You Do Not Call Winter The Beginning Of Spring

The rains finally let up, and clear skies moved in – with a north wind, so it was extremely clear, but cold around the edges. It warmed up nicely for a couple of days, and is now cooling off again. But, January or not, blossoms and buds have started to show. The buckeye in my yard is budding out all over; on Sunday’s roam we saw cherry blossoms, magnolias and poppies on the sunny side of Potrero Hill. 

In my student group check-in this week, several people spoke about how their internal weather had improved along with the external changes. There have been times for sure when I have felt relaxed and joyful just feeling warmed by the sun. The slow dawns and sunsets, with the new year’s new moon hanging low, have held promise of fine days.

I have tried to get some bike riding in on as many days as possible; since the usual strong afternoon winds are absent, it has been fun riding back to the ferry on the way home. In gaps between commitments, I go out for an hour around the city. But it is many months since I rode the kind of distances that I used to think of as my standard. Part of that has been circumstantial, and part of it is probably just age catching up with me.

Last weekend I had intended to do a longer ride on Saturday, since I had the roam on Sunday, but this plan was scuppered by my neighbours having a backyard party with a DJ and sound system on Friday night, that interrupted my sleep past midnight. I did ride, but was not feeling energetic enough to go too far or too hard. 

In the afternoon I had two commitments: a jukai at Zen Center, which one of the ordinands had hoped I would attend, and an event in the park where I had volunteered to take photographs for the Bicycle Coalition. Both were lovely, though I would have stayed and mingled at the first longer if I hadn’t had to get to the second.

(In case you aren’t familiar with the title of the post, it comes from the Genjo Koan, but Dogen obviously never spent the early months of the year in San Francisco).

Perhaps my favourite shot from the jukai, just for the subtle light.
Preceptors and ordinees.
The City Center maple, still bare.
Folks gathering at the Light Up The Night event.
After being twice postponed due to rain, the chosen day offered an amazing sunset.
January blossoms.
Buckeye buds enjoying the sun.

Saturation

At a certain point, I lost track of just how many rain storms have passed through San Francisco in recent weeks. Certainly I was tracking the forecast much more regularly than usual, to see when the rain would come next, and still finding that it was not completely accurate. I was lucky ahead of the rain on a couple of my commutes; I could see the clouds coming, and having arrived could hear the rain lashing outside – even hail and thunder at one stage, which is very unusual for this area. Other times I gave upon the idea of riding or going out for more than food shopping when it rained all day.

Thankfully, the rain does seem to have moved on, and we can start clearing up the damage and hope that the floods begin to subside. Once again. San Francisco is not the epicentre of all of this, but we see it happening all around us. A friend who had to head into Tassajara – slightly delayed from having caught Covid – was being asked to walk four miles of the road due to various landslides. They have not reappeared in the city, so I assume they made it in safely. I felt safe to schedule a hike, somewhat less gruelling than that, for Sunday, hoping for clear skies still.

This rain moved into the Golden Gate as I was leaving the city on the ferry.
Fifteen minutes later, it looked like this.
Between storms, beautiful sunsets.

Stormy Weather

I remember a couple of the winters I lived at Tassajara where we had back-to-back storms bringing many inches of rain. This past week has been the equal of those in the Bay Area, and once again we have local forecasts suggesting it will rain for the next ten days.

On New Year’s Eve, thankfully I didn’t have to be anywhere all day; we had five inches of rain, more than had been predicted, with plenty of damage around the area. I was motivated to undertake a complete clean of my place, in the way that we do at Zen Center, to start the year with everything fresh and clean; I ended up even rearranging the furniture to match the way I had envisioned before I moved in, but which I had thought might be impractical. So far it seems to work.

And the next day was clear and sunny! I rode out to catch the first sunrise of the year on the Embarcadero once again, and set off around the city with no particular ambition, though once I had seen some of the aftermath of the storm, I did go to check that the trail to Marshall’s Beach was open, which it was. We had a lovely roam that same afternoon, marred only by ridiculously heavy traffic heading towards the bridge on every available street, which made it hard for some people to get to the meeting point.

Slowly I have been landing back in my regular routine, although I did have a few commitments in the week between Christmas and New Year as rain moved through and the wind blew hard. As always I try to plan for time outside, but right now it seems like I will just be able to snatch some short rides between showers on the days I am free. And I welcome the earlier morning light: I remember being surprised to learn a few years ago that sunrise and sunset did not shorten and lengthen symmetrically, and it is their combined rate of change that gives us the shortest day on the 21st. The latest sunrises are right now, while the afternoons get incrementally longer. Certainly it was a little lighter when I went down to Zen Center for a peaceful sit on Friday afternoon.

Looming rain on the morning of the 27th.
Twin Peaks, morning of the 28th.
I did not really get outside on the 31st.
Arriving at the Embarcadero on the morning of the 1st.
More signs of the previous day’s storm.
Heading down to Marshall’s Beach on the afternoon of the 1st.
Sunset on the 3rd.
Morning rain on the 5th.
Sunset on the 5th.
Under the bridge about fifteen minutes later.
Oyster Point, morning of the 6th.

Solstice

I’m not sure what happened to all that forecast rain, but what we got instead was a spell of cold weather. Knowing that much of the US was feeling it more, and that the UK just got a big hit of snow, I always feel I have to add that ‘cold’ is by Bay Area standards: I was out on my bike in places with frost on the ground, having dug out my neoprene glove and booties, as well as a warm skull cap; at home, though I like to open windows in the middle of the day to air the place out, the heating was on morning, afternoon and evening.

The clear skies did mean I could schedule some roams – I did back-to-back ones, visiting Telegraph Hill, North Beach and Russian Hill on Friday, Tank Hill and Mount Sutro on Saturday. I was very glad to be out in the sunny weather, and to be a little more active; my legs felt a little heavy after both days. 

The World Cup came to an amazing climax, which I got to watch with friends on Sunday morning. The next day felt quite empty, not least because it was a grey day which did not warm up at all. With Zachary away, we decided to sit indoors at a space open to the public, and that was definitely a good idea.

The run-up to Christmas and the New Year seems to have been going on for a while, and I have been making plans for things I want to get done in the various free days I have over the holiday period. As usual, it mostly involves getting outside, hiking, or riding on the days when other people won’t be out and about, but also taking care of some things I have been rather neglecting this month, between the football and my urge to be lazy and to rest as much as I can – which I think is a natural response to this darkest time of the year.

Sunrise at Bayshore, with a little tule fog in the valley, where it was several degrees colder.
The always lovely view from Ina Coolbrith park on Friday’s roam.
Sitting at the summit of Mount Sutro on Saturday afternoon.

Changeable Weekend

At one stage on Saturday, the forecast for the week ahead looked like this:

This was a little alarming. It was chucking it down at the time, but I had spent the morning happily indoors and watching the World Cup (yes, England got knocked out, but they played well and almost beat the best team at the tournament, so no complaints from me).

Thankfully, the rain blew over by the time I had put on my robes and walked down to Zen Center for my second shuso ceremony of the week. Eli was taking no prisoners with his early answers, and I had already thought to ask him to show some tenderness to the block he hit with the staff at the end of each exchange. The block split in two a few questions ahead of my turn, so I asked instead if he could make it one again…

It was nice to get to stay for dinner, and to catch up both with current residents, and a former one sitting their first sesshin in more than ten years.

I was asked to get a picture of everyone after the ceremony, which usually doesn’t happen in the city.
Eli with assorted venerables, and, more importantly, his family.

On Sunday morning, there was a break in the rain long enough for me to get a brief ride in (I think back to last fall and winter, where I was just building up the hours of riding week after week, whereas this year I have only had a couple of what I would think of as long rides since about June), and then it actually stayed dry until mid-afternoon. You would not have guessed that from the skies around Ocean Beach when I went out:

It seemed that the rain passed mainly to the south of the city on this occasion.
Sunshine on Mount Tam from Great Highway.

The forecast had caused one of my students and his partner to postpone their intended wedding ceremony from Sunday until Monday morning. They had already been abroad and had ceremonies with friends, but they needed to be legal in California, so this was a small affair. I was glad to have enough space on Monday morning to be able to go up with them and one friend/photographer/witness for an intimate sit and ceremony among the redwoods in Joaquin Miller park.

I had hoped to find an auspicious spot where I had performed a wedding a few years ago (which I don’t seem to have written about here); we didn’t find that one, but there was another little grove that was perfect for the occasion. It was a little challenging changing in and out of robes in the damp conditions – the rain was still dripping off the trees and evaporating where the morning sun was hitting it and the ground was soaked- but the occasion was lovely. It has been an honour to officiate at two of my students’ weddings now, and we were joking that I should chivvy along the other two regulars from the group.

I made it back over to the city in time for the lunchtime sit, which was quite chilly despite the sun. The forecast now says there will be no rain this week, so I have scheduled a couple of roams, on Friday and Saturday afternoon – reserving Sunday for the World Cup Final. And while the rain is always welcome and necessary, I am starting to hope there will be some dry weather over the last couple of weeks of the year so I can get more rides and roams in over the holidays.

Wet Weekend

We’ve had a reassuringly decent amount of rain in the last week. It was particularly heavy on my morning commute on Thursday, so I had a chance to try out my new top of the line rain pants, which did really well. Everything was saturated by the time I arrived, but I felt pretty dry on the inside.

The forecast for the weekend was also for pretty much non-stop rain. My days of going out for a four-hour ride in the rain on a Sunday morning when I lived at Zen Center, because that was the only chance I had to ride, are over now. I was happy with the idea of taking a weekend off my bike. It freed up many hours to do other things, if nothing else. 

The World Cup was entering the knock-out phase, so I had no problem curling up in front of those games and texting friends and family as they unfolded – the wins for England and France on Sunday were especially enjoyable, not to mention Brazil on Monday. I got a lot more scanning of old negatives done, and found some striking images that I had neglected at the time, as well as getting to revisit ones that I cherished and still remember. I will eventually try to post some collections online, but in the meantime, I will probably share a few on Patreon. I also spent a fair amount of time cooking: another large batch of granola, a couple of favourite soups that I used to enjoy at Zen Center, and a first time trying home-made baked beans from scratch!

Saturday was a very dreary day, and I did not set foot outside. On Sunday, it turned out that it didn’t rain. I had a nice, and unusual for me, experience of walking up to the nearby farmers market at the DMV around 9 o’clock, before many people have really got going. I remember similar days in London and I went around Soho before 10 o’clock in the morning, when it was very quiet. I even got to buy bagels at a new, well-regarded bagel place which unexpectedly did not have a line outside. They were good!

On Monday I felt privileged to have received an invitation to Royce’s shuso ceremony at Green Gulch, and grateful to have a ride over with Catherine from Zen Center. It was a sunnier day than expected, and I had time to do a little walk around with my camera before we sat down. I had not been there since the first week of March 2020, when I rode over – not feeling 100% fit or well – to meet with Fu.

The ceremony was as sweet as they usually are. There was a warmth and gentle-heartedness that came out in his responses, especially as he eased into being on the seat, and I found myself nodding along with many of his formulations. And of course it was lovely to see old friends from former times – including Royce of course, and his teacher Gaelyn – and the assembled venerables of Green Gulch. I look forward to a similarly joyful afternoon on Saturday in the city.

A brief afternoon ride on Wednesday before the rain came along.
The sodden deck of the ferry, and my bike, on Thursday morning.
Royce, with Gaelyn, Reb and Linda Ruth.
Also outside.
Royce and Gaelyn in front of the bonsho tower.
Leaving Green Gulch.

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.