Oh, you visitors to the Bay area who say, “Take me to Napa Valley, let me drink wine.” I indulge them of course, I’m a good host, but eventually, I take them down miles of winding roads that may get them carsick, climb over the hillocks amongst the staked out vineyards and pause there, point to a random small house on the far horizon, then I quote Norman MacLean’s epic conclusion to a River Runs Through It.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
Having said such a thing, some smart ass will always point out that there’s no water in sight, but that’s not the point, is it? My point is that as far as scientists can tell, all brontosauruses are thin at one end, much, much thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end. Q.E.D.
Prepping to be off to Africa in the coming day, and then a truly grand trip begins.
We tackled Mt Diablo and three other summits in the Bay Area, starting in the early morning and finishing very late in the afternoon after 6000 feet of climbing that include brutal ascending and descending 20-30% grades, gusts to 30-40mph on the summit, expansive views that no camera can really capture well. It was a ferocious buttkicker of a hike, a marathon that ended with leggs wobbling, knees screaming, and an exhaustion that laid me down for 10 hrs of on again off again sleep, and this morning, I finally felt the sense of accomplishment that I was too exhausted to feel yesterday. Kilimanjaro, I’m as ready for you as I ever will be.
Mt Tamalpais, that stalwart guardian looking down on San Francisco, so named from the indigenous Coast Miwok people of the San Francisco area to mean merely “West Hill”. I’m rediscovering its many meandering hiking trails with forest minded friends. Typically, we start in Muir Woods under canopy of towering redwoods and make our way upwards through the forest, and all along the way there are waters that gurgle and flow and fall over rocks. I’ve no capability to meditate in the way that so many do, yet I can say that my head is plenty crowded with good and happy thoughts to the physical tune of of my legs as they churn upwards. The temperature is a crisp 46-55 degrees Fahrenheit, and in the shade of these ancient and mighty forest denizens, the mist keeps a pleasant chill on our skin.
The outer avenues of San Francisco are foggy most of the year, but in these past few drought years, they’ve been sunnier and clearer than usual. I rambled one day from my loft near the Bay out to the Sunset district, a wonderful little neighborhood with quintessential boutique shops and restaurants. I had a pork belly burrito (yum) and marched up to these 16th avenue steps to Grandview park, where the neighbors joined together over the years to create the most elaborate and colorful of San Francisco’s staircases. The closeup detail is equally as beautiful.
I got to the top of Grandview Park – looked west to the Pacific and east back to the Bay and city proper – and figured once again that I was a fortunate fellow to end up here in this place.
Living in San Francisco, wine country is the trip I make when visitors come, though I do what I can to tamp down the expectations. For some vino aficionados, Napa is a pastoral revelation, all rolling green hills, wooden stakes with no vampires, and the green green grapes of wrath. Others are suitably underwhelmed. Even us veterans make it a rule to maybe last 3-4 vineyard tastings, then the days is done, the tastebuds gone to field and ineffective.
This is Nickel and Nickel, a boutique wine cave for a vintner that more or less makes single vineyard wines that are generally lovely to smell and taste.
Alas, it’s been too long away from the blog, and I apologize dear readers, if there’s indeed anyone still left out there reading this. Things are winding up for a trip to Tanzania in February 2015, a climb to the roof of Africa on Mt Kilimanjaro, then a Serengeti immersion safari. In the meantime, the legs and the joints are getting their buffers built, with long haul walks across the San Francisco Peninsula head, and forested climbs up nearby mountains, such as this misty morning walk up Mt Tamulpais (Mt Tam) where sunbeams illuminated our path.
Ah, The bus terminal. The old American tradition of the 1950’s – 1970’s until it began it’s long slow decline to a reputation as a refuge for society’s marginalized, its homeless, its drifters and beggers and miscreants alike. Transit is always fun for people watching, but taking a Greyhound bus cross country takes it to a new level. A Scottish musician trying to make it big “I’m going to LA!”. A rotund elderly lady who forces the bus to stop in the Arizona desert because she doesn’t want to throw up around the other passengers (she sprinted to the back of the bus, and we all watched her heave). The dreamy throwback hippy millenial with her tie die and long straight hair all scarfed up. A wisecracking Asian bus driver, telling jokes that only a few of us understand, but we laugh because he’s laughing so hard at himself.
In any case, you’re looking at something temporary in this picture; By late 2016, San Francisco’s ultra modern Transbay Terminal (e.g. our first true Grand Central Station) will have opened, and the terminal before you will become a park with skyscraping views of shiny glass towers, with folks on lunch break nibbling their organic wheatberry salads as they sit awkwardly in the grass. Go West and gentrify, by gum, and don’t forget to bring your Pez dispenser!
You’d be surprised at how few of the local San Franciscans have been to some of the more minor significant landmarks in their own city. Don’t get out much? Too busy? Unfortunate…
The Legion of Honor sits at the top of SF’s Lincoln Park in the Land’s End, overseeing all of the city and the Golden Gate. It houses a fine art museum–Monet, anyone?–and a tribute to the Legion itself, and is a three quarter stone replica of its inspiration in Paris. It’s as stunning up close as it looks in this picture; my biking pal commented that they simply don’t make buildings like this anymore. Indeed.
America’s government houses its Congress in such grand buildings, and based on the nasty discourse of modern US politics, one could be tempted to say they are not worthy of the house in which they parlay, but I’ll refrain, as government will do what they will do, and changing that is the innate ability of the voters…me, for instance. I will go into my Fisher-Price voting booth, pull knobs and switches, bells go off and a pre-recorded voice will say, “Way to go!”, and if my candidates win, I’ll give random people a thumbs up, and if not, I’ll endure two or four years of the majority party term and whatever shenanigans they enact.
But hey, it’s the US. As one saying goes, tongue-in-cheek with a little truth, Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.
In my mind, intent is half the battle, and it makes no sense for me to hold governmental frustration for any length of time. In such moments, I will jump on my bike, sweat my way up the steep hills to the Legion, and sit within its columns imagining a future ripe with possibility and how I might be part of it.
The last major quake in the San. Francisco Bay Area was the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989; it was perhaps the first quake of the modern age to be witnessed live, during the opening of Game 3 in the World Series between the Giants and their cross Bay brethren, the Oakland A’s. Millions watched as the screen went static, and the baseball players started looking around in quasi panic as the announcers talked about the shuddering rolling ground beneath. In the days that followed, we watched the iconic images of collapsed freeways, including the silver lining of the quake; the broken Embarcadero freeway, an eyesore double decker that ran the outer perimeter of the city and blocked many of its fantastic waterside landmarks like the Ferry Building.
The quake forced demolition of the freeway, and by 1991, the waterfront was reborn as the Embarcadero you see here, which is a source of much joy to locals and turistas alike as they ramble up and down its magnificent three plus miles.
Night walks on the Embarcadero promenade are a lovely menagerie of light and color, old brick buildings with ornate stonework and modern glass wonders. Or the Bay Bridge, who’s current LED light show undulate in non repeating patterns; the operating cost of the whole bridge display is only $15 USD per night!
These October nights are the tail end of San Francisco summer, the wind a mere gentle breeze, the temperature a mild 65F(18C), and I love the sound of the lapping Bay waters as they echo the city lights and the bridge in their reflections.
San Francisco is not known for its beaches, or at least it’s not the first association that comes to mind, though the well known Mavericks surfing contest takes place on the fierce western shores up in Half Moon Bay a few miles to the south. But those who meander to the western edge of the Golden Gate Park on rare and fortunate sunny afternoons are treated to this grand view across the Great Highway, a vast expanse of natural sand where the Pacific Ocean comes in as it pleases, signs of shifting tides visible far into the drifts. Locals don’t speak much of this beach to the turistas, because most of the year, it’s overcast with rowdy freezing gusts that will have you wrapping on the layers right quick. Hardly a beach suitable for beach wear.
But on this day, a friend and I biked around the Cliff House, looked down, and saw that for this moment, life was good, and the sun shone down upon us and agreed.