, 27 blocks in reverse. My pace is slow and contemplative. I try to take notice of everything.
Time is mysterious and safety from disaster is no longer a given, if it ever was. This day is a reminder to never take the blue sky for granted. Never dismiss the ease of breathing. I try to smile to others under my mask, as I know we have all been in a collective state of panic. Realizing they cannot read the smile from my eyes alone, I wave an awkward wave, and continue clicking.
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.
The overwhelming quiet can be incredibly loud. The slightest bit of activity can jostle the senses, but not enough to wake from the surreal state we all live in now. For many, self awareness has gone out the window in favor of the selfish pact of one. Others form community in attempt to stay connected, but their connection may ultimately do them harm. Many fight for justice, while our so called leadership is a dumpster fire of absolute madness.
The blue sky and birds chirping are simple pleasures which call for one to pause and take notice. I hear you birds, and I will not knowingly harm you.
A pine cone has fallen into an empty parking lot, lost from the tree from which it came. I bend down to visit it. This lot, once full of cars, is now abandoned for the summer and indefinite future. This is the summer that time has new meaning, and our understanding of relationships with one another will be forever changed.
THE DISQUIETED QUIET
photography and writing
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