Back from Sacramento and I needed a walk. A long one. Does any activity lend itself to sanity so much as putting one foot in front of the other for a sustained amount of time? I locked the door behind me and set off for the beach, forty minutes before the sunset. Do you know when the sun goes down? When it rises? I keep track of such things, in part to remind myself of the physical world that goes about its business regardless of who’s in office or how many likes we get on Instagram or the amount of damage reverberating through our hearts on any particular day. I keep track because I like to plan outside inside of my day.
Even when I’m broke or sad – especially when I’m broke or sad – I can take a walk. The largeness of the world offers perspective. The rhythm of my strides soothes my chaotic thoughts. The beauty insisting to be noticed shoves hope in my face and who am I to not accept such offerings?
Everyone should be able to step outside, breathe the air, move through their neighborhood in safety. Everyone should have trails or paths or at least decent sidewalks. I know – some places are too dangerous, whether from neglect or weather, and some places lack any sort of open space or enough continuity. I want to fix those things I can. My life has led me to the coast, so this desire to ensure the outside for people – water, food, warmth, shelter, education, health care, parks, why do we settle for less than everyone having these things? – translates into protecting the right of people to go to the beach, which is a right we have here in California, much as ranchers and billionaires might wish otherwise.
San Francisco’s Ocean Beach stretches three-and-a-half miles from the Cliff House to Fort Funston. The place I stay in the Outer Sunset sits near the midpoint. If I walk north, I can climb the stairs to Sutro Heights Park or clamber down to the Sutro Baths. If I walk south, I’ll arrive at Fort Funston, where dogs run freely over ancient (for California) ruins and hang gliders launch from the 200-foot high bluffs. In either direction, my mind tends to bounce from admiring the landscape to pondering how to be a better person in the world to daydreaming about the destruction of my enemies to shutting up and focusing on the way the earth feels as my feet roll against it.
Last night I walked out to gather myself and see the sunset. I’m always heartened by how many people head to the beach to watch the show – the Outer Sunset may be the most aptly named place I’ve ever lived. (And Ocean Beach the most obviously named one.) As long as there’s sky to be had, the sunsets tend toward the glorious as a regular thing, and the sense of being on the edge blankets as much as the fog.
This is not a rich people beach, despite being on the edge of a city so rich it’s eating itself alive. This is grit and graffiti and the working class and families and a girl on a skateboard being pulled along by a boy holding a hula hoop and dads kicking soccer balls and dogs bounding through the surf and surfers slogging through walls of chill-you-to-the-bone whitewater and drummers and dancers and couples and groups and that woman sitting cross-legged on the wall with a blanket wrapped around her and the sun goes and goes and goes and is gone, but still I walk until the darkness has me using my iPhone flashlight to avoid stumbling on the Land’s End trail and I think walking alone in the dark is a little scary and now that night has arrived I’m a little cold and I think about all the ways in which I want to be better and I remember that sometimes it’s good to be scared and good to be cold so we can better appreciate the warmth when we have it.