Whenever I go home to Minneapolis, I come back to California feeling a touch melancholy. I think it has to do with turning my back on a life of soft lawns and broad neighborhood streets with their canopies of filtered green tree light, and returning to a bigger, more urban, apartment existence. Being in my hometown, lounging out on wide screened-in porches with my high school friends, laughing until our sides hurt over what dorks we all were at various times, I'm reminded of how much simpler life once was. City driving didn't terrify me -- well, unless I had to go downtown but I'm psyched to learn I'm not the only one who has had issues with Minneapolis numbered streets versus numbered avenues -- biking is pretty death-free and nights are quiet.
I generally have to do something drastic when I get back to San Francisco to shake off this Minneapolis Melancholy and remind myself how much I love this city. So, I eat at some amazing restaurants, weigh myself down with Farmer's Market goodies, drive up north, or go to the ocean. Not the land-protected and heavily-trafficked Bay, mind you, but the Pacific Ocean -- the one that keeps stretching as far as the eye can see.
It's an easy ten minute drive down Fulton to Ocean Beach where the waves roll blue and crash white. The sun irons out the sky and gives it a quick indigo rinse. As I curl Car up Pt. Lobos, I can see the cloud-dolloped Marin Headlands, the misty outcropping of Pacifica, the sharp, wild green of the Presidio, and the tomato-red Golden Gate Bridge.
Making my way to Land's End, China Beach, and Eagle Rock I sometimes break into a run. Like a kid, I take bounding advantage of the dusty downhill slopes, gaining enough momentum to zoom up the upward ones. If a root snags my foot and I trip a bit, it doesn't matter because there's hardly anyone around to see. It's my own personal state park in the middle of a big, urban existence. Trees, ocean, rocks, and hooting ships -- it's all mine. Any day I want to revel in their painful beauty, I only have to reach out.
These hikes and runs near the ocean have brought out, well, more than a little sappiness in me. It's come to the point where I'm embarrassed that the words are probably going to come out like a fourteen-year-old writing poetry. Not that I ever did that or had a notebook as purple as the prose inside. So purple it basically whiffed grape. I think I finally burned that thing.
On my first run down Ocean Beach, I picked up a blue shaggy-bearded mussel. From the tip of my index finger to the base of my wrist, it's as large as large as my hand. Instead of taking it home and steaming it with some shallots and champagne -- which might very well kill me, as multiple signs scream -- I threw it back into the surf, saving its life. The beach has sand-rooted succulents presenting flowers so intensely bright and saturated with color, you almost need sunglasses to look at them. For a long time I ran without looking up. I was mesmerized by my own footfalls and how they struck the damp, packed sand, radiating a lighter, drier patch in every direction, and how the June-icy Pacific hits the sun-warmed beach, banding mist around my ankles. The saltwater stings my nose and cleans my lungs.
Of course, I come across things you only see in San Francisco: a woman sprawled in Corpse Pose with a small flat rock on her forehead and another on her abdomen; a huge pagan circle maze; a couple playing with their blond pet guinea pig. I watch the guinea pig for awhile, making sure the couple realizes that there are definitely dogs on the beach who would gladly pay them Thursday for a guinea pig today.
If we ever have to leave the West Coast, I'm bringing a glass jar to Ocean Beach and filling it with San Francisco sand. As I carefully picked my way around a pagan stone circle, my eye caught something in the water below: the dark, slick body of a dolphin arcing and piercing the waves. I had to stop and stare for ten minutes at him. The worrier in me wondered if dolphins usually swim alone and if he was too close to shore.
Life may be difficult at times, but it's also quite beautiful.