Respite in the Redwoods

Last Thursday morning I went for a bike ride. The best kind of bike ride, in my opinion: one on which I take more pictures than I ride miles.

It was the first day that week the smoke had cleared enough to get outside and I can’t remember ever breathing in the morning air so heavily.

Since then, the smoke has returned, and – maybe related, I’m not sure (so many confounding factors these days!!!!) – I’ve been feeling exhausted and sad.

I’m too tired to write anything of my own but I have spent the past week doing a lot of reading. So, in appreciation for the healing powers of both nature and art, I thought I’d share some of my favorite redwood-related poems and excerpts with you all:

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

by Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.

Woods are not like other spaces… They make you feel small.. like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie and you know you are in a big space. Stand in a woods and you only sense it. They are a vast featureless nowhere. And they are alive.”

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

Fires, coffee, books (the usual)

I woke this morning to a red “Unhealthy” warning on my AirNow phone app. Instead of waking up, rolling over to grab my phone, and checking my work email, my mornings now consist of waking up, rolling over to grab my phone, and checking the air quality maps. What an inspiring way to start the day!

For my friends in California, the California Environmental Justice Alliance has put together an Environmental Justice Voter Guide that I found helpful. For my family and friends not on the West Coast, this opinion piece echoes what my experience has been like with the wildfires. Please, please take the time to educate yourself on the devastating impacts of climate change and vote accordingly. Here’s another recommended reading about the intersection of climate change and racial justice. And if you’re reading this and have other resources to share, please do so in the comments!

After drinking coffee and contemplating the dire situation in which we find our country and our planet, I finished reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. Ironically, I was hesitant to read it after seeing it won the 2016 Booker Prize, as I have not enjoyed many of the recent Booker-nominated novels I have read. I finally picked it up after one of my friends gave me his copy and I’m so glad I read it. My sister and I are planning to discuss the book in our little two-person book club so if anyone else wants to join, here’s your invitation!

I need more time to process the book before delivering my final thoughts and opinions; at the moment my reaction is best articulated by “Trish” and this review she posted on Goodreads:

My copy of this novel is spiked with tabs marking something deeply insightful, stabbingly funny, or needing revisiting. There is simply too much to point to: Beatty must have been saving up observations about race relations in America to get so much into this relatively short novel.

Same, Trish, same. I’ve also been reading so many books on my Kindle that I’ve taken for granted the ability to highlight passages and return to them whenever I want via a simple search; now I have a paperback book covered in Post-It Notes with no way to organize my thoughts! Ahhhhh! (The smell and feel of a paperback book in your hands is still unparalleled, though.)

In other morning news: Thomas was so exhausted that he made himself a cup of coffee. On one hand, I want him to get sleep and feel well-rested. On the other, it gives me great pleasure to watch him pouring that black elixir-of-the gods into a mug…

Oh, and I can’t end this post without a mention of the best news to come out of this week (besides the fact that one of my friends is getting a puppy):

It’s Bruce time (now, forever, and always), b*tches!!!!!!

Fires in the Time of Coronavirus

Some things that happened today, Monday, August 24:

I walked to the grocery store in full incognito mode. I hate wearing shades because they make me feel like an asshole but the smoky air left me no choice. Also, am I the only one who feels like shades create a barrier between them and the outside world? Whenever I wear them I get this feeling that I’m not seeing everything as it actually is – like the vividness and authenticity of my surroundings is lost – and it bothers me.

I’m basically that Chrome browser “Incognito mode” icon.

The covid/fire combo feels like some sort of cruel joke (99.99% sure we are being rightfully punished by some higher power for being a shitty species), but at least I’m so unrecognizable that I won’t have to make small talk with anyone I run into at Whole Foods! Which reminds me of an old tweet:

I got pissed at Thomas when his alarm went off early because a) I’m on my period which means I’m incessantly tired and b) he never wakes up when it goes off?! Like…you’re going to wake me up early…when I’m exhausted…just to turn it off and doze back to sleep…and then browse ESPN for 20 minutes on your phone before getting out of bed?!

Luckily, he made up for it when, at 4:30pm, he saw I was stressed and exhausted and suggested that we “get some burritos for dinner to cheer Maddy up.” You have to hand it to the guy; he knows the way to my heart.

I did 20 minutes of yoga on a mat on my kitchen floor because I’m trying to rest my body more and not run/ride/hike every day. The bad air quality is simultaneously making it easier to stay inside and making me feel more claustrophobic than ever, as if I didn’t already feel relatively trapped by covid.

(Actually, “yoga” is a generous term; it would be more accurate to say “stretching and deep breathing” which, hey, is more than I can usually say for myself! And whenever I take the time to slow down and take some deeeeep freakin’ breaths I notice just how tense I am. Years of practice ignoring my body and mind, I suppose!)

I finished the last 10 pages of a book it has taken me ages to get through because it was good at the start but ended up dragging on forever. My inability to finish this book in a reasonable amount of time might set me back on my quest to read 50 books this year. Goddammit.

I researched ways to help those impacted by the wildfires and donated to some of the following causes: You should, too! And don’t take for granted the food on your table tonight. Speaking of food:

I thought about attempting to make homemade gnocchi with the leftover potatoes we have in the fridge. Needless to say, that was a passing thought and I will instead order a burrito tonight because I’m a lazy piece of crap (who loves to support local businesses!).

The Burrito Bandit in action.

I came across this sign on my walk to the grocery store:

I don’t really understand why someone would buy this domain name in the first place?

And now it’s 7:41pm and I’ve had my chips and burrito and I’m reading this fantastic article that was published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2017 that everyone should read! And then maybe I’ll start watching “Selling Sunset” because three different people have mentioned it today. We’ll see where the night takes me.

Poor Planning & Pedialyte

The weather this past week has been crazy and scary (commence fire season; I woke up this morning to the smell of smoke) but also incredible. I’ve gone to sleep every night sweating on top of my bed sheets (why have I never purchased a fan?!) and got pummeled by hail at Mt. Tam on Sunday (channeling this guy’s energy from a crazy hailstorm in France), but I’ve also seen some incredible sunrises and sunsets, and spent many late evenings in the park without bringing a blanket and two jackets.

I’ve started to think I should use this blog to post photos since there’s only so many times I can spam followers on Instagram with my – let’s be honest – mediocre iPhone photography. And it’s nice to have photos and memories aggregated somewhere.

So, Saturday:

Thomas and I – admittedly, stupidly – did not check the weather and drove from San Francisco, where it was an abnormal-but-bearable 89 degrees, to Petaluma. I wanted to do a bike ride around the Sonoma Coast and decided on a 60 mile loop that started in Nicasio and headed toward Tomales Bay, down to Point Reyes, and back up along the Nicasio Reservoir. By the time we had loaded our bikes in the rental car, driven the hour there, and spent a substantial amount of time applying sunscreen, it was just before 11am when we hit the road. Sure, it was hot, but after plenty of chilly and cloudy San Francisco “summer” days we were eager to embrace the heat. We did not, however, appreciate just how hot it would be.

The ride was absolutely beautiful, taking us along Sonoma’s golden rolling hills,

Feeling fresh at the beginning of the ride, climbing out of Nicasio

past dairy farms and herds of cows crowded under the shade of a single tree,

and along the stunning coastline on a cloudless day.

Along Tomales Bay
View from Nick’s Cove, near Marshall

But after two hours of riding unshaded roads in the middle of the day we started to crack. We stopped at Hog Island around mile 40, not to eat oysters (because 1) the line is always obscenely long, 2) oysters are extremely expensive for a food that neither of us particularly enjoy, and 3) I’ve never met anyone who craves oysters in the middle of a bike ride), but so I could refill my water. Although I’d already consumed over a liter of electrolytes and had two “salted” energy gels, my pee was bright yellow (if you don’t want to read about my bathroom habits, unsubscribe now).

I still felt surprisingly good, though, and it was only at mile ~55 that I thought I might keel over and die. Miles 55-60 featured me focusing on taking deep breaths and trying not to vomit while pedaling at a snail’s pace to the car.

Overall: 10/10 for the bike loop, 3/10 for my preparation and foresight, and a solid 9/10 for the 7/11-brand Pedialyte which brought me back to life on the drive home.

Amazing flavor. 7/11 out here saving lives.

Accidental Ode to San Francisco

I love the elm trees on Folsom Street, and the way their leaves turn a fluorescent green as they capture the early morning light.

The other day I hiked up Bernal Heights with a friend and, until she pointed them out, I had never thought to look at those trees from above:

One of my favorite things about San Francisco is all the places you can view the city from above; how you can simultaneously be in it and feel so far from it; how you can walk through the bustling streets of downtown Mission and a few minutes later look down at the people and chaos from the quiet of a hillside trail.

This morning, as I ascend Bernal Heights…

I am overdressed in this Henley (where did the word Henley come from, anyway?). I dressed for an overcast walk but of course now I’m sweating and I’m going to ruin this nice white shirt with pit stains. The upper lip sweat collecting beneath my mask reminds me of humid summers spent on the East Coast.

San Bruno Mountain looks beautiful this morning, a perfect ridge rising behind the colored rows of houses.

I love San Francisco. As people escape to the mountains, to lakes, to other coasts and other cities, I am reminded of everything I love about San Francisco: the way different neighborhoods feel like different worlds, the bright colors and contrasts, the people and the farmers’ markets, the endless plants and birds and trees, the cloudless blue skies and romantic foggy days, the hidden parks and stairways.

I’m going to miss this city when Thomas and I moved to Berkeley. I’m excited for change – we’ve been living in the same place since I graduated from school four years ago (?!?!?!) – but every year I’ve fallen more in love with San Francisco. And, even after four years, it still has corners and secrets I have yet to discover.

I forgot how much my thighs chafe when I run. If I’ve learned anything from biking, it’s that pre-exercise Vaseline can only help.

On my way to Mt. Davidson I pass a Little Free Library and pick up a book I’ve been wanting to read. I take a picture of my location so I remember to bring one back.

Also on the shelf are some of the books I loved as a child: Gary Paulsen’s The Island and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door. I think back to elementary school, when my parents would turn my light off at bedtime and I would use a little red light-up “Hot Wheels” toy that I got in a McDonald’s Happy Meal to light the pages of my book as I read late into the night.

The book’s a hardcover, though, so I’m looking forward to a month’s worth of “upper body strength” as I carry it for the rest of my jog.

Mt. Davidson is green and lush and beautiful after days of fog and rain. Something about the morning light and the moss and vines and the eucalyptus trees always makes me feel like I’m in a fairy tale and that Tinker Bell is hidden somewhere behind a branch.

On days like these I never want to go home. On days like these I want to keep walking, further, deeper, longer, each step bringing me closer to myself and to the soul of San Francisco.


It’s official: I have too many feelings.

It’s very inconvenient, to have this many feelings all the time.

I keep meaning to finish and post the four other bits of writing I’ve started over the past few days…but, as usual, it’s now 8pm and all I’ve done since finishing work two hours ago is listen to music on the couch.

I think my real problem is that, for as fast as I can type, my heart feels and my brain thinks ten times faster. In the minute it’s taken me to type these sentences out, I’ve already felt like…five different things? Yeesh. Is everyone like this, or am I just crazy? I wouldn’t care as much if it weren’t so overwhelming: to oscillate between happiness and sadness, to barely start to understand one emotion before another comes crashing on in. And what about the times when my heart feels full but I can’t tell if it’s full of happiness or sadness? Or maybe something else entirely?

It doesn’t help that Thomas, the person I’m around most often, is one of the most straightforward and logical people I know. He never seems overwhelmed by his thoughts; whenever I try to explain to him what goes on in my brain he gives me a blank stare or says something along the lines of, “What the f*ck goes on in there?” Fair enough.

So this is nothing but an I’m-sitting-on-the-couch-typing-whatever-comes-into-my-head-as-fast-as-I-can post.

Here are some of the songs I’ve listened to in the past hour:

  • Depth Over Distance / Ben Howard
  • Forever / Ben Harper
  • All I Want Is You / U2
  • Round Here / Counting Crows
  • Hot Heavy Summer / Ben Howard, Sylvan Esso

And I’ve been looking at pictures of trees. Most of my phone’s camera roll is either pictures of trees or flowers from various neighborhoods and parks in San Francisco. Here are a few of my favorites, before I drift off to sleep on this couch…

Calm on Corbett

I wake every morning before 6am, not to the sound of an alarm, but to racing thoughts in my head. My anxiety has made it difficult to sleep, breathe, sit still, or relax in any capacity. A good portion of my day is spent repeating deep breaths, deep breaths over and over to myself until I finally manage to get air into the depths of my belly. (I hate the word belly, by the way, it annoys me. But it feels more accurate than saying stomach in this context, so here we are.)

So when my eyes flew open this morning and it was still pitch black outside I wasn’t surprised. I stumbled out of bed and glanced at the neon green lights of the microwave clock: 5:41am. Nice. So much for sleeping in; my brain was already busy with thoughts about that day’s meeting schedule (when would I have time for lunch?), those starred-for-later emails I’d have to respond to, the personal items I had to take care of (had I paid that last medical bill? did my Dad want me to call him this afternoon?).

And thus began another day. I peed, brushed my teeth, drank a few sips of water in an attempt to “hydrate” before giving my body what it really needed:

Coffee GIFs | Tenor
(Ugh, who put a camera in my house!)

Aside from being tired and anxious all the time – but who isn’t right now – waking up unnecessarily early has its perks:

  1. Thomas is still asleep, so he can’t bully me about the disgusting amount of cold brew I chug
  2. It’s already the afternoon in London, so I have plenty of time to FaceTime with Leslie
  3. I’m finished 75% of my work for the day before my first meeting
  4. If I don’t have work I need to do, I have plenty of time for a walk or bike ride

Because I’d been up til 11pm the previous night finishing work that was due today, I didn’t have as much to crank out before my 9am meeting as usual. An hour of solid work (the “requires focus and will definitely not get done after 3pm” kinda stuff) later I laced up my sneakers and gently closed the house door behind me. I was pretty sure I’d heard Thomas’ alarm go off already, but he has the enviable ability to hit snooze and fall back asleep so I kept quiet just in case. (Ugh, I am such a good wife.)

The sky turned from grey to orange as the sun started to rise and I could tell it would be a clear day. The first breath of fresh air is always the best; I inhaled as deeply as I could and closed my eyes. My breath felt quick and shallow in my throat. Deep breaths, deep breaths.

My legs carried me, slowly but surely, down 17th St., across Market, and up the hills of Corbett. Deep breaths, deep breaths.

Up a set of concrete stairs, past a small community garden, then to a vista that terraced the hill.

The sky was by now a clear blue and I turned to look at the sprawling city below me. The morning light filtered through the wide, unshuttered window of the house in front of me, and sprinkled onto the shrubs and flowers on the sidewalk below.

I took a deep breath, and felt the morning air make its way alllll the way down to the bottom of my belly.

Shenandoah Sunsets (for My Sister)

It’s 5:04 pm on a Saturday but if I hadn’t consulted my phone I’d have no idea what time of day it was. The sky has been the same translucent grey since I woke up, making it impossible to distinguish between morning and evening. I’m typing this on my phone as I walk laps around the park a few blocks from my house; I wanted to sit and write but my body – just like my mind – is not accustomed to stillness. For a multitude of reasons (global pandemic included, of course) I’ve felt more thrown off in the past 24 hours than I have in a while.

I have so much anxious energy in my body; not entirely in a bad or negative way like it sometimes is – but just an overwhelming amount of it, like if I don’t move around it will swirl around inside me like a tornado, sweeping up everything in its path, gaining strength until eventually I explode?

I miss my sister so much. I painted this watercolor while thinking of her:

A sunset in Shenandoah National Park, inspired by Leslie

I wish I could reach into my belly and extract like a heavy mass all the love I have for her and Express Mail it to London.

This morning she sent me pictures of the gorgeous flowers out in London and I had this thought that they’d all bloomed for her. Like all the flowers, in all the gardens across London, put their heads together – each arching in with their stems so that their flowered heads touched – and were like, “OK guys, it’s time. Leslie needs us. Give us your best bloom.” Like the flowers knew that she – more than anyone else – is always, always there for her family and friends, sometimes to the point where she neglects herself. And that the flowers saw this and said, “Hey, Leslie needs some love, too.”

And we all do. We all need love, especially now. And so much of this energy I have in my body is made up of love for everyone in my life: Leslie, my family, my friends, even strangers I pass (six feet away) on the street. Sometimes I don’t know where to put it all and it swells up inside me and I find myself like I am now: walking in circles, typing furiously on my phone, looking like a madwoman. Which, a lot of times, I’m pretty sure I am.

I take a deep breath; the moisture in the air tingles in my nose.