Mist was rising off Stowe Lake in smoky tendrils as I began an early morning walk in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Patterns of sunlight foretold the advent of a beautiful day as it filigreed through pines onto 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 resting on logs were 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.
I was visiting my old stomping grounds trying to revive my drooping spirit. When I lived in San Francisco my time in the park was always during the week. On weekends the area is filled with picnickers, roller-bladders, people bicycling along the closed traffic lanes, concerts, kids running and giggling, lovers lollygagging on the grass. But during the week there’s plenty of room to just hang out.
Hanging out. Taking time to Be. Someone once said I was more of a human doing than a human being. Taking this admonition seriously I began making 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 glimpse of blue sky, birds, and the view of a ceaseless ocean from on top of the hill. I need nature’s canopy around me, a protective integrating presence.
After climbing the path around the lake, forcing a slower pace, I walk to 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 fit, once again sits in majestic splendor on her hill, an elegant lady.
Two buses hissing and growling pull to the curb of John F. Kennedy Drive, shattering the calm, fouling the air. Tourists, wearing a hodge podge of jogging suits, flowered shirts, blue jeans, all with dangling cameras, pile out. They take quick snapshots and then climb back on their bus ready for the next photo op. I wonder what impressions of themselves they have on this glorious day. Would they see more of San Francisco in their photos than during their visit? Sometimes photographs seem more real than being in the actual place. But can they carry the feel of fog, the aroma of fresh cut grass, the flight of seagulls within the prints?
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 once said. I thought of this as I saw a man pushing a grocery cart laden with 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 where was I, that part of me that observes and judges? It’s easy to judge when we know nothing about the person we are judging. I’m trying to stop doing that.
After the sightseeing buses pulled away four young children began running in loopy circles down the grassy hillside. One kid fell down and began rolling over and over down the hill. They all joined in, tumbling, shrieking, giggling. The crushed grass summoned scented memories of summer nights lying in fresh cut Bermuda listening to crickets and watching fireflies.
“I’m just trying to be in the moment.” A friend once said when asked about his plans. Kids are definitely in the moment. They don’t worry about how they’re going to pay the bills or what’s for lunch. Unless there is no lunch… or dinner...or family. Then they suffer... in that moment and beyond. Children grace our lives if we can be still long enough to appreciate who they are without trying to make them into adults, like us, quiet, not giggling. Kids live one moment at a time. Which is, after all, all we have.
Wandering on I gravitated toward the AIDS memorial grove, a wooded dell of serenity. Many of the names inscribed on the flagstone terrace at the Dogwood crescent Circle of Friends, conjure up images of many of those I have known and cared about. “Here among the towering redwoods and fragile dogwoods, one is free to mourn and remember, to acknowledge grief and begin the process of healing.” A park brochure said.
People come here from around the globe. But on this day I was alone, able to hear the wind whisper softy through pine branches and see the last of pink blossoms drifting toward earth.
As I left the grove a turtle joined me on the trail. Scrawny neck extended, his short legs a study in slow motion he inched along, his home on his back, taking his time. I waited for ten minutes before the tortoise was across the path. He didn’t once stop to check the time or veer from his route. He, it, she, was focused, relaxed, in the moment.
Causes Pat Montandon Supports
PETA, Women for Women, Amnesty International, Children as the Peacemakers, Peace to The Planet