Up, Down, Up, Down (San Francisco Walks, part 2)


Mosaic stairway below us, Turtle Hill above, my mom and Jack and I made our way along walk 11, Lead Thread on a Sugar Sack, from Stairway Walks in San Francisco, by Adah Bakalinsky. Like any good city with character, San Francisco is a bundle of whimsically mismatched elements. Right by the cheerful camaraderie of the tiny cookie cutter two story houses pressed shoulder to shoulder are majestic city mansions like this one. Towering over the street on a rugged chunk of Franciscan rock, it's yet another San Francisco home that leaves you wondering what sort of people live there.

Tucked behind the formations is another stairwell, a bit of a deceptive one. It looks quite short from the street, but once you start huffing and puffing your way up, it suddenly stretches out forever. Fortunately the climb is accented with sights right out of a storybook. I almost expected the iridescent leaves of this tree to take to the air on the shoulders of hundreds of tiny fairies as I passed it by.

Of course I've read about mist swirling through streets aplenty, but I don't recall ever paying close enough attention to see it before in real life. Mist curled and danced through the streets, though, and its charm almost made up for the veil it so tauntingly drew across our view.

Perhaps it is all for the best that I cannot convey how utterly terrifying the stairwells are when one is ascending or descending them an an extremely windy day while strapped to a wildly bucking bronco toddler. This particular set of steps felt so steep that I gripped the armrail with both hands.

Looking over the railing, I got a good eyeful of the wildlife, or rather what to our eyes might seem a lot more like the tamelife. Apparently the hillside is a great place for snails. In some places, you could lose count of how many were just hanging out, enjoying the view.

My mom read snippets from the book as we walked, notes pointing out the loveliness surrounding us. When I was younger, I was easily distracted by beauty, but now I so often find myself distracted from it. Appreciation requires more concentration.

And now it is time to teach my son. Or... perhaps not quite now, yet. He seems a bit skeptical. I might still have a few years to wait until his life becomes more than one big long run-on series of distractions.

There is some level of beauty even in the plain stairs.

And remarkably enough, even in the pattern of the trash cans.

We strolled past a playground, a dog park, and tennis courts, meandered through an ethereal microforest in the middle of Golden Gate Heights Park. At the foot of the park is a swing. This isn't just a regular swing, it's the good old fashioned kind hung from the branch of a tall tree.

I do not exaggerate when I say it is a tall tree. Being quite the city girl, I have little experience with swings that have long ropes rather than short chains. I was amazed by the difference. Instead of a frenetic lurching back and forth, the experience was more of a gentle gliding to-oooooooo and fro-ooooooo. It was just about the closest thing to flying I'd ever experienced (aside from, you know, airplane flying, which doesn't even actually really feel like flying).

The other pleasant thing about the old fashioned swing is that the wooden plank is nice and solid, unlike the flexible seats on park swings that eventually become excruciatingly uncomfortable (I speak from experience *blush*). The only thing better would be an upholstered seat. But here I sit imagining my dream swing when this is supposed to be a review of a walk, not of playground equipment...


We wound our way around and back near to where we started, and this time we climbed Turtle Hill. On the way, we strolled past white houses and red houses, pink houses and teal houses, big houses with gorgeous gardens, tiny skinny houses with plants spilling out of the windowsills. Unlike the rest of the stairways, the steps up Turtle Hill zigzag up.

The top of the hill offers a great view of Golden Gate Park, the downtown skyline, the ocean, and much of the city. The wind was whipping so violently when we were up there that I was afraid to put Jack down lest he be swept away to sea.

We grow so used to the miracles of life that we need constant reminders of how incredible the world around us truly is and what mystery it holds. Some people prefer reading inspirational non-fic, some people prefer reading touching email forwards, I love how novels help me to notice and appreciate the magic in everyday life (I promise this is going somewhere). It doesn't take a romantic poet to notice the haunting loveliness of a tree studded hilltop, but literature does tend to push the mind in that direction. Imagine the possibilities for a dramatic setting such as this!

Because of the wind, we had some difficulty navigating the top of the hill, which meant that we couldn't locate the place we were supposed to descend. In backtracking, we missed out on the tail end of the route, fine with us since we had been meandering so slowly that it was now lunch time and all of us were famished. The walk was a perfect blend of neighborhood and nature, and the book provides notes on places of particular interest as well as some background information. Our only complaint is that it is a bit of a distraction to have to keep stopping to consult the map, so factor that into your schedule and expectations if you decide to give one of the stairway walks a try. It would have been ideal to have been able to program it into Google maps on my phone for brainless step by step walking instructions as we went, but at the moment Google doesn't yet recognize the stairways as valid routes. Hm. Perhaps I should take a Silicon Valley walk down to Google and put in a request...

2 sprinkles of fairy dust:

What a lovely story of your stair hike. I love that your
Mom wanted to do this. Thought the description of riding on a rope and board swing for the first time was terribly insightful. I grew up with one and had never put my finger on the difference in such a clear way. You're right they are a much smoother ride.

My mum used to take us on awesome walks around SF back when we lived there, and even when we went back for visits after moving to the midwest. There is always something new and beautiful to be discovered in the bay area. I miss it.