I’m sitting on the green slope of slightly damp grass in Dolores Park on a Wednesday morning. A light breeze blows chilly ribbons of air over my bare arms, invisible currents of contrasting temperatures. The sun shining down illuminates a blue sky, making the whites look even whiter. The immaculate, intricate gold tower of the Dolores Mission stands tall, commanding centuries of Catholic presence and history at the base of San Francisco’s palm treed park…it’s white and gold façade a prominent presence in the foreground of a famous cityscape. Behind me I hear the rhythmic assurance of a young guitarist experimenting with different combinations of chords. In front of me I hear the excited yips of a small terrier chasing a ball. To my left is a shirtless meditator, to my right is a picnicking couple on a blanket.
Pigeons soar above, taking flight with a flap of the wing, reaching their full wing span in a few seconds. Spreading wide, they let the warm thermals floating upwards carry them on the wind. Twirling and swirling in groups of two or more, they take to the sky. Figure eights, wide arcs, like a smile in the sky or an open bowl, ascending into freedom, the openness of the air that only avians know.
I imagine their little hearts must soar with the wind as the updrafts take them higher. It’s an act of ease and grace- no movement but just floating, letting what is just be- relying on the forces of nature to transport them. These birds of city and filth, of ordinary concreteness and overpopulation, shake off their city skins when they take to the air. Spreading their wings wide, taking to the air, they become birds, creatures of wisdom and hope, not just dirty grey figures pecking at old french fries.
They alight in the coop of the Mission tower burnished gold or on the metal of a light post and survey the world below, bustling crowds and commuting cars. They are above schedules and worries, simply taking to the warmth of the air and the brightness of the sun, dipping and darting as far as they are allowed.
We let our schedules, the expectations of being human, overtake our conscious thoughts. We don’t take to the air enough, let our best qualities carry us on the warm thermals and rely on what good we have done to get us to the next moment.
…Or just sit and let be. I attended a workshop on nature awareness at Hayes Valley Farm on Monday. These sessions are ongoing, a reminder in my week to be more aware of the living wonders around me every day. Even in our bustling city, one of important businesses and business people, it is a city of beauty and grace. Planners generations ago put multitudes of money and energy into forming this city out of sand dunes into a community of pastel apartments and parks perched on sloping hills. Even amongst the grimiest of side alleys, Mother Nature is present.
I sat for a half hour on a sloping hill at Hayes Valley Farm among brassicas, chard, and a Eucalyptus grove below. On a piece of land that used to be a freeway ramp, only transformed by the ingenuity of humans working together, reminding us that nature is all around us, that we are constantly within it. That if we close our eyes, we can almost imagine standing on top of Twin Peaks and surveying the rising and falling topography of San Francisco- a sea of treeless sand dunes. So I sat there for thirty minutes with my owl eyes attentive to movement in the periphery and my deer ears picking out the constant chatter of birds in the canopy. And I absorbed it all- the humming life force of the urban environment- its scavengers, its birds taking flight, its grass growing in boundaries of concrete, its trees standing tall and in even rows along the sidewalk. I saw pigeons in flight here too, alighting from apartment roofs and darting between the Eucalyptus trees, riding the warm air current flowing east from the Panhandle, communicating with others of their kind.
Even in this human-cultivated ecosystem, an unplanned force takes root. It invites strangers, new species, takes on a life of its own- a wildness. And only if we let it all be, tap into its beauty, will we be able to notice it- to notice that even pigeons are beautiful when they fly.