I haven't always lived in the city. In my early 20s, I lived on an island, Orcas Island, in the San Juans off the northern coast of Washington State. I refer to it as my homesteading period.
I had gone from a tiny private high school to a huge university and by the middle of my sophomore year, I was feeling overwhelmed. When a missed tuition snafu made me lose my registered classes, I dropped out, rented a lovely hand built cabin on Orcas, went to the pound and chose a canine companion, talked an ex boyfriend into loading up all my stuff into the back of his pick up truck, and moved.
My life on Orcas felt perfect. I made friends with the librarian and planted a garden on half an acre of her five hundred acre plot. I read and wrote and crocheted backpacks (!!!) to sell at the local gift shop where I worked. I cooked a goose in my wood burning stove and made goose grease cookies. I made sour dough bread, filled up dozens of sketch books and fell in love with a boy who was a wood carver and kept us fed on abalone and venison.
I was barely twenty-one when the librarian told me she was ready to retire. She offered me the job ( it was a teensy rural library and didn't require a degree) and then she and her husband amazingly, generously offered me a hundred year lease on five acres of their land at a dollar a year, if I wanted to built a house. I could raise goats, something that sounded great to me at the time. But. I hadn't finished school. I hadn't really lived much of my life yet. This generous, tempting offer felt suspiciously like early retirement.
And so, once again, I moved, this time to Bellingham where the college appealed more to my comfort level. After finishing up my degree, I moved again, this time to Portland, a little bigger, but still a city with a human scale. And then I moved to San Francisco, where I eventually met my wonderful husband, raised my girls and learned to be an urban dweller.
I still need my islands, quiet places where the city hum fades away. We're extremely fortunate to live in a place where the wild, windswept Marin Headlands are less than twenty minutes by car, the Mt. Tamalpais watershed just over half an hour drive.
But I also have a number of 'islands of sanity' that I visit daily, weekly. Every morning, I walk my Sheltie three and a half blocks to Michelangelo Park, a sweet haven of grass and garden tucked into the middle of a quiet block of apartment buildings. Often, we're the only ones there besides a group of chattering wild parrots.
Strawberry Island in the middle of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park is another of my havens. The city recedes as we climb the dirt path that circles up to the top of the waterfall; the loudest disturbance is my crazy dog, Emma, who is convinced there is a gurgling monster that lives in the bottom of a cistern by the pond.
I make monthly pilgrimages to the labyrinth in Grace Cathedral four blocks from my house. On certain afternoons, the practicing organist is the only other corporal presence, as I slowly wind my way in and out of the meditative path.
And then there is the DeYoung Museum. On the second floor is a sacred space, a room filled with old masks, wooden gods and mysterious, numinal relics from other worlds. There is a particular silence in this dimmed space that calms and nourishes me.
But the island that is my real haven is my work space at home. When I sit down at my desk to write, the busyness outside stills and I am completely immersed and transported to my world of words and story. The traffic noise, the fog horn, the cable car, the voices and barking dogs, all dissolve. In fact, I was so 'lost' in a scene I was working on a few months ago, that I failed to notice the movie shoot outside my window. It wasn't until I got up to make a cup of tea that I glanced out and recognized Jude Law with a plastic helmet on his head! (Sanity or insanity?)
Where are your islands of sanity?