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.

Finally

After a few full and somewhat exhausting days, I woke up on Wednesday morning with a sore throat. Times being as they are, I took an at-home test, from the stockpile I have accumulated. It came back negative. I went out for a somewhat gentle bike ride and didn’t feel too bad. I dug out the thermometer that got daily use in 2020 and ascertained that my body temperature was normal. Since I was also scheduled to officiate a big wedding at the weekend, I also went and took a PCR test at the same place I had gone last time I felt a bit off. It also came back negative. 

During the morning I talked with someone going to Tassajara for the first time, about how you can’t really plan for what the experience is going to be like (I loaned a couple of hot water bottles; even though it will probably be pushing a hundred degrees at the beginning of the practice period, they will come in handy come November). Nor could one plan for what to do afterwards, as so much might change over the course of the three months. 

I used that theme in my midday class, and then, on my way back from the farmers’ market, sirens abounded, and I crossed a thick band of smoke blowing east from a building fire just a few blocks from where I live – something else that nobody would have planned for or expected.

In the evening I went to Kim’s talk, in the Buddha Hall, fully masked as everyone except Kim was, enjoying the ruckus of crows beforehand, her delivery of a challenging topic (how practice helps us deal with time), and the new moon setting over the street as I walked home.

The next morning, I still felt a bit off, more of a headache than a sore throat, still no temperature, another negative test. I went to work in the East Bay and didn’t do anything too strenuous. On the way back home I picked up my city bike from another expensive episode: I had left it locked downtown for a few hours on Sunday while I had been out, and when I returned, someone had stolen the handlebars and stem, so I had to pick the remains of it up – luckily including the new fork and front wheel I had just paid for – and take it home on the streetcar. 

On Friday morning, after another pretty heavy sleep, feeling that perhaps I was just suffering from an old-fashioned cold, I took a third at-home test, and it came back positive. There was a flurry of messages and emails: friends, people I had been in contact with during the week, the wedding party, people I was supposed to sit with on Monday. The bride was understandably cautious, with pregnant friends due to attend the ceremony, so I had to leave them with my script and a last-minute search for a replacement, which they seem to have found. I canceled my rental car, and settled back to rest.

I certainly had a bunch of other nice plans for the weekend, mostly involving clocking up more miles on the bike after many weeks of lessened activity, but that will be on hold for a few days at least. There is plenty of lemonade to be made though – I had been craving time to plan a few more roams, and I spent several hours poring over old maps and history articles (I am getting urges to explore some more of the city’s watersheds, which are generally hidden in plain sight in the lowest lying parts). I have other non-strenuous projects that I have put aside from being so generally busy, and I don’t feel bad about putting off cleaning my place, which I had intended to do on Wednesday before I decided to conserve energy. So far the worst hardship has been running out of my favoured coffee beans, and having to break into my back-up stash of mediocre Trader Joe’s coffee.

For quite some time I have felt like a lone holdout as almost everyone I knew caught a dose of COVID this year, but apart from generally being cautious, I think that has purely been fortuitous. I may have had a mild dose in March 2020, at the same time that my then-partner began experiencing a life-changing bout of long COVID. While I am naturally concerned that there is still much about the disease we don’t know, and that I may suffer more long-term damage, thus far, it is just sickness, and I will practise with being sick.

A Few Degrees

There’s a very fine line – in temperature terms at least – between the relatively fine weather we had in San Francisco when I returned from England, and the last ten days or so. It’s the difference between having windows wide open day and night, and just leaving them cracked when the sun is not out, with the concomitant urge to bundle up in warm things. There is the fog looming in the west, of course, spilling over the hills and along the bay, and the wind that sometimes whips up quite alarmingly.

Last Friday I officiated a very small wedding at Baker Beach. We found an excellent spot, and the view of the bridge changed moment by moment with the vagaries of the fog layer. This Friday I scheduled an extra roam, along the bay shore from the ball park to Warm Water Cove and back through the Dogpatch and Mission Bay, which was just about warm but certainly bright. This afternoon’s will be on the foggy side of town, so I imagine it will feel different, and we won’t benefit from grand views at Grand View Park.

I have been keeping busy these past three weeks, not wanting so much to be alone after such a social time away, but then as a dyed-in-the-wool introvert I also get social exhaustion, and crave a quite few hours catching up on the latest New Yorkers. 

It has been an expensive time in the bicycle world as well: several hundred dollars to replace the wheel and fork from my crash, and then my road bike needed its bottom bracket replaced as well, so I was without that for a few days, and have generally not been catching up on my fitness as quickly as I would like.

Today is the last of the Suzuki Roshi classes, which I have enjoyed greatly. A little pause, and then I will focus on fleshing out the dharma talk I am due to give on the 14th, and then I will turn my attention to the Tenzo Kyokun.

The skies on Thursday morning. I find the variety fascinating enough to have offered several series on my Patreon page.
The view of the old shipbuilding area at Crane Cove.

Last Legs

The trip continued with a sense of familiar places and scenes that nevertheless feel fresh because I haven’t been to them for several years. I left my mother’s on the Friday, and took the train to Manchester, passing through the beautiful Shropshire hills. In an unexpected twist, the sun came out as we arrived in Manchester. I had plenty of time to walk between the two stations, and stopped for a nice cafe lunch, though my favourite coffee place at Victoria station was not quite up to its previous standards. 

After arriving at Rebecca’s, I took myself off on a walk up the steep hillside, for the fresh air and views, and then got ready for the evening presentation of Suzuki Roshi’s Beginner’s Mind talk, which was well attended. Most of the same dozen people sat for the day on Saturday, and I interspersed words and quotes on zazen through the day. It was mostly damp out, a good day to sit, and, in our usual way, go up for a pie and a pint afterwards. The pub has changed hands, and was also perhaps not up to its previous best, as well as being rather quiet for a Saturday night. After the sitting was over, it suddenly felt like I was coming to the end of the trip, as that had been the last big landmark, even though there were still a few more days to go.

In the morning I had time for a walk, and had the intention to climb Stoodley Pike, which I had seen from afar many times, but never gone up to. It was still damp, but very warm, and while I enjoyed following the trails, I ended up in the cloud line – completely deserted the whole way except for sheep and one mountain biker near the ridge – and there were no views except when the clouds parted to reveal the valley below.

By the time I got back, my shoes were soaked through from the wet grass on the footpaths, but I had time to shower and eat before setting off for the next leg, the walk to the station along the canal, the train to Leeds, the bus to the airport (the first one due was concelled, so there was a lengthy wait) and the flight to Belfast (where we sat on the tarmac for a while before taking off as there were issues with the passenger manifest).

Djinn and Richard met me at George Best airport, and drove me straight round to Garret and Esther’s for the planned dinner, arriving in the last minute of extra time of the Women’s Euro finals, which I would have loved to have sat down and watched all the way through. We had a lovely evening around the table, and I felt most welcomed back to a city I had not visited until a few years ago.

Monday was quite a lazy day, with lots of catching up and chatting, and a rainy evening, but Tuesday was full. We started by doing the morning schedule at Black Mountain, where I was doan so that some of the newer people could hear how it was supposed to be done (I think I managed not to make any mistakes). Later, Garret had managed to persuade his neighbour to loan me his expensive carbon bike, plus helmet and bike shoes, so that we could ride out of town together. This was my first ride in a month, and although my wrist has been healing day by day, I was worried about that as well as my legs. 

We clocked up forty miles or so, over rolling terrain to Killyleagh with the castle, where we had a cafe stop before returning alongside Stranford Lough. It was a lovely warm day, the wind was less of a problem than feared, and the views were lovely. I was definitely grinding out the last few miles, but I know it would make my next few rides after I got back to San Francisco much easier.

Thankfully I wasn’t stiff the next day beyond my wrist feeling sore. I had a smooth experience flying from George Best to London City airport, and also crossing town on the Elizabeth Line. I spent the afternoon walking through the parks on a day that was warm, but not quite as intense as when I last did it. A final dinner with my host, offering advice about anxiety, and the next morning I was off to Heathrow.

I usually feel pretty relaxed about the flight back to San Francisco, and this was similar; as the day extended westward, I mainly watched shows onscreen, peering out of the window to see where we were, though clouds inhibited most of the spectacular views of Greenland and the frozen north. I was kindly picked up from the airport by a friend on a sunny afternoon, and pottered about for a few hours before sleeping, and waking up as early as I expected.

There was not much on my calendar for the first few days, very deliberately, except for the first class of the second Suzuki Roshi series. I had timed the end of the trip around that, and figured that since it was a morning slot, jet lag wouldn’t be a problem, though I did feel pretty groggy. I hope people enjoyed it; the talk we chose was pretty dense, and we didn’t have time to unpack it all. Apart from shopping for food and picking up my bike, the only other things I managed over the weekend were gentle spins around town on my bike, and catching up with the first weekend of the new football season.

This week I will be back to work, with a new outdoor meditation, as well as the regular sitting, a trip to my student’s company in South San Francisco, and the Dogen study group. And that’s just today…

Stoodley Pike from the other side of the valley when I walked on Friday.
The view down into the valley from near the top, on Sunday morning.
The Black Mountain Zendo in Belfast.
A view of Stranford Lough from the bike ride that day.
Sunrise in Belfast on Wednesday morning.

Not Going Quite As Planned

It happened because I was feeling rushed. I had been working in the studio by myself, and wanted to wrap up all the loose ends and leave everything tidy. There were a couple of last emails to send out, and I was about five minutes late leaving for the ferry. Since it is a twenty-minute ride, I would have to make a bit of an effort to get there on time. For a moment I thought about setting off in the other direction to catch BART, which would have got me home quicker, with more turn-around time before my student group, but it was a nice afternoon and I relished the challenge.

The studio is a few blocks from the Park St bridge to Alameda, which has a one-way system on the Oakland side that is definitely not bike friendly. Not so long ago I had made it across that and was heading for the sidewalk of the bridge (because the latticed ironwork lanes of the bridge are too treacherous for narrow tyres, without even factoring in the speeding traffic) when I pinch-flatted both tyres on my bike hitting a big crack in the road, something that I have never done, nor heard of anyone else doing. This time, since I had missed the traffic light that gets me across to that side, I was rolling along the near sidewalk looking at the three lanes of oncoming traffic to see if there would be a gap that would allow me to cross over (which would save me waiting at the light on the far side of the bridge – that was the rushing part).

The next thing I knew I went straight over the handlebars and landed in a heap on the pavement. While watching the traffic I hadn’t noticed that I had strayed from the sidewalk to the edge of an open parking area between two businesses, and my front wheel had hit a concrete kerb block straight on.

A couple approaching in a car stopped and asked if I was alright, as it had looked like a bad fall to them. “I think so,” I said. I felt a bit dazed, but nothing hurt too much. My right wrist was sore, though I had no idea whether I had landed on it, and certainly did not remember putting it out to stop the fall, but I flexed all the fingers without real difficulty. I got up a little stiffly, and discovered that I couldn’t ride my bike, which I fully intended to do, though I had figured that I would definitely not make it to the ferry, so would have to go to BART after all: the front forks had been bent back so that the wheel was pushed against the frame. I deflated the tyre, which at least allowed me to steer the bike, but it didn’t feel safe to get on it. 

My bike shoes have been getting old and are not so good for walking in, so even though I was sore in a few spots, and could feel some grazing on my chin (someone passing by confirmed I was not bleeding there), what was getting to me most was feeling my heels starting to blister in my shoes. 

As I sat on the train I wrote to the group canceling the meeting, though I still felt like I ought to perhaps soldier on – it was a lack of turn-around time that I was most concerned about, but I also didn’t think I would be at my sharpest for conversation. From BART I had to wait for a bus to get me and the bike within a couple of blocks of my place. Mostly I was glad to get my shoes off – I put on a different pair and headed straight out again to get some strapping bandages and ibuprofen, since my medicine cabinet is skimpy at the best of times.

I happened to run into Abbot David on the street, and he sympathised, and asked about the rash on my left arm – oh, that’s the remnants of the poison oak from Humboldt (I had brushed against one stray stalk on the hike, and it had been irritating since).

After two nights of not sleeping well because of the fireworks, I had another two nights of not sleeping well from the throbbing wrist (and some straggler midnight fireworks as well). Generally I was feeling pretty slow, though luckily I could rest a lot to take care of myself – and try to follow the unfolding developments both in the Tour de France and the House of Commons (a fair amount of carnage in both places). With my city bike unrideable, and no grip strength in my right hand to try my other bike, I walked the various errands I had – and actually enjoyed getting to see some of the city at a slower speed, as well as being able to take streets I never choose to ride on.

So what I said about having time off the bike, turned out to have had an earlier start than anticipated. And I get to slowly live with the consequences of feeling rushed.

I was glad that it was my helmet and not my forehead that got scratched up like this.

The Long Weekend

Without any cultural attachment to July 4th as a holiday, I was mainly looking forward to four relatively quiet days after my consecutive weekends away and before my upcoming travels (a week from today I will be somewhere in New York state, my first time on the east coast since 2015, the week after that in London, for the first time since the pandemic). With the lack of riding caused by all these things, I had a plan to get out at least for a while each morning. 

The weather was very typical of San Francisco summer: on Friday morning I rode up to Twin Peaks, ahead of a roam I was doing in the afternoon, to check out a couple of spots, and found dense fog on the slopes. It was so damp my brakes were largely ineffective on the downhills, of which there were several, so I had to be extra cautious. Luckily it cleared up a little in the afternoon for the roam, but it was still windy and chilly on the peaks, and we did not linger. Saturday morning on San Bruno was equally damp; I had my winter layers on, but I can’t say I enjoyed the grey upper reaches much. 

For Sunday and Monday there were mostly just layers of cloud, and Monday was warm enough to be in short sleeves. I did a few more climbs, though was surprised that the reservoir trail was closed for the 4th (I knew they were doing mid-week maintenance, but thought they would open up for the holiday – luckily I have had to take the detour enough times to know what I was in for).

None of these rides especially wore me out, though they were good for helping my legs feel strong still, so that when I start up again after a month off the bike, I won’t have so far to go to recapture some form. I have also been using these maintenance rides to be mindful about how I am using my body, feeling which muscles are getting engaged, adjusting my spine or my hands, even which fingers I am gripping the bar with, to see if I can get more fully into alignment again – though since I went to Wilbur my back has felt back to normal from the strain I picked up at Tassajara

I had time to cross a number of things off my to-do lists – getting some posts lined up for here and for Patreon, writing the last three posts for the Awakening The Archive project, washing some of the clothes I am planning to take (there are different climates to navigate, but I have been mentally packing for a while), getting my place clean and tidy, partly because a friend may be staying there while I am away, but also because it is nice to come back to a clean place after a long travel.

This was the afternoon view from Twin Peaks – in the morning, I doubt the tree would have been visible.
The parking lot at San Bruno mountain, which was as deserted as the upper slopes.
It is definitely pelican season again – this was a line of them over the dunes on Great Highway on Sunday.
Overlooking SFO on the detour from the reservoir trail.

A Weekend of Roams

After the previous weekend’s later-than-usual rain, we had some long-overdue high temperatures this past weekend, and I was extremely glad that I had lined up three consecutive roams, which meant I was outside a lot.

The Friday roam was a last-minute addition; I had had a dentist appointment scheduled for six months, which was reconfirmed and then almost immediately rescheduled. With nothing much I needed to do, I thought it would be nice to enjoy some time in the rose garden in Golden Gate Park, which I had recently seen was full of blooms.

Earlier though, I had followed up on a plan to catch the first sun at Stow Lake – having ridden around it a little while ago but only been able to take pictures on my phone, this time I returned with my new camera, and the difference in quality was reassuring. It was already warm as I rode around almost entirely empty spaces in the park, saw another coyote, captured many roses in the soft light, and made my way home catching the low sun bursting through the trees.

There was a breeze for the roam that made it pretty pleasant, and although we didn’t see a heron as wished, we did get to enjoy some of the lakes and many of the roses. On Saturday, having ridden through the fingers of fog creeping in from the ocean on the way to Sweeney Ridge first thing, I took a group around the much-loved Glen Canyon – Billy Goat Hill loop on another lovely afternoon. On Sunday, the annual Zen-a-thon roam had a mostly foggy time of it, as happened last year, with some detours on Corona Heights because of coyote pupping; the sun came out as we descended from the top of Buena Vista.

All of that just about tired me out, and then I have a busy week ahead – some extra teaching sessions, a wedding on Thursday, and then a weekend at Wilbur (not that being there can be called busy, but the organising will be), as well as another weekend retreat next weekend.

My Mondays have filled out as well, with the lunch-time sitting followed now by a trip to South San Francisco, where I sit at my student’s biotech company on alternate weeks, and make it home just in time for the Dogen Study group. Plenty of teaching, like plenty of sun, keeps me happy.

My favourite shot of the whole morning. The phone would not have been able to cope with the contrasts.
Roamers sitting at Metson Lake, where I also did my Earth Day Within class.
Sunrise over Lake Merced on Saturday morning – I call it Monet from a moving bike.
What the fog – which was still creeping inland – looked like from Sweeney Ridge.
Roamers at Billy Goat Hill.
A foggy climb up Guadeloupe Canyon Road on Sunday morning.
We couldn’t see Twin Peaks or the Sutro Tower on the Sunday roam, but Mount Olympus was just visible.

Maintenance

The long Memorial Day weekend was quite the mixed bag in terms of weather. I had a notion to try to get out on my bike every morning from Friday onwards, but Friday was so grey I did not feel inspired to go, and spent the day reading and studying instead. On Saturday it was still grey, with a typically damp fog along the west side of city and at Ocean Beach. We had one of those half-and-half afternoons which felt promising enough that I went downtown with my camera, and walked home, catching the angle of the sun on things, as I used to do on my Saturday afternoon camera walks when I lived at Zen Center.

I was quite surprised that Sunday dawned totally clear, and I enjoyed my ride up San Bruno mountain, before I dragged more than a dozen roamers up the south side of Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks on a pleasant afternoon. Monday was also clear, and I had a sunnier time down along Great Highway before climbing over and round to the bay side.

After my pre-Tassajara stretch goal of getting up Mount Diablo, I looked at my calendar for the summer, and realised that between some consecutive weekends away, and the planned trip to the East Coast and the UK, I wouldn’t have a solid block of time to get my fitness back to that level again – it being one of the sadly inevitable facts of aging that it takes quite a while to regain form once you take a couple of weeks off. I made a little pivot more to maintenance rides, and have, dispritingly grey days notwithstanding, kind of gone back to the riding I was doing at the beginning of the pandemic: one serious ride a week, one that just felt like a good stretch of the legs (going up Twin Peaks, for example) and one which was more of an outing, where I felt fine dawdling and taking photographs. 

A couple of weeks off the bikes certainly helped renew my enthusiasm for some regular routes, and there is something about the freshness of a summer morning before the sun is up, with perhaps the exhilaration of seeing a coyote close byin Golden Gate Park, having a pair of herons flying overhead, or hearing the parrots in the palm trees on Dolores St as added bonuses.

Perhaps the main drawback of the rides that I did this past weekend is that, while I could feel the tiredness in my legs, even with the roam, I did not wear myself out in the way that I have done for decades – one of the reasons endurance sports appealed to me back in high school, to burn off the stagnant energy that saps my mood. 

I had an early morning leg-stretcher on Wednesday that took in Stow Lake.
A damp Saturday morning along the Great Highway.
Clarity on Sunday morning from the top of San Bruno Mountain.
Surfers are also early birds – Monday morning
Looking across the former Buri-Buri ranch to the south side of San Bruno mountain on Monday.

May Days

We do finally seem to have lumbered on to the left shoulder of summer, and none too soon, though the all-prevading nature of wind means it has not been as warm in the city as it might be – I had more of a taste of summer heat when I took the train down the peninsula on Saturday afternoon for a back garden birthday party.

After my sign-off tempting fate last Tuesday, I was a little worried to wake up with a slightly sore throat the next day. I had not slept especially well for the previous two nights, and had talked perhaps more than usual, not least at my student group. I welcomed three to my place for that, and a fourth was joining on Zoom from Singapore, which was amazing, as he sounded as clear as he ever does from Oakland.

A friend, who had had a bad case of COVID over the last couple of weeks, was planning to go and get a PCR test locally that day, so I went along. Thankfully I didn’t feel any worse as the day wore on, and the test came back negative, so I was able to volunteer as planned at Bike To Wherever Day with the Bicycle Coalition, and enjoy a few hours engaging with riders and fellow volunteers. As I wrote on Patreon recently, with Zen Center still closed for public events, I have more of a community with people on bikes these days – not least a couple of new riding regulars on the ferry.

It feels like it has taken a full two weeks to catch up from the two weeks away at Tassajara, and I made sure I kept a chunk of the weekend free, not least because it was the last day of the Premier League season, which I tried to watch as much as possible without spoilers. 

On Monday I had time and space to catch up with writing and preparing for a couple of teaching events this week, as well as going to sit as usual, where it really did feel warm, before diving into the continual nourishment of the Dogen study group. Maybe by Friday I will feel that I have caught up.

I saw this remarkable cloud as I was heading to the birthday party on Saturday.