Tag Archives: nature

Two Illustrations from Nature…

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It is the weekend my Dad died nine years ago. It is the week a dear friend died one year ago. A coworker just had a miscarriage. A close friend is going through a divorce.

Illustration number one: This week I was at a work retreat up the coast. There was pine, dry grass, and dirt that acts like chalk on your shoes. The sunrise was obscured by a heavy fog being blown over the hill. As I climbed the hill I stepped into a copse of pine. I turned my head into the breeze to catch the wind in my ears and I caught another sound. It was so loud I looked around for what could cause this “pat pat pat”. Droplets had formed on the tip of every needle of every pine. I thought of the fog, how like grief, heavy, pervasive, and obscuring the view at three feet. And I thought of the trees, every day reaching out and into; by will and persistence making tangible something good and life-giving, watering themselves.

Illustration number two: Today we drove down the coast. We stopped just south of Linda Mar at a battery held aloft still by a truculent chunk of granite. High above the water and rocks, the walkway around seemed to drop out of sight with a certainty that made me hold my three-year-old’s hand tighter. Surely it would mean death to ever step past that edge. And yet, as we walked closer, we were surprised to find slopes, not gentle, but like many things in life, surprisingly survivable.

 

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Land’s End Landscape…

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I have been coming to Land’s End Trail of mornings. I sit on a bench in the chill and mist and watch the grey ocean spread beneath me like the dull side of a piece of aluminum foil crumpled and pressed smooth. It rolls out to the wide Pacific on my left, and on my right under the bridge and between the fingertips of reclining landmasses. My nose threatens to run and my shoe grinds a bit of sandy dirt as I settle.

The fog is thick and heavy just above the water, a single stanchion of the Golden Gate Bridge visible as if I am under Lady San Francisco’s skirts catching a glimpse of a sacred ankle. The shoulders of Marin are a curve more sensual today, the tops and less modest tips hugged by the lacy undergarment of fog.

Two lights, one standing on the last rock before the ocean, the other midway between that and the bridge blink on and off slowly, conserving energy for their eternal task. A fog horn sounds from somewhere, its own little joke, since visibility is perfect on the water. Small dots of light scratch white lines into the grey past the point. If the law would have these craft leave their lights on until an hour or two past sunrise it would be hard to know by the filtered light exactly when that was. A single fishing boat is in front of me, a red light at the top of its mast, deciding to rest inside the arms of the bay, comfortable to sit here with me.

To my right I can see where the ocean is making the shore, the never-ending group project of seven seas. Black rocks and blurs of darker textures spill across the sand here and there as it curves to meet the red bridge. The bridge swallows it all into its width or expectorates it, possibly the initial seed of fruit from which the earth springs forth. The road to the top is a perfect Bob Ross zig of paint scraped between the darker green of Presidio trees and descending speckle of beach shrubs. The road looks from this angle to curve straight down to the bridge, but I know it disappears over the hill, taking a turn and under a damp stone underpass before drawing its line of red light to join the others who for some reason are leaving the city at this hour.

Behind me to my left the grit trail runs straight disappearing abruptly into the cypress forests, standing on long stems, all looking like they have been treacherously betrayed by their hair product and a sudden gust of wind. Small dark birds bounce or zip, its hard to tell, across the path. And I can hear the incessant hiccough of a sprinkler on the golf course. I cannot tell if the smell of humidity is coming from there or from above. Occasional strings of birds indistinguishable from each other at this height fly low across the water until they complete a picture of a zipper with their reflection, unzipping and zipping as they ever alter altitude. The much larger pelicans fly closer so that I can make out colors and single indignant feathers.

I dab at my nose and shift my weight on the wooden bench to the other buttock. I wonder how long I’ve been sitting here. It’s grown warmer maybe; but I’ve gotten colder as my blood has cooled down from walking.

The lights are going out on the cars driving over the hill. My fishing boat has turned off its red light and is pulling out into open water. Lady San francisco has hiked up her skirts past her knees, and the view is a bowl in front of me, so much, with rivulets spilling out to the west and east and into my lap.

This Morning…

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The beautiful San Francisco spring has sprung and this morning the weather was perfect. So, I hustled two babies through breakfast and into shoes. We were going to meet some friends at Crissy Field.

I drove past Lake St. and the elegant signs that forbid tour busses and vans over ten passengers from going further. I turned right on El Camino Del Mar where every house presents a lavish example of a particular style. The houses hide the view, but at the intersections the Golden Gate Bridge appears large and startlingly close. Then the houses stop halfway down a block where they meet the Presidio woods.

The road twists left as soon as its free of the confining lines of the neighborhood and in a breath we’re on the bluffs with the ocean’s arms open wide below us. All of the hills and ups and downs of the city are lost to the long flat line of blue horizon. The smell is salty and woodsy, the eucalyptus and cypress leave a tangy sensation in your nostrils. In the quiet moments when I stop at a cross walk the cacophony of bird noises breaks through.

The breeze is cool through the window, unchanging in temperature even as you slip from shadow to sun between the trees. Drawing a curving path through the Presidio I still have to follow the google map directions. The roads run into each other and stop, I have to make three turns to continue in the right direction.

We pass clusters of brick houses left over from the Presidio’s army post days. The yards are trim, sloping up from short stone walls. I find myself wondering as I always do what it would be like to live in one of these red brick houses with clean white trim and large square windows, to live in a forest at the edge of a city. The bikers and tour busses are scarce on a Friday morning at just past nine.

We turn left out of the Presidio onto the long flat road that demarcates the water’s edge. I make a wrong turn, of course, because I’ve only been there a zillion times and have to turn around. And then we arrive in the small parking strip tight up against a steep slope over hung with peeling eucalyptus fingering the breeze.

The Warming Hut is open, people emerge with their paper cups, all plastic pieces one hundred percent compostable. The dogs are off leash, the only law the responsible citizens of San Francisco tend to ignore. Trim people jog by and there are many mothers with babies like me. Fishing lines trail off the pier. Pelicans fly overhead like an arrow, of one mind pointing towards China Beach and their breakfast. We’ve seen them there in the mornings dropping suddenly from the sky, slapping the water in a feathered sort of belly flop. Apparently, all more graceful methods of catching fish have been proven less effective.

And as we walk down the sandy path we see that someone has plucked some order from the stony beach and tall rock pinnacles precariously balanced rise here and there in stiff salute. I’m told by my friend that it’s the work of a quiet old Asian man. The Chronicle did a piece on him. He said it was his zen.

The sun can only be friendly in the company of the breeze. It warms my right temple and winks at me over the rims of my sunglasses. I keep my sweatshirt on and take my shoes off. The bright red bridge consumes the view to my left, quite unaware that she is an icon. The sailboats go in and out under her like indecisive chicks. Alcatraz lies low over my daughter’s shoulder. Sometimes the waves get louder and I look up to catch the disappearing wake of a cargo tanker already distant. And the rounded shoulders of Marin across the bay tend to ignore me, as they always do, facing the sea, always out to the open sea.

And we play in the sand and make new friends and we run away from the waves and then we run into them and we get incredibly dirty and eat sandy cheese sticks anyway and squeal when the water insists on slurping the sand out from beneath our toes.

And I remind myself again that I live here in this beautiful place and I’m alive for this beautiful day and these are my beautiful people. And I think in recognizing it and going to all the trouble to write it down and describe it to you I have done something that works in this crazy long history of the world like gratitude. I hope so, anyway, because I am grateful.

Eagle’s Point…

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Over Christmas my sister was able to visit us in San Francisco for a few days. The sun was shining and the kids were restless, so we decided a walk was in order.

The sunshine can de deceptive. Especially in my little corner of the peninsula. When we stepped out onto the sidewalk I hesitated. It was rather more chilly than I had expected. But, I decided that warming up over the walk was far better than carrying three children’s jackets. So, onward we went.

We zigzagged our way through the extraordinary houses of the Sea Cliff neighborhood, admiring the expansive fronts of the colonials and moderns, each in turn. The last block of houses before the trailhead is low and modest facing the street. But through gates and between houses you can see stairs descending sharply down the hills, widening and opening up their ornate balconies and tall windows to the sea. The dark blue of the ocean sits cupped in the space between with the muted green hills of Marin across the bay, shouldering down against the wind.

I’ve said before how much nature hides tucked in and between the urban in San Francisco. The Land’s End Trail is no exception. The sidewalk ends, all of a sudden, giving way to cracked asphalt carpeted over with pine needles and the long faded leaves of the overhanging eucalyptus. They call it Eagle’s Point.

It was here that the wind hit us full force. The stoic houses owing us no favors, had given little indication of the wind they were entertaining in their arms. We gasped collectively. And I immediately regretted those three jackets, and all those hats and mittens, too. We walked the dozen yards to the lookout.

We watched the children lean into the wind as they let it push them back. They danced and squealed in a frenzy that at times approached panic. We watched the wind cut short white gashes across the face of the water and bend the cypresses back to such a degree it explained their normal angle as one of generous averages.

We stood as close to the edge as we dared, looking down the cliffs through the clinging shrub to the foaming rocks below, feeling the wind made bold from its unchallenged trip across the wide Pacific. The sound through the eucalyptus was a deafening roar, sounding so much like pounding surf.

But the day was sunny. And the light was bright on our path. There was such beauty in the magnitude of the violence, the trees that bent but didn’t break, the stripped leaves that were surprisingly found superfluous.

I laughed and shouted to my children, “Aren’t you glad to know that there is something so much stronger than you? Isn’t it nice to feel how little we are?”

The baby was in a carrier on my chest, his tiny fists curled into the warmth of my belly. My six-year-old and four-year-old were running down the path ahead, squinting into the wind and laughing. Yes, laughing, but at times nervously.