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 laughs and makes a joke about not really being there. I can 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.
I hug the water, in the parking lots and along the piers. A woman shouts angrily in the distance and another follows from behind. I detour, to lose them both, to enter the quiet of my own mind. I chat with the seagulls, but in an invented world where they can understand.
Boats huddle together as if to stay warm. It seems as if they should be sailing, making use of a beautiful day. The light stays longer now, but I must remind myself what month and what season we are in. A year has passed since our collective ill journey began, when all was locked down and minds were made uncertain. Hopefully the path will halt before it takes a turn into another direction of unwell.
A clear mind is the color of this blue sky. A blue rope is wound with its end ready to be pulled, to be useful and tightly held. Wooden horses cluster together, breaking from their utility.
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.
Early in the day, it is just the critters and a few lazy fishing poles. A little frog crosses the empty road. A heron catches some prey before they make it to the lines. A jelly fish meets its demise on the rocks. A fish skull decays into the earth below. I put a worn ceramic shard in my pocket and then a shell. I watch the water and imagine myself swimming.
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.
Above the surfers, an old battery sprinkles its rusted metal and concrete on the hill. The ground is green from winter rains and the sky is a welcoming shade of blue. From here the land is magic; the ocean is vast and deep. It is hard to imagine soldiers here awaiting attack, but there is evidence of this war readiness all over the Bay Area.
I look for signs of rabbits and coyotes but am satisfied by the flit of a small butterfly. Water fills a hole where a cannon once was mounted. Here, I look for frogs and fish. I have no idea how fish would make it up to the top of the hill, but I look anyway.
I call out into the concrete hall and my voice calls back. I wonder if the soldiers sang songs while holding watch. Did they get distracted by the beauty of this landscape. Did they swim or surf at nightfall?
The coast is a carved sculpture made by the sea. Looking out over the water to the horizon, all else falls away. I am endlessly grateful for this.
Up in the Berkeley hills, I look for a different perspective and point of view. I pull over to walk next to a park used as a practice site for rock climbers. A few hang precariously, fingers and toes hooking into this hard earth. The view of the Bay is vast and wants to bring tears to my eyes. This is an involuntary act. I am on top of the world in this western landscape, ocean salt covering my shoes, wrinkles growing around my eyes.
A sign beside the sidewalk begs, "don't give up". I feel strong, but worry wears itself on my brow. It is beautiful up here, houses of varying styles with plants aplenty. Every home has a glorious view, and I peek between them, straining to see what I am not meant to afford.
Two midcentury modern homes stand out from the crowd. I imagine myself living within them, one for art making and one for entertaining an eclectic group of friends. I fall into fantasy of what the life of an artist should be but never is. I am thrown back onto the street where I stand, to continue walking. This is the artist's real life. It is not luxurious or full of absolute whimsy. It is a drive that goes on in spite of anything that would try to stop it. The maker makes, no matter the circumstance.
Lost in self analysis and willful wanderings, a doe approaches from the adjacent slope. I stop in my tracks and gasp, for chance encounters such as this should be cherished. I am quiet and watchful, camera up to eye. I know the moment will be fleeting. I think to those who hold guns up to such beautiful creatures, and no amount of explanation will allow me to fathom why. In a residential area, this animal passes through what once belonged to it. Run away friend, find a place of refuge.
I wander the hills wanting to get lost but knowing I will always find my way. The more I step, the more ground I cover. The more ground I cover, the more I am firmly planted here.
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.
THE DISQUIETED QUIET
photography and writing
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