What makes you itch? What do you desire in your life?
Something intangible is going on in the Golden Gate Park
which the world around seems not able to offer.
Seeking their quest a wide variety of people come to fulfil their desire.
This is a guest publication by Pascal Giese (text and photo)
If you take the N Judah train from downtown San Francisco towards Ocean Beach it will carry you with a loud hum and an unmistakeable jar through the city and ever closer to the Pacific. When Judah St crosses 40th Avenue you want to hop off, walk a little bit further and go right into 41st Avenue. In this part of San Francisco the skyscrapers, soaring into the blue sky, have been replaced by little colourful houses which all look slightly different. Sometimes misty sea air settles like a sheath over your head. Don’t worry about it. Come closer and closer to the towering trees of Golden Gate Park until you’re standing right in front of them. The scent of pine trees, flowering shrubs and wet earth rises in your nose and lofty Monterey cypresses sculptured by the steadily whispering wind surround South Lake and welcome you into the Golden Gate Park.
On the shore of the little lake, hidden by evergreen bushes, you will spot a small bench through the twigs and leaves. Maybe Chance is sitting there, wearing a black hoody and humming a song with a coconut beer in his hands. Perhaps you will approach him a little carefully because of the way he looks, but if he takes off his hood and sunglasses you will catch a glimpse of a furrowed face with sparkling blue eyes and a broad smile on the weathered skin. “My name comes from the many chances I have had in life,” Chance says. He turns his radio on and starts moving with the beat of the rap music while his eyes are wondering over the lake. Occasionally they are coming to a rest just to pursue the old pattern after the blink of an eye. Asking for a lighter he starts rummaging in an old tattered jacket and, with his eyes still searching over the place, his hand gets hold of a joint butt. “Nicotine is no good, I only do pot and alcohol,” Chance adds while lighting the butt and inhaling deep with relish. It offers only one puff and after nipping off the ember he puts the roach back in his pocket, saving the resin.
“I love the park but bad things are coming over from Europe. Holograms at night and stuff like that.” Suddenly pointing in the lake he adds “See this egret? Really cunning bird! Watched him hunting all day.” With a swift glance around, Chance picks up his chattels and turns around. “Right on man, see you around.” And after a handshake he walks away, tuning the radio in search of his favourite station.
Haze is billowing unerringly over South Lake. Sometimes here, sometimes there. The egret is standing frozen to the spot awaiting his next prey. All of a sudden it twitches to the ground and soars up into the sky with the unfortunate victim safe in its beak.
Behind the lake, trees are opening to a glade where sun-seeking people are either lying in the grass or playing fetch with their dogs. On its edge a slope takes over the glade and leads into an almost jungle-like area, which you might want to explore. Branches are breaking under your feet with a crack and sun is glazing through the shrubbery until it suddenly dissolves, offering the unexpected view of fishing ponds. Fly fishing rods are slicing through the air throwing the lines in organic movements from one end to the other.
The watching crowd cheers after James throws his line. He is one of the candidates to win this year’s ‘Spey-O-Rama’ fly fishing tournament. Although there are no fish in the pond the passion is there. Shining SUVs are parked next to each other in the sweltering sun beside the clubhouse. At lunchtime everyone is standing in line eagerly anticipating their own hamburger with fries and a few lettuce leaves.
The tournament goes on. The crowd is cheering again. “Nice one, James,” someone calls. The ever same pattern repeats itself over and over again and almost by itself the leash flies through the air.
Out of the shrubbery comes Chance. The crowd looks at him in unintended condemnation and some begin to stroll away a little bit. Chance stops for a moment admiring the fluent move of the leash and walks along the edge of the ponds with his favourite station tuned in. The sound is echoing over the place until he disappears back into the undergrowth.
You might trample over some weeds on the ground when you approach Steve and he will look at you with reserved indignation. If you move purposely you will notice that small flowerbeds are built all over Steve´s part of the Golden Gate Park. Barks and boughs are defining the flowerbeds and interweave the latter so naturally with its surroundings that it is not visible at the first glance. “I planted these for the bees and for myself,” Steve says.
Just behind his home a fence separates the park from an almost deserted site where some stranger stores his hives. The bees love the flowers down at Steve´s and he enters the site every night through a hole in the fence to drag down water for the garden. “A gardener told me that it is good what I am doing here,” he says. Watching his environment with awareness he adds proudly, “From a gardener, can there be a better compliment?”
“When I came to the park there was a pile of broken glass lying in front of me. I cleaned it because of bad karma. Ever since I started living here, I have been caring about my part of the park,” Steve says. It has been forty years since he removed the pile of broken glass and now age is getting a grip of him. You can see his body seeking for calmness while he is dousing his plants.
“It is marvellous, gorgeous to be out here! People say we don’t have seasons here in San Francisco, but that’s not true. We just have them every day and not spread over a year. We have clean air in the park because of the trees and the ocean and I think that is why it is so special. This air makes it possible for you to grow!” he says. Slowly Steve is wandering back to his bench resting his hands on the wood for support while sitting down.
A smile is sweeping over his face before he closes his eyes and aligns his head back towards the now darkening sky.
“You will never pass on true love if you haven’t received it as a child.” He speaks softly now and his eyes are opening again, showing an age his body has long passed. “I think too much, there are so many voices. Don’t use the right part of your brain, use the left part. I don’t want to think, I want to feel so I can see things how they really are! This air is the most mysterious!”
The sun has set and while darkness falls, all noises are somehow becoming more audible. The wind is whispering through Steve´s flowerbeds and he is putting on clothes in an effort to protect himself from the creeping cold. Laboriously he moves over to his hammock waving his hands for good bye.
The narrowed paths meander through the park, dimly lit in the rising moon. A coyote crosses the way and, looking up at you, it nimbly disappears. Somewhere, out of the pitch black forest the sound of Chance drumming on a container reaches your ears while you pass the now motionless fishing ponds on your way out. The Golden Gate Parks belongs to others now. Involuntarily your feet are hastening to reach the light flooded street. All of a sudden the park lies behind you and its hushing noises get replaced by roaring silence while the N Judah train is driving you jolting back into another world.