Friday, March 27, 2020


Today is my 11th day of officially sheltering in place and 15th day of social distancing. The first death from COVID-19 in my international circle of friends has occurred. Another artist friend was very sick, but is now recovering. Although the increasingly grim news makes me feel like it should be Winter outside, when I peer through my window or step out my front door I am reminded that Spring is here. This is both heartening and heart-breaking, miraculous, ironic, confusing.

Travel to far-away destinations is no longer an option. International borders are closed. Many national parks, including Yosemite, are now closed.  California State Parks have closed their indoor facilities, campgrounds, and parking lots. Up in the Sierras, the ski areas have all closed. After too much crowding last weekend, all parks and beaches in Marin County have been closed. In order to contain the spread of the virus and avoid burdening or overwhelming the healthcare systems of smaller communities, we are being urged NOT to head out of San Francisco to recreate in the countryside or the mountains. I support these mandates, but to honor them I have had to let go of much that I hold dear: a trip to Scotland and Germany, California field recording expeditions, backcountry ski tours in Tahoe, Bay Area hikes with friends. Compared to those who have lost loved ones and livelihoods, I know I am exceedingly lucky and that having limited freedom of movement is a much smaller loss. Even so, when I allow myself to think about it (and mostly I try not to), it feels profound. If/when I am able to travel and recreate again I will not be taking these activities for granted.

In the meantime, my local natural world is still open (with appropriate social-distancing of course), and in many ways it is flourishing amidst this extraordinary reduction in human activity. I hear that coyotes are being spotted wandering some streets in San Francisco! I am trying not to dwell on what is unavailable to me, and focusing instead on appreciating the subtle nuances of spring in my neighborhood.

I never noticed these tree sprouts before.

The bigger ones are green chandeliers!

I feel like an alien might hatch from this.

Purple flower arms wave to Cypress trees

Tentacles of blooming sage 

Variations on a theme. The gardener had fun here.

Some things are more beautiful in the rain

Who has been listening to this tree and what did they hear in there?

Speaking of sound, as human-generated noise dwindles, I hear the chirps, trills, caws, and warbles of my neighborhood birds emerging more and more. Flashes of color and spirit, they flit about over the city's dusky drones. Although North America has suffered a staggering 25% decrease in the songbirds over the last 50 years, it is good to have a chance to hear those that remain. (I have much more to say about how soundscapes are changing, but I will save it for a future post.)

Brewers Blackbirds on Lone Mountain

Dark Eyed Junco in Golden Gate Park enjoying some delicious afternoon snacks!

I am reading Robert Macfarlane's wonderful (and I truly mean "full-of-wonders" here) book Landmarks right now. This morning I came upon a passage about how children explore: 
"With the children as her guides, Deb began to see the park as a 'place of possibility', in which the 'ordinary and the fantastic' - immiscible to adult eyes - melded into a single alloy. No longer constituted by municipal zonings and boundaries, it was instead a limitless universe, wormholed and Möbian, constantly replenished in its novelty. No map of it could ever be complete, for new stories seethed up from its soil, and its surfaces could give way at any moment. The hollows of its trees were routes to other planets, its subterrane flowed with streams of silver, and its woods were threaded through with filaments of magical force" (MacFarlane, 2015, p. 320).
I remember experiencing the world this way as a child. Even now, as an adult, sometimes I can access unfettered modes of perception through art. Now the ability to imagine is a lifeline. Instead of "being" trapped in a country, city, or room, I am trying to be more child-like, to divine more possibilities.

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