Roaming Zen


The circumambulation of Mount Sutro was much warmer on the day then when I scouted the trails before! Perhaps our late summer will continue until the next outing, on the 16th (I usually try to alternate Saturdays and Sundays, but that weekend I will be volunteering at Sunday Streets).

This next roam will be a route I offered once before, and falls into the category of ‘neighbourhoods you might never have visited’. We will start at the Geneva Ave gardens, on Geneva just east of the intersection with San Jose, at 1:30 on the 16th. Once we get through the BART/280 agglomeration at Balboa Park, we will be into the historic neighbourhoods of Merced Heights, Lake View and Ingleside, though I am not an expert at telling them apart. There are still unpaved roads and open patches to explore, as well as a couple of sweet parks. We will turn north to the site of the Ingleside racetrack, and then work our way back round via the soon-to-be-developed reservoir, City College and Balboa Park, which have their own histories. Oh, and we will check out the sundial, and where it fits into all of this.

We will walk mostly in silence, stop to meditate a few times, and be mindful of social distancing, vaccinated or not. Please bring water and snacks, and do your best to be on time.


Some of the roads look better than they did a hundred years ago.


This is just around the corner from the old shot. Work is being done!

Other dates I am planning to roam (at least until it starts raining in earnest):  10/31 – up Mt Davidson and down Glen Canyon; 11/13 – Black Point and Russian Hill; 11/28 – around the Tennessee Creek watershed in the Presidio. I also intend to return to Bernal Heights

These roams are offered by donation; they are one way I try to be able to afford to continue living in San Francisco! Thank you for your generosity in supporting Roaming Zen.

‘Shundo David Haye has probably walked through more parts of San Francisco than you have.’ I’ll take that endorsement – it came from this nice article in  the SF Chronicle at the beginning of the pandemic.

Camille, who I have known through Zen Center for more than twenty years, had a lovely piece on Roaming Zen published in the Bold Italic.

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The lost art of writing copy 2Corona Heights – the first picture I used to promote Roaming Zen.

IMG_5608Pine Lake – a wonderfully serene spot.

IMG_6083Looking over to the Sutro Tower from Grand View.

IMG_6282A trail up the side of Mount Sutro.

DSCF2143.jpgLooking across to Angel Island from Crissy Field.

Land's End
Along the Golden Gate from the Land’s End trail.

DSCF1706.jpgLand’s End, having completed the Crosstown Trail at the end of 2019.

If you need some prompts as to the benefits of roaming, here are a trio of articles from the Guardian: 
Two-hour ‘dose’ of nature significantly boosts health – study
Woodland sounds help relaxation more than meditation apps – study
Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness

All of which is achievable without leaving the city limits!

And this from the New Yorker:

A small but growing collection of studies suggests that spending time in green spaces—gardens, parks, forests—can rejuvenate the mental resources that man-made environments deplete. Psychologists have learned that attention is a limited resource that continually drains throughout the day. A crowded intersection—rife with pedestrians, cars, and billboards—bats our attention around. In contrast, walking past a pond in a park allows our mind to drift casually from one sensory experience to another, from wrinkling water to rustling reeds.

Or, to put a name to it, Attention Restoration Theory.

DSCF3735Stow Lake in the sun.

The genesis for Roaming Zen was perhaps my shuso practice period at Tassajara, where I noticed that I derived as much energy from being on the trails or up the road, among the trees and by the creek, as I did from the hours in the zendo. It was also crystalised by a visit to Tassajara with a group from Young Urban Zen a year or two later: after the days of work, a group of us set off for a hike along the Horse Pasture trail, and at one stage, hearing all the talk of people’s pre-occupations and mundane affairs, someone in the group asked if we could all hike in silence for a while and properly take in the surroundings. Afterwards, the agreed verdict was that the silence had transformed the hike.
And so, having tried versions of it at City Center, Green Gulch and Tassajara, one of my favourite things to do these days is to gather a small group of people, sit with them, maybe introduce a little quote or theme, and lead them around a chosen route, cultivating mindful presence through walking and sitting quietly in the midst of city life.
There are so many little corners of San Francisco that lend themselves to the activity, surrounded by beauty, views, and sometimes quiet. We have visited hills and canyons, creeks and beaches, staircases and alleys, lakes and hidden parks; we have listened to birds and waves, watched butterflies and bees, smelled flowers and ocean spray. We have looked over all sides of San Francisco and to the mountains beyond.

I like to give credit to OpenStreetMap, for featuring much more detail in paths and trails than I ever get from Apple Maps or Google Maps – I would not have found some of these routes without it, and FoundSF/OpenSF History for filling me in on what used to be in the places we visit.

27 Tassajara.jpgLeading the way along the Horse Pasture Trail near Tassajara, summer 2019. Photo courtesy of April Nemeth.

IMG_20191026_130458.jpgLeading the way up the Smelter Trail at Wilbur in October. Photo courtesy of Laura Della Guardia.

image2 copy.JPGCloser to home, leading a group around the Presidio.