In succinct and concrete terms, the environment is that which we experience and we, in turn, are that in which the environment is experienced: Reality is a web of concrete relations.—Vilem Flusser and Louis Bec
Sixty-four degrees Fahrenheit, wind from the south at 7 mph, cloudy. No surf of any note; waves press toward the beach with the gentle tremble that says lake. Huge coils of sea vegetables tangle with the water, bulbs built as flotation devices, the color of oxidized bronze.
I walk down to Baker Beach on a steep path, through mixed cypress and eucalyptus forest, dart across sprinting trucks and cars, and enter a thicket of recovering dune scrub awash with lemon flowers and abuzz with some of the four dozen or so bee species that call this place home. From here, the trail opens up across a steep stretch of dune, a Busby Berkeley-style entrance to the grandest theater of ocean on the planet, the Pacific. And on this day, the Pacific is pacific, water placid and azure, a seasonal invitation to come wrap yourself in the mottled cinnamon-flecked foam or lounge on the sea-glass-strewn beach.
At sea level, all conspires to form a perfect frame for orange oxide and engineering design, a statement of place up there with Stonehenge and Tour d’Eiffel and, more recently, Kapoor’s bean. The Golden Gate Bridge stretches out a half mile or so from the north end of the beach, taupe rocks and massive gray dunes. Baker Beach is often the backdrop in advertisements and films, a view of water and bridge with nary a building or car in sight. [End Page 143]
The surf gently rolls toward the shore. It is empty save the professional dog walkers and me. They are a caste unto themselves in San Francisco and the Presidio, where they ply their trade with particular vigor: men and women who hire out themselves to walk dogs that would otherwise be trapped in homes and apartments all day. There are more dogs in San Francisco than children.
The dog walkers talk in loud voices: Charlie, I told you to stay with the other dogs, you are the new dog. Elias, please get your ball. Ginger, heel. They carry plastic sticks, slightly bowed, used to catapult tennis balls down the beach, for those dogs inclined toward this exercise.
Some lands are hilly and rock-strewn and catch the light in such a particular pattern they seem forever ready for the eye. Some are sloping and enmeshed in growing things, obliterating edges, rejecting light and contrast, places with no beginning and no end. It is in such a land where I walk.
Lost in these observations, I almost stumble on a dead bird. Poor cormorant! Yellow tongue hanging out, beak cocked open. Brown feet turned in, clawish crone hands attached to a penguin body. I see no evidence of a wound and wonder how this fellow died. Simply end of time on Earth, end of game, time to die? I wonder when the bird made its last flight, how it felt as the flight became too tough, recalling how birds fly because they have to do so to survive predation and to find food. When birds live in an environment where flight is not necessary to survival, like the New Zealand islands before humans and the Antarctic today, they walk around on land and swim. Flight takes a great deal of energy and comes with an array of hazards, the simple physics of being a small, lightweight object in motion in a tumultuous sky.
Stones, great mounds of deep gray, shoved across the sand by the sea’s rough hand. It is what we love about the sea, how alternately rude and gentle its touch. I once dated a man who disapproved of my instinct to sift through sand, shards of sand dollars, fragments of granite, rounded gray stones, shells opalescent, gray knobs of wood whittled smooth by water. I left that man one day, and I believe the main reason centered on not wanting to hear his voice saying, Put that down. Leave...