June 2010


I was woken yesterday by the living room wiggling, literally. I was snuggled up on my sister’s San Francisco couch, still deep in early morning sleep when I groggily stirred to the sensation of the couch, the walls, the entire house wiggling beneath me. Well that’s weird, I thought, I wonder how long this will last? The wiggling continued for several more seconds, long enough that for a brief instant I worried, is it going to get worse?

As quick as the movement had come, though, it was gone again and I sat shaking my head. Greta strode out of her bedroom at the end of the hall, a towel wrapped around her head. “Did you feel that?” she asked. “It was an earthquake!”

“What?” I asked, still groggy, still not registering what had happened.

“It was an earthquake,” she repeated. “That’s the worst one we’ve had since we moved here.” Well, I thought, how about that?

Before moving to San Francisco, I was, of course, aware of the fact that earthquakes exist here. Given the catastrophic repercusions of the previous quakes in 1906 and 1989, San Francisco’s shakes and tremors are no mystery to the rest of the world. But earthquakes weren’t the first thing that came to mind when I decided to move here, in fact, they’re at the tail end of considered factors. I’m still too caught up in the outstanding beauty, hilly terrain, dense swirling fog, Pacific waves and, of course, the layers on layers of creativity and ingenuity born over the years among these rolling city streets.

But that wiggling this morning got me thinking. How often do we choose our destinations based on natural conditions? Well, maybe I am just asking how often I do. Kansas for instance-I wouldn’t move to Kansas, because 1) it’s too flat and 2) tornadoes. But, if I was really into farming, or the Wizard of Oz, I might think that Kansas is worth moving to despite the tornado potential.

So, my move to San Francisco was based mostly on my love of culture and energy of the west coast, despite the earthquake potential. Which gets me thinking more–how often do we base our decisions to do, or not do, something based on fear?  This is wider reaching than just deciding not to move to Kansas because of tornadoes, this gets into our everyday life decisions. What experiences do people miss out on because they err on the side of caution, rather than taking a risk? It’s as simple as not walking down a particular street with amazing wall murals because you’ve heard it’s ‘a bad part of town,’ deciding to never travel overseas because you are certain the plane will crash, or choosing not to marry someone because you are ‘afraid’ things won’t work out.

My point is that sometimes the experience is worth the risk. Perhaps that is foolish, especially considering recent predictions that the San Andreas fault is ready to start shaking–and shaking badly–at any moment. Truthfully though, and perhaps this is my 24 year old naivety speaking, I would much rather experience the thriving life, culture and opportunity of this city while it is here as it is than stay away because I’m afraid.

That’s not to say I will pay no mind to the seismic action occurring in the oceans; informed risk taking is the most responsible sort. But, right now, I’m here–we’re all here–in this moment and we should live it.

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It’s been three days since I arrived in the Golden City, busy days of wandering, exploring and absorbing the city energy like a fresh sponge. I’m fortunate to have my sister, Greta’s, house in Sunset to crash at until I find a place of my own and the views from her hilltop house are expansive. The famous San Francisco skyline and bay rolls in and out of the dense fog that seeps over the Sunset on most mornings. I can see the orange peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge just beyond the park, and the hills of Marin beyond beckon me to explore farther. The park itself is a 10 minute downhill walk through small-town bustle of 9th and Irving, which boast the Sunset’s markets and restaurants.

The diversity here is outstanding, fun, inspiring. During a visit to Beanery, a stellar coffee shop on 9th that roasts all of its beans in house, I stationed myself by the window and watched the colorful Saturday crowds stroll by. A young Vietnamese family pushing a stroller; an Indian woman wrapped in a patterned sari; hipsters in pencil tight jeans, converse sneakers and plaid shirts; park bound joggers plugged into IPods; a wrinkled Asian man with a rolled newspaper tucked beneath his arm; girls in tights and square sunglasses. An older woman in her mid-60’s with a purple and white striped crewcut entered the coffee shop. She carried a leopard print bag and wore a purple fleece jacket, black tights, leopard print Danskos. On the curb outside, a homeless man loitered, trying to sell his copies of Street Speak to the passerbys, most of which brushed him off. He looked to be 60 or so as well, unshaven and rough in appearance with small rounded shoulders that were hidden by the oversized army fatigue jacket that hung to his knees. He wore a felt hat with an iron-on Grateful Dead patch on one side, cannabis leaf patch on the other and rasta tassels streaming off the back.

In this city, there are so many walks of life that fitting in feels easy. I’m learning how each neighborhood has its distinctive features–the hippies in Height, gay crowd in the Castro, yuppy Marina, expansive–and absolutely authentic–Chinatown, predominately Hispanic Mission. All walks of life stroll the sidewalks, drive the boulevards and bike down the steep hills. Trite as it may sound there is something for everyone, and consequently, I feel certain there is plenty for me.

Yesterday morning I woke early and drank coffee while the fog settled in the bay. Then I ran the six blocks to Golden Gate Park where I lost and found my way along its established paths and off-shooting trails. The trees, bushes and flowers amazed me; I was surrounded to flora and fauna I’d never even known to exist. And the sky was so blue, the California sun so warm. I ran through the great pavillon that houses the deYoung Museum and Academy of Sciences where groups of tourists wandered through the gardens. A thought came to mind–legendary places. San Francisco truly is a legendary place.

Later that afternoon, Greta’s roommates and I went to Zeitgeist–a bar in the Mission–for beer in the Beer Garden. We sat in a walled patio and shared pitchers of strong Racer 5 IPA as the sun lowered and conversation flowed between the picnic tables around us. I saw my first glimpse of the Tamale Lady, a landmark San Francisco street vendor who is famous for her tamales–grilled corn husks stuffed with rice and your choice of pork, chicken steak or beans, which she douses in hot sauce at your request. Sarah, Greta’s roommate’s girlfriend who was sitting with us, recalled that a documentary about the Tamale Lady she’d had seen while traveling in Prague was part of her impetus to move to the city a couple of years ago. Had I not just grabbed a tasty burrito from a Mexican joint along the way I would’ve chowed on the famous tamales worth moving to the city for.

Speaking of moving, I’m now embarking on my first round of house hunting in the city, an endeavor I hope to be short lived and successful. Not that it isn’t fun checking out places and meeting the quirky (or not so quirky) cats that live in them, I just know I’ll feel more grounded in the city once I’ve my own bed sleep in. Until then, Greta’s Sunset haven is a wonderful place to crash, hang with her fun Venezuelan roommates and take in the beauty of this incredible city, particularly at sunset. Pictures to come!

I was once certain that geese were the scum of the earth. They shit everywhere on the farm when I was growing up. Because of them our pond was coated in thick green algae. They honked incessantly and when they were mating would charge my pony if he got too close. They had nothing going for them, I thought, and every pile of goose shit smeared on my shoes would make me scowl.

This conditioned hate for geese lasted until about ten days ago when, for the first time in my life, I was nearly attacked by one. Then, surprisingly, I had a change of heart.

The day was hot, hot and so humid walking out the front door of my friend’s apartment felt like being immersed in a steamy bowl of soup. Sickening hot. But, like any endorphin addict, I needed to go running and no steamy sauna weather was going to stop me. At the tail end of my usual four mile loop along the tow path and winding, dipping, leaf draped roads of Bucks County, I cruised the tow path, my face, arms, hair, legs, eyelids, entire body dripping with sweat. On the tow path ahead, a gaggle of geese were sprawled out with their young and the first ones to notice me began hissing immediately. Now, I’m not afraid of geese. I’ve been attacked by large birds before and know the pain, but I also knew that the tow path geese were used to having people run around and among them. Most often a hiss was adequate warning for me to keep moving.

Such was the case with this group of birds except that day was different. The oppressively damp head had nearly caused me to overheat and more that once I had to stop off at a roadside creek to douse myself in water to keep running. Exhasperated, I thought only of the cool shower waiting at the trail’s end, pumping my arms faster as the shower got closer and closer. So when one particular goose directly in the path hissed at me, I stared right back and thought ‘fuck you goose, I’m not moving.’ Wrong move.

Suddenly 50 pounds of goose and flapping wings was running my way; shocked and surprised, I yelled, leapt out of the way and slid halfway into the canal in the process. I ducked low as the goose flew overhead and landed with a splash in the canal beside me. Turning just to see him spin around and charge me again, I scrambled up the muddy, goose shit slimy bank and sprinted off like my life depended on it. Who knows, maybe it did. My heart pounded wildly as I cruised the last mile. ‘Those fucking geese,’ I thought, ‘I could shoot them all!’

Later, once I’d cooled down a bit and could laugh about the matter, my friend Mike suggested we look up goose symbolism in his Native American book of wildlife totems. I was about to make a major move to San Francisco to pursue writing and Mike thought that the goose might have something to do with my impending cross country shift. Wouldn’t that figure? So we had a look, and this is what we discovered:

Keynote: The call of the quest and travels to legendary places. Well, I like the sound of that immediately; I am about to travel to a legendary place on a life quest of sorts. We read on:

The goose is a totem reflecting a stimulation of the childhood thrill and belief in stories and legendary places. The stories we most loved in childhood often reflect the life quest we have come to take upon us in this lifetime. The goose can also be a totem to aid you in communication, especially through the use of stories. Whoa, now my attention is caught. As a writer, communication is paramount to me, most important of all is communicating stories through writing. We continue:

Its feather was once a standard writing tool. Those wishing to write–be it stories or anything–can facilitate the process by working with the goose totem to stimulate imagination and move through creative blocks. Hah! This is kind of eerie. We read on:

Eight species of geese live in North America. Eight is important because the number is so similar to the symbol for infinity, which reflects an ability to move forwards or backwards. It reflects movement, particularly for a spiritual quest. Interesting, I have moved back and forth across the country twice now. I’m about to embark on cross country move number three. It goes on:

The V-formation is very symbolic, reflecting by its shape an opening to new possibilities and ideas. Like an arrowhead, it points to new directions. This formation usually indicates we are about to affix ourselves to a new path. Whoa, now this is really eerie. I’m preparing to step into an entirely new situation, to walk an unexplored path. At this point, Mike and I are just laughing. This is a little too much, how can this vicious attack goose have so much to do with my future? There’s one paragraph left and this one is the real kicker:

Goslings are quiet, especially in the first part of life, and then the learn to break free. A goose as a totem can reflect that you are about to break free of old childhood restraints and begin to come into your own.

Point taken.

Geese–I will never consider you the scum of the earth again.

San Francisco–Here I come : )

Eight years is a long time to travel with one sole companion. As travel ensues and time passes, we are shaped by our adventures and the quality of the company kept throughout them. We refer to our experiences in the context of those we shared them with; our companions play a vital role in what we remember and how we remember it.

Eight years ago I acquired my first car, a white Volkswagon Golf with 36 miles on the odometer and tires ready for the road. We’ve been inseparable since, our only times spent apart lasting only one to two months while I was traveling abroad. Throughout the rest of those years we’ve cruised the east from North Carolina to Maine, driven PA to Colorado and back twice, broken down in Illinois for days, hit two deer (both lived!), several bunnies, a couple of chipmunks, dodged a porcupine, basked in Utah sunsets, Rocky Mountain sunrises, a seemingly endless rainbow in Kansas. The Golf has helped me move to three different colleges in three separate states, has on more than one occassion housed all of my belongings, has on many occasions provided me a home and backseat to roll out my sleeping bag. I’ve cooked, ate, slept, cried, sang too loudly, journaled, laughed, daydreamed, kissed, loved in it. The Golf is as much a part of my life as friends and family, sometimes even more so considering how much time she and I spend together versus the frequency with which I don’t see anyone else.

Even best friends need a break every now and then however, and the Golf and I are about to have our first big one. While I head off to San Francisco to try my luck and creativity with the city life, the Golf will have a nice vacation cruising around the hills of Virginia with my mom and dad. At 108,000 miles shared almost entirely between the two of us, its a good time to separate for a little, hang out with other folks and forms of transportation. And so, a poem to say farewell, or at least, see you later:

The Road

The road.

Again being pulled by open

heart space,

empty time.

pavement rolling past, beneath,

pavement forgotten on contact,

pavement slipping behind rubber spinning wheels like

worries seeping out my naked ears .

free, like unnumbered days on end––free-

dom, freedome, freedomes––

this freedom flutters, butterflies tickling

my belly as I watch

the snowcaps slip by driverside

and heartbreaking blue sky

beckons my foot press harder

little girl and her white bullet Golf

giggling over hairpin passes,

beside glacier bubbles

and falling brooks,

little girl singing the tune of the

humbled mountain admirer,

whistling into the silent expanse––

milkyway wide explosive space––

outstanding open adventures

waiting just beyond

the pink mountain sunset horizon.

Top of Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado, 2006

Fence rail perch

leafy breeze above

thick crusty trunk beside

a spider in the grass–

spiny black legs in green stalk jungle.

the whisper of summer hums lightly

through leaves,

orchard grass heads sway

ripe June sun shimmers

hazy cornfields bake

in Pennsylvania