Seamless Blue Sky

It’s really not hard to remember the joys of going to Wilbur for the weekend. On Friday as I traveled up, I was not in a rush, and the traffic was no worse than usual. When I turned off the 80 onto the 505, I could feel the real adventure beginning. Highway 16 was a realm of beauty all of its own in the low autumn sun. 

Since the forecast was good, we decided to go ahead with a mindful hike on the Saturday, and after I had unpacked, I took one of the resident bikes up to the beginning of the Smelter Trail, which I sometimes hesitated at as I tried to remember which side of which gully to take, and found that there were new signs pointing the way. I took the first stretch of the trail, and reveled in the absolute stillness of the afternoon.

In the evening – and on  Saturday evening as well – I could barely keep my eyes open as I tried to read. I had realised that I had barely had a complete day off in many weeks, even though I do have plenty of space in my schedule. I have resolved to get away this upcoming weekend as a way of doing that; as relaxing as Wilbur is, I still had my teaching commitments. Thankfully, I slept deeply, with many strong dreams, as I typically did when I was there.

I was awake early, and with the temperature being close to freezing, I wrapped up well and took myself off to the nature preserve valley to catch the sunrise. The moon was still up. As I arrived, the Fountain of Life geyser was having one of its regular outpourings, so I took plenty of pictures of that. By the time I had wandered around getting the pictures I wanted it had spouted again, just as the sun was coming up over the hill, so I was shooting with wild abandon and great glee.

There was a good turn-out for the sit, and many of the people also came on the hike. Conditions were ideal, though it did cloud over right when we got up to the medicine wheel, so we didn’t sit and enjoy the view as much as we might have. 

Sunday however, was completely clear, from the canopy of stars when I woke up, to the daytime blue. I went up the first section of the Manzanita trail to catch the sunrise, and then waited for it to reach the bottom of the valley, which took longer than expected; I did not get the backlit steam pictures I had hoped for, but I did catch some of the mineral colours around the hot springs. More sitting, and more relaxing meant I felt like I had had a full good time of it.

Glad as I was to be completely away from the news cycle for a couple of days, it felt like I had a lot to catch up on once I was back online, and I have tried to make the most of all my gaps in schedule both to relax and get everything done. It helps that this is a football-free as we head towards the World Cup. I know all the reasons why it can be boycotted, and know of the deaths, and the tremendous corruption of FIFA (and UEFA), and there are many other ways in which the West engages with the Middle East that are also fairly repulsive, so I will be watching, and hopefully enjoying, the football.

I know I say this every year, but I always remember that the middle of November was my first experience of San Francisco. This week’s weather is reminiscent of what I had then, cold around the edges, but bright and warmer during the days. I’ll take that for as long as it lasts.

The Fountain of Light, backlit.
Coming down from the medicine wheel on Saturday.
First sun over Wilbur on Sunday.
Golden hour.

Changeable

The wind and rain have come in together in the past week, and it feels seasonally chilly. On Saturday we had no real views on the roam, with low damp clouds (with a brief rainbow); Sunday was clear; Monday it threatened to rain so we sat indoors (and also found a more spiffy location to use in the future) only for the rain to hold off until the evening; on Tuesday I got quite lucky with a potentially damp commute.

I had a sense of foreboding about the elections here in the US, and having an eclipse that morning didn’t seem like a good portent, but when I woke up on Wednesday, I had a feeling that things could have been way worse. Locally I was extremely happy that JFK promenade in the park is here to stay, and with the clock-change dawn coming earlier, I was out on my bike first thing on Wednesday to stretch my legs, catching a beautiful sunrise and setting moon on my way from the park to the bridge and back.

Today, all being well, I will make it to Wilbur for the first time since June. I expect the mornings to be cold, and hopefully the weather kind enough to allow for a mindful hike on Saturday. Beyond that, having wrapped up the Tenzo Kyokun with a lively final class, we are looking at potentially interweaving Dogen classes in the spring, and I am starting to plot for a return to England. Stay tuned!

A couple of typical skies from ferry rides last week
A damp city on Tuesday morning – I missed most of the rain.
Tuesday afternoon skies from the BART station.
Looking out to Point Bonita on my Wednesday morning bike ride.
One of my favourite spots along Crissy Field, from the Wednesday ride.

November Already

This past week I have been meaning to sit down and write a personal post, and have not managed to do so. One reason is the general continuing business and concomitant down time, where I haven’t felt the spaciousness I like to feel before I start to write (this Hallowe’en morning, because I did not have to go downtown for an early meditation, I have been moving slowly and taking care of loose ends). Another, more prosaic reason is that the space bar on my laptop has once again become intermittent, which makes relaxed writing difficult, and any composition more of a chore.

I also said to myself that I had little to write about beyond the weather. That is partly true. We had the gloriously warm day, and, like other recent weather systems, this one got tripped up sooner than expected, so we had some grey and cool days before a week of more stable weather, sunny, but with a cold edge to the wind befitting the season. Now we have a little rain in the forecast, which is welcome, though I do wish it would not blow in right when I am commuting on my bike, as it is supposed to.

Sunday’s roam was classic San Francisco weather: I left my place in warm sun, and three stops of the streetcar to the west, I came out in a thick undulating mass of fog, which accompanied us all the way around St Francis Wood and Pine Lake. I had had the reverse journey on my morning bike ride – through thick fog that became ever denser as I approached San Bruno Mountain, even from the more reliably sunny east side. I did not expect, half way up the summit road, to emerge above that into a cloudless sky with early sun warming the slopes. The transition moments were breathtakingly beautiful.

The other thing I intended to note was the class on the Tenzo Kyokun. There were a healthy number of sign-ups, even though only half of them have been attending live. The first class was very lively, with many questions about the text, the role of the tenzo, and the role of food in all of it; the attendees ranged from someone who had met Suzuki Roshi to someone who was very new to all of this, and it was a wonderful conversation (from my end at least). I worried only that we didn’t get as far through the text as I had intended. This past Saturday we did make more solid progress, and I hope I didn’t lose people with my explanations. With any luck we will wrap the text up nicely next time.

Mixed skies on Tuesday.
The ocean on Friday.
A similar view on Saturday.
Emerging from the fog on Sunday morning.
The sun appears.
Looking down on the fog.
Pine Lake was pretty misty.
Back in my neighbourhood, clear skies and a half moon.

Balance

I was certainly lamenting the continued grey skies over the weekend, although I also appreciated that it was milder than it had been before, and that there was little wind. These made for pleasant hiking and riding conditions at least: we had a good crowd to take in the Land’s End Trail and linger on Mile Rock Beach on Saturday. On Sunday, I rode what I would ordinarily consider a standard route, but under current circumstances, it was the hardest ride I had done since Covid, and it felt okay; I was suitably tired afterwards.

 And then in the first part of the week, we saw the full blossoming of autumnal sunshine, such as I had been hoping for since Labor Day. Meteorologically speaking, I understand that this is a time when offshore and onshore breezes switch roles, and temperatures over land and ocean balance out in a way that doesn’t happen over the summer months in San Francisco. Stillness arrives, sounds carry differently – with my window open in the mornings I hear the rumble of the freeways and the Caltrain horns.

We had a pleasant sit on Monday, and then I headed down to South San Francisco to teach at my student’s company. As I started along the car-free trail from the BART station there, I felt warm and relaxed. I passed a couple of young guys walking along with a bit of a swagger. Even though I left them plenty of room, one of them exclaimed in surprise as I passed, and then said (and I assume it was intended for me), “All that moving and you ain’t going nowhere.”

Now, he may well have been stoned, but nonetheless he was expressing a fundamental truth – I could not help but think of the exhange between Hui-Neng and Yongjia – and it has stuck in my mind as a subject for teaching this week.

On Tuesday evening, coming back from the East Bay on a similarly warm end of afternoon, I got some food on Valencia Street and sat in the little playground there as children noisily played football, and the sun dipped below the hills. I took in slow Sanchez Street on the way to my student group, and found many people out and about with dogs and kids, a relaxed passeggiata. In the group, the check-ins revealed the fullness of everyone’s lives – parents’ sickness, new relationships, big trips, weddings – and that they were all somehow managing to keep things in balance.

On Wednesday I had my typical lovely mix of personal time (which includes getting chores done and going to Rainbow and the farmers’ market) and teaching sessions, culminating in a visit to Zen Center to check in on a friend sewing an okesa, and to listen to Eli, the new shuso, giving his way-seeking mind talk – new cycles beginning.

A view from the Land’s End trail on Saturday.
The Bay Trail is still closed at Coyote Point, but I thought I would check.
Brighter skies on Tuesday morning.
Glorious clarity from Twin Peaks on Wednesday.

Cloud Cover

I keep looking at the forecast, and there are occasional promises of warmer weather ahead, but we are now even more firmly stuck in grey and cool conditions than when I last wrote about it – if we have had a sunny morning since then, I don’t remember it. This week I wheeled my little oil radiator out of its summer resting place, and set it back up on a timer to warm the kitchen for when I get up. The temperatures have not been so low, but the days of keeping windows open all night are behind us now, and being wrapped up in cosy clothes has more allure. One advantage to the weather, at least, was that the low fog on Sunday curtailed the aerobatic display by the Blue Angels, so the city was spared hours of overhead din.

My days have got more consistently spacious as well, so I am tackling more tasks that I have been procrastinating on. I was able to go out and buy a negative scanner, so I hope to start going through all my negatives from England soon.

A look at the calendar revealed that my upcoming class on the Tenzo Kyokun is coming round fast, so I am gathering material for that; since I have given this class a couple of times before, my main objective is to read the text again thoroughly to see what feels most relevant to talk about now, though the main themes will probably be the same. If you want to join me, I would love to study it with you. It is also still possible to join the ongoing Dogen study group on Mondays.

My fingers are crossed that the clouds break for this afternoon’s roam, and that it is not too chilly for the morning bike rides I am intending to do; my lungs finally seem back to normal – though they are still working hard as I feel somewhat out of shape after many weeks of less exercise than usual.

These pictures from Corona Heights around midday on Sunday typify how it has felt in the city this month.

The Practice Of Generosity

Just a couple of months ago, as part of my trip, I sat the morning schedule at Black Mountain Zen Centre. I have been there quite a few times over the years now, and have appreciated the solidity both of the building and of the sangha, steered by my good friend and dharma sister Djinn. It was a big shock, even at this distance, to learn that the building that housed the zendo (and no less importantly, the ante-room where all the tea and discussion took place) had burnt down the other night.

Over the years, we have had quite a few occasions when it seemed that we might lose Tassajara, and I was thinking particularly of the zendo fire in 1978, from which a new zendo was built – supposedly temporary, but still in use more than forty years on. Impermanence strikes; what follows is inevitably different, and still has the spirit of what was there before.

But to make that a reality, the Belfast sangha need funds, and they are fundraising for their future. If you feel moved to help, here is the GoFundMe page.

I took this picture after the morning sit just because, not realising it would soon be a particular memento.

Early October Moods

When I was sick over the hot Labor Day weekend, I consoled myself with the thought that there would be many more days like that coming before we moved into winter. There have been a few, but the warm weather has had a hard time sticking around; instead of a five-day weather system, which I think of as typical, we get two days, then the fog and mist cool everything down again. Together with waiting longer for the mornings to get light, and being surprised by the sudden onset of evening now we are past the equinox, it has been a little more autumnally melancholic than I was anticipating. 

I also had a little stretch where I felt pretty busy, and was casting an eye over my calendar to see where the space was. Of course space did show up – a three hour block became a time of taking care of enough loose ends that I felt on top of things, and I decided one evening that the best thing to do was sit in a hot bath reading the New Yorker, which has long been a kid of rest cure for me. 

There have been many and diverse joys: exploring new-to-me parts of the city with someone very experienced in that realm, on a day where we came across people dressed scantily for the Folsom Street Fair or brightly for an electronic music festival; leading a couple of sunny roams, one centered on the Panhandle and the park, the other in the Presidio; seeing two coyotes in the space of about twenty minutes on a ride, one crossing Great Highway and loping along the dunes, the other in the quiet side streets of Daly City; officiating a couple of weddings, one a rather grand affair, the other as small and simple as possible. 

On Friday, after tea and chat with a Zen Center friend, and feeling like I wanted to continue feeling calm and quiet, I decided to honour my commitment to attending afternoon zazen rather than going downtown to participate in the anniversary edition of Critical Mass, though, when I read the accounts and saw the pictures, I was a little regretful at my choice. Bikes, and the bike community, are good medicine too.

First sun on Abraham Lincon High School on one of the sunny mornings.

Equinox

The unseasonal clouds and rain finally moved on. After spectacular skies on Sunday, which I wrote about more extensively on Patreon, there were banks of clouds for a couple of days, then a little sting of rain showers on Wednesday morning. I ended up doing most of my day in the opposite order to what I had anticipated, and by the time I went for a little ride in the afternoon, the skies were clear. Now it seems to be warming up as well, so perhaps we are moving towards our late summer, even as the sun rises later and sets earlier.

A friend of mine who has had Covid twice this year said that, after feeling depleted, she just woke up one day feeling normal. I know other people who have taken a long time to get back to full health, or are still slowly recovering after many symptoms, so I do feel lucky and glad that I am starting to find a more typical level of energy inside myself. And I am not taking it for granted, and continuing to make time for rest between activities. But after riding a little longer over the weekend than I had previously, I didn’t feel tired afterwards, and I tried some hills on Wednesday, which seems to have gone okay. 

Nevertheless, I still feel like I haven’t caught up with all the things I put to one side while I was sick, and then conserving energy, so I hope that some space over the weekend will help with that. 

Looking up from the Sutro Baths on Sunday afternoon.
Probably my favourite picture from the afternoon. The beach is never that empty.
Clouds as we sat on Monday.
Ferry skies on Tuesday.
Wednesday afternoon clear air.

Moving Slowly

This past week, pretty much every time I have had to make a decision about what to do, I have been deciding to do less. Having tested negative last Friday and Sunday, and with the main symptoms behind me, all I have had to deal with is a lingering tiredness. I have been sleeping longer than usual, and finding that exertion, even walking a couple of steep blocks up Nob Hill for a meditation on Monday morning, has much more of an effect than usual. I did some deliberately gentle bike rides over the weekend, and chose not to go as far as I had initially planned, but at least didn’t feel exhausted afterwards. And during the week, when I might have popped out for an hour of riding, I chose not to – until Friday lunchtime, when the cloudy skies finally gave way to some sunshine, and I stretched my legs for an hour. I even tried a couple of climbs at low speed, and didn’t feel bad afterwards, so there are encouraging signs.

There were plenty of commitments on my calendar, but thankfully most of them did not involve much exertion. The flat commute to the ferry and to the studio were doable, though I found heavy lifting a bit challenging. Walking down to Zen Center to give the talk was easy enough, though I suddenly felt very warm once I had my okesa on and was waiting to go in.

Overall I think the talk went well; there was a small crowd in the Buddha Hall, and I heard about thirty more online, which made the event seem a little lower stakes than talks have sometimes felt for me in the past.

Having postponed the roam to Ocean Beach last weekend after testing positive on Thursday, I see that we were getting rain moving through on Sunday, from a typhoon crossing the Pacific – after last weekend’s tail end of a hurricane, which brought clouds, wind and cooler weather than we expect at this time of year. Perhaps we will have a repeat of our damp excursion along the same route last December. I will appreciate the fresh air and gentle movement though, I am sure. 

Mixed skies from the ferry on Thursday morning.
Clear of the fog along the bay on Friday.