Mist was rising off Stowe Lake in smoky tendrils as I began my early morning walk in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Patterns of sunlight foretold the advent of a breathtaking day as it filigreed across the hard packed earth of the path. Ducks and mean tempered geese along with other waterfowl continued their search for food, indifferent to my passage. Sleepy turtles hung out on logs soaking up the warmth beginning to temper the sunrise chill.
The park was alive with people exercising their right to exercise. A group of Chinese beckoned me to join their Tai Chi session. But having done that once and then aching for days afterward from the seemingly benign routines, I avoided them. Not wanting to appear as if I couldn't handle Pushing the River or Pulling Clouds from the Sky, I hurried past, intent on climbing the hill around the lake.
My time in the park is during the week. Weekends are filled with picnickers, youth on roller blades, people bicycling along closed traffic lanes, concerts, kids running and giggling, lovers lolly gagging on the grass. But during the week there's plenty of space to hang out with the turtles.
Someone once said of me that I was more of a human Doing than a human Being. Taking this admonition seriously I’ve made an effort to just Be. The restorative greenery of Golden Gate Park puts me in touch with that part of myself that cries out for nature. I need that open view of blue sky, birds, cypress trees, and to see the ceaseless ocean from the top of the hill. I need the wrapper of the natural world as a protective and integrating presence. I need to see myself as the true miracle of the bionetwork that I am.
After climbing the path around the lake, forcing a slow pace, I arrive at the Conservatory of Flowers. That Victoria confection, the oldest building in the park and the oldest conservatory in the country, damaged in 1995 during an El Nino spitting fit, now sits in majestic repair, an elegant glass lady who's future seems as glorious as her gilded past. She overlooks a lush greensward where flowers spell out a changeable greeting honoring Scouts, Concertmasters, historic anniversaries. With the help of the community the Victoria Lady was resuscitated from her deathbed and is now enjoys robust health.
Two buses, hissing and growling, pull to the curb of John F. Kennedy Drive, shattering the calm, fouling the air. Tourists wearing a hodgepodge of jogging suits, flowered shirts, blue jeans an assortment of cameras dangling from necks, pile out. They take quick snapshots and then climb back on the bus ready for the next photo op. What impressions will they carry with them? Will they see more of San Francisco in their photos than from actually being here? Can photographs seem more real than the actual place? Will they convey the dampness of fog creeping through a meadow, the aroma of fresh cut grass, flights of seagulls, or the sheer joy of being in the Park on a magnificent sunny day?
When I was a kid my dad once took us from Oklahoma to the Texas border so we could say we'd been there. “Wherever you are, there you are.” Someone said. I thought about that when a raggedy man clinked along on JFK Drive with a grocery cart full of empty bottles and cans. Hard work. Was he “In The Moment,” admiring the fruit of his labor, or was he thinking about where he would sleep that night? And what about me? That part that observes and judges, more concerned about an invisible future than right Now this minute, this second, time that will never repeat itself. Unless in the Parallel Universe a thin membrane away.
When the sightseeing buses pull away four young boys began whooping and hollering full of piss and vinegar one could say. They ran in loopy circles down the grassy hillside. One kid fell and began rolling over and over all the way down the hill. The others wasted no time in following the leader. They threw themselves on the lawn with wild abandon without fear of injury, in the moment, and tumbled downward, shrieking and giggling. Crushed grass summoned scented memories of summer nights lying in fresh cut Bermuda listening to crickets and catching fireflies.
“I'm just trying to be in the moment.” A friend once said when asked about his plans. Harder to do than one might imagine. Kids are definitely in the moment. They don't worry about how they're going to pay bills or what's for lunch. Unless there is no lunch or dinner or breakfast or house. Children grace our lives if we can manage to still ourselves long enough to appreciate who they are without trying to make them into little adults, like us, trying to fit in never giggling. Kids live one moment at a time. Which is after all, all we have. Those kids were once us.
Wandering along I gravitated toward the AIDS memorial grove, a wooded dell of serenity. Many, too many, of the names inscribed on the flagstone terrace at the Dogwood crescent Circle of Friends, conjur up images of people I knew and loved. A park brochure reads, “Here among the towering redwoods and fragile dogwoods, one is free to mourn and remember, to acknowledge grief and begin the process of healing.” People come here from around the globe to mourn loved ones. But on this day I was alone, able to hear soft wind whisper in pine branches and catch the last of pink blossoms drifting toward earth.
A tortoise joins me on the trail. Scrawny neck extended, her short legs a study in slow motion she inches along her home on her back, taking her time. Ten minutes later she was across the path. That turtle didn't once stop to check the time or veer from her route. She, it, he, was focused, relaxed, making it clear to me what being in the moment is. And winning the race. Whatever the race is.
Causes Pat Montandon Supports
PETA, Women for Women, Amnesty International, Children as the Peacemakers, Peace to The Planet