Roaming Zen

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The places we will go on our next roam are not hard-earned treasures, but the simple, restful pleasure of sitting under a tree and looking out over the city, of taking moments to walk silently up quieter back streets and hidden staircases.

Originally I was scheduled to be out of town this coming weekend, so this roam feels like a bonus. I was looking at my list of former routes, and the idea of a loop between Bernal Heights and Billy Goat Hill seemed most appealing this time around.

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At time of writing the weather is still fine, and there is no rain in the forecast yet. Even if it might end up a few degrees cooler, we will meet up in front of Mitchell’s Ice Cream, at 688 San Jose Avenue, at 2pm on Sunday 24th November. There will be some staircases, some off-road travel, and obviously some ups and downs. Please dress for the conditions, and bring water and snacks.

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I am still intending to schedule a date to do the crosstown trail, which was just written up in the New York Times.

And 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!

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.


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DSCF9002This may be the most peaceful spot in the old part of the city.

DSCF8353.jpgThe Florida Alley trail, part of the midsummer roam.

IMG_0248.jpgLooking over to the Sutro Tower and Twin Peaks from the top of Mount Davidson this spring. 

IMG_0652A trail up the side of Mount Davidson.

IMG_1625.jpgA trail in the Presidio.

The lost art of writingCorona Heights.

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


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 perhaps crystallised 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 main teachings since leaving Zen Center has been to gather a small group of people, sit with them, 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; 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 doubt many people reading this need much persuasion about the benefits of hiking, but this article lists some of them.

I like to give some 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.

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

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