Roaming Zen

The next roaming date is February 4th, and it is already time to pay our annual visit to the magnolias in the botanical garden. We will meet at 1:30 in front of the County Fair building, which is adjacent to the main entrance to the garden, and close the 9th Ave gate. We will meander around the botanical garden, and then roam around other parts of the park. I expect we will head up Strawberry Hill, but otherwise it will be mostly flat, with plenty of off-roading.

Bring layers, water and snacks – and proof of residency in SF for free admission to the garden.

There will be more roams scheduled as soon as the forecast looks good for particular weekends. Dates I am hoping to roam include Friday February 17th, March 4th and March 19th. I still have a number of watershed-based routes up my sleeve, as well as new ideas and old favourites.

Sitting at the summit of Mount Sutro on the 17th.
China Beach on the 24th.
Marshall’s Beach on the 1st.

I have mapped out a few other watershed-related roams for sometime over the winter, and I have up my sleeve some of the other whimsical ideas that strike me from time to time, as well as other well-loved routes to try again.

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.

Sitting at Billy Goat Hill.

IMG_6671Views to the Farallons from this little-known park.

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Quartermaster Reach at the end of the Tennessee Hollow watershed.

A spectacular afternoon on and above Ocean Beach.


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 forests, hills and canyons, creeks and beaches, staircases and alleys, lakes and hidden parks; we have listened to birds and waves, watched butterflies, bees and coyotes, 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 2019. Photo courtesy of Laura Della Guardia.

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