One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

People Watching

San Francisco is a great place to people watch. Like most fiction writers, I am always on the lookout for interesting characters and often find myself wondering about somebody’s story. Where did they come from? What is their life like? What kinds of decisions have they made that ended them where they are now?

I am especially curious about some of the denizens that frequent North Beach. There is a homeless man who could easily double as Gimli from the film, Lord of the Rings; most days he stands silent and solemn on the corner of Hyde and Union, watching the cable cars go by. There is a girl who shows up in Washington Square Park on sunny days in a rainbow leotard with a dozen hula hoops which she twirls, swirls and tosses in the air for hours. There is a woman with a face of tattoos who speaks only in a high mono-pitched bird shriek. 

And then there is Millie, a small dumpling-like woman who, since the 1950’s, has made nightly rounds to the North Beach restaurants and bars, selling roses and until recently, Polaroid snapshots to romancing couples. Her usual inquiry is to ask the man if  he's behaving himself, and advising him to take good care his companion. If you’re lucky enough to be a familiar face, you might get a wide toothless grin, a soft pinch on the cheek and blown kisses. Nobody seems to know Millie’s whole story; only that she was born in Ohio, came out to San Francisco after World War Two where she married a newspaper vendor who had lost his arm at Pearl Harbor. He passed away some time ago, leaving Millie to live alone above the cutlery shop on Columbus Avenue, watched over by a number of neighborhood angels.

Millie celebrated her 87th birthday last year at CafĂ© Divine, where she can often be found sitting under her portrait in “Millie’s Corner.”

Sharry Wright

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Wind Storm

We had an incredible wind storm last week. Wind speeds upward of 60-65 miles per hour, and gusts as high as 110 miles per hour. We took our ritual run in it. At the time I didn’t know the exact speed of the wind, but I sure felt different—it was a sensory cacophony of the auditory and tactile variety. My eardrums were penetrated by this high, loud, constant whistling. My forehead and chest pushed against the wind like it was a heavy piece of furniture I had to move. And my eyes were a broken faucet, dripping a steady stream of tears. All I could think about while I was out in the swirling, pushing, piercing wind was that this was only a fraction of what it must be like to be in a hurricane. Like Hurricane Katrina, which is so beautifully written about in Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward.

We went for another run a few days later. Back at Mud Pond Loop. It is another sensory cacophony—this time a visual and olfactory one. The forest has been turned upside down. Literally. The top branches of many of its trees are touching the ground, and their roots are sticking straight up into the air. One row of trees is precariously balanced on another larger tree like a row of dominoes on their way down. Giant chunks of earth—still attached to tree roots—are ripped up, leaving large, gaping holes. The edges of the woods is the most dramatic. Dozens and dozens of trees are down, because the wind had more force in the treeless fields surrounding them. And the scent—I have never smelled such a thick, deep scent of fresh cut wood and pine needles.

One lone blue jay called to us from a tree—one of the ones that is still standing—perhaps celebrating the fact that his neighborhood is quiet and safe once again.

Tam Smith

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Finding My Place

I have been a walker, a wanderer, for many years. Besides exercising the dog, getting out in the fresh air, and experiencing the world where I live, another reason I walk and wander is to find my place in the world and to continually renew a sense of belonging that easily slips away when I burrow in too much.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about space; personal space, in conjunction with a sense of belonging. There are times when I’m out walking and find myself feeling a little awkward, a little out of balance; each step is jarring, my shoulders are tense, my spine strains to hold up the rest of my body and my breath is shallow and uneven. I feel “out of place.” It has to do with posture, stride, breathing and something else more elusive which I’ve come to think of as needing to find the “me shaped space” that surrounds me; it’s always a little further back and just a little taller than where I start out. Once I “find” it, I feel my whole being slip comfortably in, like a foot into a custom made shoe. Everything aligns and relaxes; bones, muscles, organs, connective tissue all fall into balance, breathing becomes rhythmic and then movement, both physical and mental, comes almost effortlessly.

I understand, of course, that this is just my imagination. But imagination is a powerful thing. Try it next time you’re out walking and see if it helps you find your place in the world.