This morning, I walked out my front door and went down the hill, toward the bay. Then up another hill to get to the little park where I play soccer with my dog. Then up to a winding switchback of stairs that leads up another hill to yet another small hillside park. From there, I headed down two flights of stairs, straight ahead for three blocks, then down, back up and down more stairs to return home.
That’s a lot of hills and stairs.
San Francisco, as everyone knows, is a city of hills. And stairs. There are forty-two hills in San Francisco and more than three hundred and fifty public stairways that make it somewhat easier for people to get up and down these hills. Many of these stairways give access through otherwise impassable retaining walls—without them, you would have to go blocks and blocks out of your way. Some of these stairways are plain, some quaint and charming, some wood, some cement, many are ‘hidden’—visitors need a good guide or guidebook to find these gems. If you’re looking, Adah Bakalinsky has written the epitomic guide, STAIRWAY WALKS IN SAN FRANCISCO.
My own house is at the intersection of three hills; one side slants steeply up, south to Nob Hill, the other rises up to Russian Hill on the west and then down and back up to Telegraph Hill on the east. I cannot leave my house and return without going both up and down; the Macondary Stairs, the Green Street Stairs, The Vallejo Stairs, the Greenwich Stairs, are all part of my daily route. Even fetching the morning paper from the front porch requires going down and back up fifty-two stairs!
I have been thinking a lot about the conversation here at Kissing The Earth over the past few weeks on how our landscapes shape who we are; my lung capacity and leg muscles are both physical testaments to this! I am constantly telling out-of-breath visitors that it gets easier once you earn your ‘hill legs’. But it has also made me wonder if and how hills and stairs might shape character—has the daily up and down helped to prepare me for the ups and downs of life?
I do know that I have grown to be a much more optimistic person over the years that I’ve called San Francisco my home. Could this positive perspective come from knowing, in my body, that a hard climb up is usually followed with the ease of going down—could it be a result of literally walking up and down hills and stairs everyday? Does my daily walking practice inform and remind me that when I’m feeling down, I need to put in the effort to climb back up for a clearer view? I can believe that the landscape of hills and stairs has helped fortify my sense of the ups and downs all being part of the balance of life.
I also think about this in terms of writing (of course, as always), with the first draft as the upward climb (it’s hard work going up!) and then needing to stop and catch my breath at the top of the stairs, while gaining some perspective of the overview, before heading back down in revision. (which can feel more like downhill running than the trudging uphill of first draft work!)
We think of metaphors as being, well…metaphors, not reality. Not to be taken literally. But the good ones hold meaning, truth and at times, a physicality that goes beyond the mere representative.
Talking about hills, here’s a fun, short, colorful video shot in my neighborhood a few years ago:
Take Good Care,