Walking Northern California
I walked the dusty hills of Edgewood Park, up to Vista Point, looking back out over the flats of the south bay, looking out towards Atherton and Palo Alto and the bent-knee San Mateo-Hayward Bridge and Bair Island, thinking back to a life I once lived in these parts, now over a decade back.
I walked the refined bits of Noe Valley (more like Noe Hill, amiright), with the manicured public green spaces and cafes run by Japanese folks in distinctly residential nooks. Nearby a mobile detailer powerwashed a late-model 911 as I sipped an expertly made cortado.
I walked some slightly disconcerting bits of SoMa with exploded garbage cans, trash spewed all over the sidewalk and folks appearing maximally down and out, hobbled and hobbling, and I walked the Embarcadero past glittering new billion dollar high rises full of luxury apartments, some sinking, many with panoramic views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. Past it all strode extremely fit humans in revealing spandex. They jogged easily and briskly and it was as strange as it’s ever been — strange as it was in 1999, the first time I came to San Francisco and slept in a Craiglisted closet in a low-rise apartment at Beale and Bryant, driving my Honda Civic down the peninsula to a webdesign startup, the founder of which I met on IRC when I was 13 — to feel that dissonance of folks having so much (SO MUCH) and folks having so little (SO LITTLE) despite being so close topographically. And felt the familiar dull pang of sadness of that gulf never seeming to diminish. Meanwhile, as I slurped up all the oysters in sight, out across the water everything I could see seemed kissed by the light of heaven itself, golden and heartbreaking — the two words I use most to describe San Francisco.
I walked Apple Park, down the bay in Cupertino. Walked kilometers and kilometers of manicured dun pathways under cloudless pale blue skies with my visitor pass swinging casually around my neck, past the ceaseless swoop of that four-story metal doughnut embedded in the middle of a suburb, surrounded by tall grasses and apple trees and modernist-minimalist ponds with too-steep lips, lips so steep that ducklings would get stuck and drown (ducks can drown?!) and so ponds that now contain little piles of rocks to act as steps for any local tiny fauna that happens to plop down into what they thought was a harmless pool. Apple Park itself was all perfect radii and glint, all glass and more glass (and even more glass, much of which now contains subtle markers to indicate it is glass since so many people were face planting into walls) and flawlessly shaped stone and micro perforations everywhere to remove echos of the, you know, breathless whisper of Apple secrets. I walked and a man cleaning the floor said with more genuine mirth than even a Magic Kingdom employee, You know there is a sparkling water and coffee station just around the corner! And I walked ten more steps and yet again, now from a woman who seemed composed of unfiltered joy and gentle eye contact, You know there’s sparkling water and coffee yonder! I was duly hydrated during my stroll of Apple’s impressive HQ.
I walked Wonderlich County Park. Oh, gloriously shaded Wonderlich County Park. (Apple Park was oddly mostly shade-free, pretty darn dry-heat scorching.) With trail runners flitting past, their net worth (one assumes, not ungenerously) greater than that of most nation states. A man and his daughter (ten? eleven?) jogged up in their street clothes and asked if my friend and I were lost (we were, a little). Did you make it all the way to Alice’s? he asked. Alice’s? No, we didn’t even know you could make it that far. Well that’s where we’re headed! His daughter’s eyes looked up at us, eerily as wise as Gandalf the Great’s, and I felt harshly judged. Should we have walked to Alice’s? Perhaps. It’s a funny thing to think — walking up to Alice’s, that classic Skyline restaurant with a one-pump gas station. But we didn’t. (One traditionally drives a throaty sports car or motorcycle to Alice’s.) We walked the Meadows and glimpsed sweeping views and sat under redwoods as thick as trucks and wondered where this hurling ball of dirt and water was heading in the near future.
I walked Ring Mountain Preserve, not quite all the way up to Turtle Rock, to the petroglyphs. But up enough. We were time constrained and the drive through traffic over the Golden Gate Bridge had knocked a few years off my life. My friend carried his newborn child, asleep, strapped on his chest all peace and dribble, and we looked out over that east bay view of Sausalito and Mill Valley and Tiburon, truly breathtaking landscape, up and down, huge, the city in the distance, the skyline changing in recent years, that dorky disproportioned phallus of Saleforce Tower poking up — a precocious elementary school kid raising his arm. Me Me Me!
I walked Francis Beach and the Halfmoon Bay Costal Trail. Look up, down, left, right — grays the whole spectrum through. A universe of foggy gray. The sun was gone. Those bluffs overlooking the beach on one side and the big field on the other and off beyond, rows of beautiful and weathered homes. Simple homes. Sensible homes (at least from afar). Some with shocks of color that appeared through the fog like something down the Yellow Brick Road amidst the black and white of Half Moon Kansas. I was happy to be a Dorthy for a few hours. It was nice to feel the chill, to bundle up. The microclimates of the bay always surprise. Ten minutes this way and the sky is the bluest thing you’ve ever seen. Ten minutes that way and it’s the grayest. T-shirt weather turns to sweaters and a windbreaker. I brought a knit cap and am glad I did.
I walked Rockaway Beach in Pacifica. A surfer on a Onewheel glided up a switchback cliffside path, shortboard under arm, smoothly and slowly. He looked like he was levitating. Beside the ocean the conversation turned to dentists and nitrous oxide and out of body experiences and unexpected, unintentional therapies. And how the right chemicals can engender durable empathies. The wind slapped and the waves were wonky, but the surfers seemed to bob in delight, if not surf, and it was hard to not adore everything appearing from edge to edge in your eyeballs.
And finally, I walked Crystal Springs Region Trail. Or what’s left of it. So much washed away in the big rains earlier this year. All week I drove up and down 280 and whenever the reservoir appeared I gasped. A beaut, that body of water, surrounded by all that lush forest. Untouchable, it’s where the drinking water of the peninsula comes from. Road bikers and family bikers biked past. We walked over the dam. Behind us sat the “Flinstone’s House,” which was looking better (new paint, manicured garden) than I’ve ever seen it.
All the while, throughout all of these walks I was wowed by the light. Literal “wows” were issued many times. I stepped out from a birthday party in Pacifica to the lingering twilight, rare blue skies above the wet old growth, and wow wow wow wowed. From the moment I disembarked at SFO — the light. Blam. That northern California light. Mysterium tremendum. Something about the lack of humidity makes it feel so clear and amplified and turns the already abundant landscape into something superabundant. The remnants of the spring superbloom caught that light in snatches and I saw that light every day and on most every walk of the trip.
Which is all to say it was a grand trip, this walking trip. Unexpectedly full of walking. I had planned zero walks and yet, every single day — walks. Walks with people I love, remembering why I love them. A big thank you to everyone who made time for me. It’s been years since I’ve done a trip like this. A vacation, I suppose you can call it. Though not entirely. My body feels well used. I am over-socialized. My brain aches like a muscle after a serious workout. Now to go home, sleep, and prepare for new projects launching soon.
Photo up at the top by Ben Blumenrose; me hunched over a Hasselblad 500C/M, trying to see what I could see.