On the edge of an island where the Navy once made base, San Francisco calls out in the distance.
Walking around one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in San Francisco, I ogle the many mansions. They astound in more ways than one. I know I will never live in one, but this is a pastime I enjoy when I am feeling frivolous. I spot a few empty ones and laugh at one with celebrity cardboard cut outs in the window. From a distance, they do look real, but I dare say they would not deter an intruder.
I find a wide set of stairs and wander up to see where they lead. Around a short wall, a cow greets me, still, and of concrete. I admire her for a short while. There is nowhere to wander from here, so I return to the street. Tagged in the sidewalk, is TOFU. I picture a block of tofu wandering the streets at night looking for wet cement to scrawl into.
A tree has two elbows. Is it a professional contortionist when it is not standing watch over the sidewalk? A blue light beckons on an adjacent wall. To what or to whom does it signal or summon?
A rose adorned skull is painted on a bright yellow sign, marking the dead end. Orchids catch the afternoon light and their softness comforts me. They are much more unwithered than I.
An abandoned coffee cup makes me want to sit in a cafe and mindlessly whittle away the hours, but I don't. I won't. I see a mustache shape on the sidewalk and try to align it to the shadow of my face. It is all askew.
On a ramshackle stoop, a policeman is talking to a woman in a wheelchair. He grabs hold of a large painting of a tiger that festoons the steps. The tiger is wearing glittering accoutrements. He tugs and pulls until the tiger meets its demise. I wonder the reason for this altercation with the imaginary.
The camera is bored, its human repeating known steps. Vision is always new, but some days lacking energy borders on disillusionment. Movement is necessary to progress forward, to swim through the incessant slog of this strange time.
Of all my days painting indoors, being out in the world with the camera is where I am most at home. This is what I have found. This is what I am reminded of, time and time again. It is a continuous conversation. My surroundings speak to me and I speak back. We speak in quiet whispers, not necessarily needing to be heard. It is the act of doing that is required at the moment. The image acts as artifact, a reflection of experience in color and form. It is much more than that, always so much more.
I must forgive the quiet, savoring the contemplative. I walk, slow mile upon slow mile, never tracking distance or time. I am a wanting wanderer looking for a sign.
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 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.
During the pandemic it is more fun to walk where people are told not to, rather than on the designated paths. Of course everyone navigates toward the places that scream "walk here". We have arrived with the intent of walking on this marked trail in the hopes that it is wide enough and sparse of people. It is pretty nice, but quickly I am distracted by painted structures up on the hill.
We are on what was once military property and it is marked as such. It is not clear if the signs are new or just left behind out of laziness. No one pays them any mind. This area is now restored wetlands, hugging a new subdivision and cultural organizations that now occupy the base. It is a mash up of what was and what will become. It doesn't seem altogether comfortable in its current state of being.
We find a gap in the fence that leads to the road up to where the painted structures are. This area is absent on the online map, just an unidentified blur. Graffiti covers every manmade surface here. Bunkers, dot the hill like small fortresses, apocalyptic homesteads. They are locked tightly, but I ponder if it is time to open them up again. In the US, we are in a surreal collective nightmare that we can't seem to shake ourselves out of. Insanity reigns free. Who knows what will happen next.
But still, we voted early and with great hope, because small joys will become big ones one day soon. They have to. They need to. They will. Please vote!
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.
The containment of the fires grows and the smoke has more breaks between. However, we are now in a heat wave and PGE threatens more power outages due to expected high winds next week. 2020 is relentless and California is in a state of fatigue. An early morning walk offers a bit of respite.
I look at a familiar apartment building in the neighborhood, called Capri. We went to the island of Capri once and rode the chairlift for the best views. I dangled my feet, kicking them back and forth the way a child might. I love ferris wheels, chair lifts and swing rides. I rode on a swing ride in Vienna once that was said to be the highest chained carousel in the whole world at 383 ft tall. No one I was with would go with me. It felt rickety and dangerous but I was determined. It was also night and the city was lit up. I could see the stars. As the swing dipped and turned, my teeth dried out from smiling. My hands cramped from holding rusty chains. It was the best sensation, and while it lasted, I was on top of the world.
I walk on and see a street sign that reads, "Florence". I have never been there but am happy to continue with the Italian theme this block provides. I imagine myself eating good cheese and bread and drinking red wine at a local cafe. Surely art viewing will be part of the day and hopefully a local flea market. This is my imaginary vacation prompted by a couple visual clues in California. On a good day, I am very happy to be here. When the Golden State suffers and wails, I escape into my mind where all things are possible.
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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