Every afternoon, after I’ve attempted to satisfy my writing goal for the day (500 words, 1000 words, finish the chapter, get a handle on a secondary character or just sit and punch letters into my keyboard for a given amount of time) I close my laptop, feed the pets, slip a harness on my canine companion and head out the door.
Most often, we climb Taylor up to Ina Coolbrith Park, a tiered garden with steps and switchbacks to accommodate the steep hill, established in honor of California’s first poet laureate, Ina Coolbrith. Parrots, hummingbirds, crows and a red-tail hawk are frequent visitors, along with locals and tourists who come for the view of Alcatraz, Coit Tower, North Beach and the Bay Bridge. In one corner is a bench and a large piece of serpentine embedded with a bronze plaque that reads Poet’s Corner. When my youngest daughter was quite small, (like four years old) we would walk our other shy (better behaved) Sheltie up to the park and Zoe would always say, “Someday, I want to be a poet and come sit on this bench.”
After envisioning the romantic life of a poet, we would cross the street, climb another set of stairs and switchbacks to the top of Russian Hill, where another small park crowns the vista. Right next to the park is a beautiful gabled, arts and crafts house built in 1892. My girls loved to peek through the fence, not only to catch a glimpse of the chickens and the apple tree, (a farm in the city!) but also because Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived there for a period of time. The thought of being so close to the adored author was thrilling to us all!
Continuing our little circle walk, we pass the house where Gelett Burgess wrote I Never Saw A Purple Cow, (I never hope to see one, but I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one) a poem so delightfully silly that it is hard to imagine it was penned by a grown man over a hundred years ago.
The last bit of our walk takes us down Macondray Lane, the setting for Amistead Maupin’s Tales of The City. At the end of the lane is a house that reportedly came around the Horn in the 1800s. Ina Coolbrith (who the park with the poet’s corner is named for) is said to have lived in this house and entertained such literary luminaries as Mark Twain, Bret Harte and Joaquin Miller. She was also a mentor to Jack London and Isadora Duncan. Years later, it was the home of the writer Oakley Hall who taught both Michael Chabon and Amy Tan and founded the Squaw Valley Writer’s Workshop.
Scientists tell us the air we breathe is the same air, the very same molecules, inhaled and exhaled by all breathing creatures from the beginning of time. As I take the evening circle walk, I always try to imagine that I am breathing in some of the air that once moved through these amazing and talented people who have walked these paths before me.
And that daughter who wanted to be a poet? Turns out, she knew what she wanted. As a junior at Sarah Lawrence College, focusing on poetry, fiction and literary theory, she’s well on her way.
So breathe and dream. You never know what’ll happen.