The Weather Changes, The Clocks Change

It was ninety degrees the day I left San Francisco at the end of September, and ninety degrees the day I after I returned a couple of  weeks ago. My body had already navigated from the pleasant weather of Portugal to the storm-force winds of my last weekend in England, and then across eight time zones, but I could not have asked for better conditions to come back to.

As part of cranking myself back to fitness, the day after I got back I took myself off for a gentle ride down to Ocean Beach, just to remind my legs about pedalling, and to enjoy sweltering; on the Friday morning I took a spin around the Headlands, and found the bridge sitting on a bed of iridescent fog in the low-angled sun. Photographers were having a field day, and I enjoyed the contrasts between the warm slopes and the fresh valley bottoms, where the mist lingered before the sun rose high enough to burn it off.

And since typical weather systems in San Francisco tend to last five days, it was not a surprise when temperatures dropped at the end of that week, something else for my body to adapt to. On the Saturday I ran up to Mount Sutro, and found the usual divide between sun on the lee side of the hills, and dense fog in the woods on the ocean side. On the Sunday morning I intended to ride around the city, but the fog was so damp and pervasive I couldn’t bring myself to do it – remembering that it was exactly a week since I had put off running due to the challenging wind – and instead spent the morning finishing the editing of the thousand or so pictures from Europe. I made up for it last Monday morning, though navigating the rush hour is never completely stress-free, and I had a terse interaction with a driver about speeding through Golden Gate Park, when I would rather have been watching a coyote disappearing into the bushes with a raccoon in its mouth.

The forecast for this past weekend was not promising enough to schedule a roam, much to my disappointment; in the end, there was not so much rain about. I took a run over the southern folds of the city to Diamond Heights and back through the bare slopes of Glen Canyon on Saturday, and headed south on my bike to San Bruno Mountain on Sunday morning, under clear skies both times, the low sun warm, the autumnal breezes fresh.

When I went to join Zachary for the lunch-time sitting last Monday, I found the shadows under the olive tree had got much longer, and for the first time, rather wished I had been sitting in the sun, as the wind was a little fresh (not enough to actually move to a different cushion though). The shadows will be an hour further along when we are sitting today, and hopefully the sun will feel pleasant. If you are local, you are welcome to come and join us, and every dry Monday over the winter.



The Sea, The Sea

I managed to miss Storm Ophelia passing across the British Isles last week when I flew out to Portugal, but I certainly felt the effects of Storm Brian at the end of the week. I returned to London on Friday, and had my third visit with the Wimbledon group on Saturday morning. As with Hebden Bridge, the energy and enthusiasm, particularly of Alan the organiser, but of all the members of the sangha, is inspiring, and we had a great discussion of the Fukanzazengi. Afterwards I was picked up by my friend to go and spend a day down on the south coast at their beach chalet. We drove down into a fierce headwind, and took a walk along a spit comprising one part of Chichester Harbour, where we felt the full force of the wind blowing in off the channel, whipping sand along the beach.

Even though the chalet was very snug, it was getting buffeted all night by the gales, which did not make for a great sleep, and the idea of another beach run in the morning did not seem very sensible. It was still nice to be out in the elements, getting a big dose of fresh air, and some sunshine; we started the return journey with a decent waterside pub lunch, and a walk around Bosham, which is, as so many old English villages are, comfortingly pretty and nourishingly historic for me.

I had at least managed three beach runs in Sagres. The first had been rather curtailed by the rain, the second took in both of the town beaches at low tide, and the last on Friday took in the beach closer to the harbour and the cliffs beyond, just as the sky flashed pink with the sunrise.

There were few people out at that time, and up on the cliffs I only had the company of the sea birds, which were large, and the ‘land’ birds, which were all tiny. It brought to mind cliff running in Cornwall, though these paths were very rocky, and at one moment when I tried to look further ahead to determine which way I needed to point myself, I brought to life the line from the Fukanzazengi I had been chewing over (for its echoes of the Harmony of Difference and Equality): ‘If you make one misstep, you stumble past what is directly in front of you.’ And that is why I love running out in nature like that, the fact that speed is less an issue than effort and concentration.

Coming back along the beach, mine were still the only footprints across the hard sand; I resisted the temptation to try to outpace myself and take longer strides, though it can happen that I am more measured on the way out and pushing harder on the way back. This time I was content just to be out on a warm morning in such beautiful surroundings. Ahead of all the traveling to get back to San Francisco, it was a wonderful respite, several days when I was not tracking the passing of time, and had no need to.

I am writing this from the departure lounge at Heathrow, where I am tracking the time before my flight. I was about to write ‘ I have a lot of time to kill’, but I do take pleasure in this transitional space, sometimes people watching, sometimes doing a little meditation (as I often offer as a possibility when I am doing zazen instruction), and this time, seeing if I can wrestle pictures and links into a blog post on my iPad, which can be a real practice of patience…

I also had time on Friday morning for a final walk along an almost empty Tonel beach.

Late afternoon sunshine over Chichester Harbour on Saturday.

Not as warm as Portugal, and much windier, but equally dramatic.

It might not show, but there was a fierce wind whipping off the sea.

Bosham church, posing nicely.

The View From Here

The second week of my trip to England finds me in Cornwall, with a bright full moon rising as I type this. I stayed in London just long enough to get over my jet-lag, to run along the Grand Union canal, and to attend a birthday party for an old friend from the BBC, which gave me a chance to catch up with a few other old friends. The next stop was the south coast with more long-time friends, much more joyful chatting, as well as getting in a lot of walking, and another, unintentional, run to the top of Devil’s Dyke.

I had an unexpected opportunity to practice while I was in Hove: a local magazine came through the door, and in the listings section, there was a Soto zen group scheduled to meet on Tuesday evening, just a few streets from where my friend lives. I went along, and joined a handful of people sitting and chanting. They were in the Maezumi lineage, which, as I know from previous experience means that everything is familiar but just slightly different, so I didn’t know any of the versions of the chants that were used. Everyone was very nice of course. The next day I caught four different trains and ended up in Totnes to meet a few people from the sangha there again and to say hello to Ingen, who is starting a short sesshin in the new, to me, zendo.

The weather has been very kind, with warm days, and only short rain and grey spells, which has been helpful for all the time I have been outside. For want of anything especially exciting to say, I offer a few photographs frm the trip so far.

This day started clear, as we walked from Shoreham to Worthing, but it turned grey, and there was a headwind the whole way.

Looking along the shore from Worthing pier.

The following afternoon we are chips on the sea front at Hove and watched the sun set.

We timed our walk very well, and when we turned back, the moon was rising in the east.

I never tire of the stretch of the rail journey that takes me past Dawlish and alongside the sea.

My host in Totnes took me up onto Dartmoor on Thursday morning. There were rainbows. And ponies.

And also typically wonderful moorland views, which make me feel right at home.

Doing nothing is not over-rated

It would be a bit of a stretch to call my current life stressful, but last week was fairly full by my standards (teaching twice on Monday, three days spent editing video – a skill I am acquiring slowly – and teaching a class on Thursday night, as well as finishing off two hundred photo cards), so I was more than ready for a long weekend at Wilbur, and I fully engaged in the process of relaxing on Friday afternoon, in 100 degree sun by the pool, where the above thought came to me. It is always a privilege and a luxury to get to be there, one that it is hard not to enjoy fully.
Leading five meditation sessions over the weekend – extending into Monday morning – I did not prepare anything to say, but allowed the spaciousness of being at Wilbur to provide the inspiration. There is always something to spark an idea – the breeze blowing through the pine trees; heading out for a run in the cool stillness of Sunday morning and seeing a bobcat a few yards ahead of me on the trail to the medicine wheel; surrendering to the intense heat, of the kind that I never knew growing up in England; moving at human pace – something I always like to highlight at Tassajara as well.
The theme for Monday morning was ‘stillness is not stuckness’: exploring how being grounded in meditation means allowing the constant flow of reality to shift around us without wanting things to be a particular fixed way, with the values we have assigned to it. It made sense at the time, in any case, with the breeze blowing over the yoga deck.
I have been leading these sessions for a year now, a full cycle of seasons, and am glad to be a part of that community and that wonderful landscape, thanks to the generosity of people who make it possible for me to be there.

The evening sun setting on the long valley upstream from the baths.

The ‘fountain of life’.

Morning sun in the indoor plunges.

Enkyo O’Hara

‘We can’t control joy. It is something that bobs up when we are truly alive and meet the whole world in an instant. We can experience joy in every aspect of our life, in working, in caring, in creating, and even in suffering. I think the key to experiencing joy is, as we say so often, being awake… What is “being awake”? Isn’t it our capacity to let go of our grasping onto what we think we want, what we think is happening to us, to drop all of those presumptions and be exposed and intimate with what is here, right now? I believe it is our resistance to what is right here, right now, that blocks the natural flow of joy.’ (Most Intimate)

Recently I was out on a run, and had got to the top of Portola, warmed up and settling into a rhythm. I was heading for Mount Davidson, the highest point in the city. As I trotted along a quiet street, I smiled at an elderly woman who was weeding her front yard, sitting in a chair and bending down. A car drove by, seemingly much too fast for a narrow road, which irritated me. Then I saw a perfect rose bush in another yard, an instant of joy. I still had to run up a mountain…

What I think about when I am running

‘If we go somewhere on foot, we know the way perfectly, whereas if we go by motor car or airplane we are hardly there at all, it becomes merely a dream.’  (Chogyam Trungpa – Meditation in Action)

This was a fine quote to find, and I shall doubtless use it at the head of a Roaming Zen email soon.

The trails at Tassajara are familiar terrain for me, even as I have seen them shift and change over the last fifteen years or so, especially in the wake of the 2008 fire. It is always nice to share them with people, as I did on the retreat with Ann, to tell a few stories, read some appropriate Dogen, identify flowers and birds as far as I can. When people ask me how long it takes to get around them, I have no real answer. I have run them many more times than I have hiked them, and the times I have hiked, the pace of the group has been so varied. But I know almost every turn, every slope.
When I got to run them in my second week at Tassajara, I could feel the extent that the trails were embedded in me: my body knows the various hardships of climbing up the Horse Pasture cut-off past the waterfall to what I call the bobcat meadow, after I saw one bounding up through the long grass on my first solo outing there in 2002, and then up the switchbacks to Flag Rock ridge. Going up to the Wind Caves you are climbing for the first two miles, until you are below Lime Point, and then you have to drop down into two gullies and come up the other sides before you get to your destination. There are the spots that reside most deeply in me, the ones of greatest effort, and the ones I don’t keep such clear recollections of, as I coast to the next challenge.
I have a mental map of the places where poison oak is more likely to be a problem, and the places where I have to pay even more attention to my footing (although every moment on the trail is a practice of constant attention), as well as a vivid map of where I have encountered rattlesnakes (I was almost disappointed not to see any this time, though I heard of several sightings close to the bathhouse over the course of days, and saw several other snakes alongside the creek – there was one that seemed to have its home right by the steps I was working on, which I saw every day; this was alright as long as I caught sight of it before it slithered right by me in the water, something which is always most disconcerting on an instinctive level).
Each time I ran the trail in one direction, and took photographs on the way back, sometimes trotting, sometimes stopped in wonder, sometimes just walking along. By normal standards, that is not a lot of distance to run, but there was enough elevation to make it count; unless you are living there, it is hard to have that much climbing in your legs. I toyed with the idea of trying to run up to the bath-tub (three miles up the road), but was tired enough to let that go.
I chatted about running with some of the current residents who have that practice, and reminisced about how, when I was living there and taking vacations in San Francisco, running in the city seemed ridiculously easy. I half-hoped I would have that feeling when I went out yesterday to cover the course of today’s Roaming Zen. I always aim to do this scouting run before taking people out on the route, even if it is a part of the city I know well; it just gets it into my body in a way that means I don’t have to think about it during the roam itself.
The weather has been fine all week, so it was pretty warm, though the breeze took the edge off the heat. Getting off the bus at Alta Plaza I made my way down to the Palace of Fine Arts, across to Crissy Field, up to the bridge, then along the cliffs. The Battery to Bluffs trail was still closed off at the same point as it had been several months ago, but I decided to risk it, and there was little peril in doing so – going down the sand ladder subsequently to Baker Beach seemed more treacherous. And on to Land’s End, feeling a little uneasy (I have a theory that I prefer to run and ride in a clockwise direction, which I certainly prefered to do in London when I would run up to the Thames, always along the South Bank, long before it was fully developed as a pedestrian thoroughfare, from Vauxhall to Bermondsey rather than the other way around) and eventually pretty tired.
Having arrived at the N Judah turnaround for the streetcar which would take me home, I had a very long wait. Again, I toyed with the idea of running all the way home, but since I was not in a hurry to be anywhere, I thought better of it. I hope the service is better tonight.

At the Wind Caves the trail runs along the ledge of rock.

The first meadow up from the road on the Horse Pasture, sinuous but almost flat.

What I think about when I am riding

The day after I returned to California, I officiated a very small wedding out in the redwoods north of San Francisco. I often say that while I appreciate the vastness of the redwoods – and standing at the foot of several majestic trunks in soft afternoon light last week took my breath away – I don’t have the same response to them as I do to English broad-leaf trees. In last week’s post I outlined some of my conclusions about my trip, but left out a part I had written about taking refuge in the landscape, the familiar locales, flora and fauna that help me feel rooted. I was lucky enough to be in a number of places where there was quiet and space, but where nothing felt too wild for comfort: Kit Hill and Cadsonbury in Cornwall, Heptonstall and Calder Water in Yorkshire, the Wye Valley in Hereford, Lagan Meadows and Malin Head in Ireland, Devil’s Dyke and the South Downs north of Brighton. Sheltered by oak, chestnut and beech; listening to robins, wood pigeons and gulls almost everywhere, skylarks, pheasants and buzzards in the more remote spots; savouring the flowers, ever-present bluebells, campion, blackthorn, gorse, cow parsley.
The weather has been up and down since my return, with some warm days, but others cooler with strong winds, and the traditional San Francisco rolling fog. Trying to find my cycling legs after a month off the bike – and with an eye to a future climb of Mount Diablo – I have been setting off on short rides not straying much past the city. On the first ride, perhaps because of the time of day, I felt like I had nothing in my legs, even after fifteen minutes; eating all my energy snacks helped get some strength back, so it may have been that I just wasn’t ready for that amount of exercise at that time.
Over the weekend I set off early to the Headlands. Through the Presidio, the gentle morning mist thickened until it was condensing on my arms – and more to the point, on my wheel rims, causing the brakes to be less efficient. There were, typically, pockets of sun as soon as I crossed the bridge, and photographers happily capturing the tips of the towers emerging from the white. A couple of days later I rode through an even low fog cloud down to the ocean, as we will on the next Roam, across the morning rush hour in Daly City (where I generally find the drivers to be very accommodating), and up San Bruno Mountain. Once you turn off the Guadeloupe Canyon Road, to the summit road which is closed to cars, there is a real sense of stillness, punctuated on this occasion by many rabbits and a few ravens. The fog persisted until a corner about two hundred yards short of the summit, where I suddenly came into clear blue. Parts of the airport and other bayside areas were visible; otherwise, just the other peaks, Diablo and Tam, and then the two tallest structures – the Sutro Tower and the cranes atop the Salesforce Tower. I zipped up my tops as I descended back into the much cooler fog, but at least my legs held out all the way home. After two weeks at Tassajara, I will be almost back to square one again.