On the edge of an island where the Navy once made base, San Francisco calls out in the distance.
Spring pretends to be summer, while I pretend to be carefree. Happiness is a wave that before it peaks is glorious. Once it curls overhead, it is exhilarating. Then one can be found underneath, kicking to swim back up again. The trick is to kick hard and fast enough, to not take in too much water, to rise again, laughing.
A masked face breathes hard and sweat drips. If anything, the last year has left us all with either a high tolerance for discomfort and chaos, or with an extreme lack of patience and ill will. The boundaries created have allowed us to redefine or reestablish what is true and what is full of falsehoods.
As I walk, I spot a woman down low, arranging trinkets around a tree. I know this to be a 'gnome home' or 'fairy garden'. I shout out to her, "I will pretend to not see you, because I know I am supposed to believe the gnomes built that". She laughed and made a joke about not really being there. I could almost see her fade away.
I float away on my own daydreams, enveloped by the waves that carry me forward. No matter how deep I might venture, I always swim back up to blue.
On the wall is a photo mural by the artist, Michael Jang. I dance from street to sidewalk to accommodate passersby. I admire the images and the subtle touches the artist added after the rains washed away some detail. Having not stepped into a gallery or museum since this pandemic started, I am so delighted to be here enjoying these wonderful photographs. They celebrate the artist's extended family, and for me, celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of the city I love.
Walking into Golden Gate Park, a ferris wheel reaches for the sky. I immediately put this into my post vaccine agenda. I love Ferris wheels, and they are my go to ride at any fair or amusement park. The change in perspective is freeing, and all else falls away. In this state, I am gleeful, a bird on a circle in the sky.
As we get closer to an exit from this alternate reality that we failed to plan for, I have found my salve. The simple act of walking, wandering and noticing is enough to flip a switch in my busy brain. As long as I am able bodied and own a camera, it will continue. When social distancing is no longer critical, I may still find myself quietly reflecting on things seemingly unsubstantial, but still splendid. On the inhale, the camera clicks, creating the image that lives forever in the exhale.
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.
I have been reading a book that reveals much of the history of San Francisco, its wild years, its untamed land and heart. It is hard to imagine what it would have been like back then, when women were few and the sand blew briskly along a totally different coastline. Ships lie beneath parts of the city from a time when gold brought prospectors by the thousands.
The gold that brought me here is of the sun. It is of the golden gate that is not really gold but 'international orange'. It is of paint that adorns the victorians sprinkled about town. It is of fresh baked bread with the slightest hint of sour. It is the sight and smell of ripe lemons. It is flowers dotting the hills in springtime. It is the ginkgo leaves my grandmother collected to help her hang on to her memories.
I walk in lines and loops, exploring street after street. I become parched and spent, but I keep walking. Today, the earth vibrates under another magnificent blue sky. I step until my feet sting from stepping. This day is golden like all the rest. It is simply a matter of following the light.
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.
Exploring steps untaken
Lead to ventures new
One corner turned
Looking with fresh eyes
A heavy chest breathes deep
Houses dance in pastel hues
Flowers bloom from recent rains
Cardboard tightly bound
Empty of yesterday's sustenance
Clues to the ones still waking
Danger signs ever present
Cannot untether the excitable soul
Propels a hungry heart
Out in the avenues
The sky so blue
Colorful grin of the sublime
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.
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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