I have achieved great peace the last few weeks by visiting what I have deemed one of the most sacred places in San Francisco: Bernal Hill. Standing high in the SE part of the city, its bald head dotted with green from a distance, it beckons residents to climb its steep slopes, to reach for the clouds.
A couple weeks ago, I climbed to the top of the hill at sunset. Walking through the Mission at rush hour, I side stepped to avoid students pouring off a city bus and young people running to hop on the same bus as its doors closed shut. I smelled the rich scents of cooking meat, tortillas, and urine, cars speeding by with abandon and startled pigeons taking flight, landing on dirty sidewalks. I turned right onto Virginia, a street lined with old Victorian houses and tree-shaded sidewalks. Zig zagging onto Coleridge, the sounds of honking horns and rubber tires on cement melted away, absorbed by the fluttering leaves. A little over a block down Coleridge, I reached what I had been looking for: the Esmeralda Corridor, a thin strip of green on Google Maps that could only mean one thing: a hidden park. But low and behold, it was better than this: the Esmeralda Corridor is a stairway spanning three or four blocks, winding its way up the hill. A green tunnel of leaves and handrails.
As I climbed the concrete blocks, my arms were kissed by gentle leaves and caressed by a light breeze. I looked back every few minutes to catch my breath, glimpsing city blocks below illuminated by the glowing light of a lowering sun, houses shining in their pastel, patchwork glory. I could see my other favorite park from between the trees: Billy Goat Natural Area, exposed on the other end of Noe Valley. But I was climbing up even further than Billy Goat Park: higher and higher towards the clouds, to the illuminated hill above.
And then there it was: exposed quite unlike a possible counterpart Council Crest Park but just as surprisingly bustling with evening joggers, dog walkers, and children. These unexpected companions materialized only when I ascended from the last step, poking my head out into the sunlight and emerging on a road circling the immediate bottom of the hill. It was like I had stumbled upon a popular secret that everyone had known about but me! The hill, seemingly deserted from a mile away, was seemingly the most popular after-work destination in town!
I climbed the last few hundred feet of steep trail and reached the top. It was exactly what I imagined Mount Olympus to be: higher than anything else on the landscape with 360 degree views of the bay, downtown, and everything east of Twin Peaks. The sun was just about to lower itself over the edge of Glen Park Canyon- a glowing ball of orange, yellow, and gold obliterating everything else around it. The wind whipped my hair wildly, standing it up on end and blowing it shamelessly into my face. The almost vertical slopes of the hill were almost blinding to look at, but I drank in their beauty anyway, a hill of pure gold. Closing my eyes, I tried to absorb the wind, the warmth of the sun, the barks of dogs and shouts of owners into all my pores at once. Drinking in the sacred beauty of the place- its secret, its astounding greenhouse stairway, its dog-walking popularity, its urban beauty, its stunning views, its precarious trails. I was very much ALIVE!