Friday, May 29, 2009

Marzipan, I salute you.

Because everyone else hates you so I get you all to myself. Because you taste of almonds and rosewater, and because you embrace Swedish Princess cakes like a beautiful green cloak. Because you are the enticing freckled mushrooms on every Bûche de Noël, and because you can be made into fruits and flowers and little creepy baby shapes. Because you are found at weddings in the Spanish countryside, and formal teas in Parisian salons, and winter gatherings in Swiss chateux. Because you are the creamy white filling in my favorite Ritter Sport, and because I can buy that Ritter Sport at REIs across America. Marzipan, I salute you!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shakespeare in the Gardens

A little more than a month ago, when NCT and I were searching for my mystery bird, we spent some time exploring Central Park's Shakespeare Garden. Over the past year I've watched the Garden shift and change throughout the seasons; in fact, the magnolia tree that was bursting with white blossoms during the bird search was already flowerless by the time I returned to the Garden a week after our visit. But on that particular afternoon the Garden was in full bloom, and the tulips and bluebells and even fallen magnolia blossoms hid and blanketed the small golden plaques bearing horticultural Shakespearean quotes. The objective, as NCT and I decided it, in finding these plaques is two-fold: first, one must obviously locate them, and second, one must see if he/she can guess the context from which they're taken (this is hard and sometimes not fun).

When I was in San Francisco several days later, I spent a similar afternoon in Golden Gate Park's Shakespeare Garden, which is as different from Central Park's in topography and design as one can imagine. Yet the Gardens are united by their displayed Shakespearean quotes, and their purpose--to showcase the flowers mentioned in Shakespeare's works, while providing a respite from day to day craziness--is the same. When I first visited England, at fifteen, I made the obligatory Stratford-upon-Avon trip, but over the years I've found that the places that most evoke Shakespeare for me are Oxford and these two Gardens. It was in Oxford that I first truly tackled Shakespeare's oeuvre, in particular the late and problem plays, and it was in the San Francisco and Central Park Gardens that I regularly spent and spend lazy weekend afternoons.

The Central Park Garden rests on a small rise between Belvedere Castle and the Swedish Cottage, within view of the Delacorte's summer Shakespeare in the Park performances; in contrast, the Golden Gate Park Garden is tucked in a wide, flat grassy space between the Academy of Sciences and the Arboretum.
NYC vs. SF: the Shakespeare Showdown
Both gardens have the compulsory sundial...
...striking floral palettes...
...and swaths of inviting landscape--green and lush in New York, subdued and classical in San Francisco--in which to sit and think.
From my perspective, however, the most interesting aspect of both places is which quotes were chosen for display. NCT and I share the theory that the garden designers essentially found as many horticultural references as possible and then picked the prettiest, and one reason that this theory stands is that the quotes, while totally devoid of context, often make absolutely no sense. For example, the following excerpt from King John stumped both of us, and I had re-read the play for a conference paper as recently as a year ago:

Others are remarkable for their usage of peculiar Shakespearean insult, such as the following quote from The Merry Wives of Windsor:

Giving crestfallen dry pears everywhere their due
Many of the quotes are in fact recognizable because of their high profile in literature and even pop culture, but these are still somewhat frustrating because their places in the plays can't always be ascertained, and so their full meaning cannot be completely understood. Granted, the plaques provide the exact location of these quotes, and it's not as though the Gardens can have giant displays of the plays in their entirety (or as if I or anyone else has all the plays memorized by heart). Maybe it's enough just to revel in the language itself, and to its allusions to the flowers planted around them. Furthermore, watching the Gardens echoing one another across the continent with complementary quotes is even more interesting. Both display the text of Romeo and Juliet, and each cite the holly from As You Like It:

And what is particularly striking is how resonant Shakespeare's language is across his plays, so that even quotes from different texts in these two Gardens end up reinforcing one another. The Hamlet quote from New York and The Winter's Tale quotation from San Francisco both metaphorically invoke a sense of loss through the gift of flowers; the chamomile from Henry IV alludes to the lost innocence of youth that results in those floral gifts, and the long heath of The Tempest also expresses the desperate longing behind those quotations, while The Taming of the Shrew's hazel twig Kate represents all of those lost objects of desire.
In any case, because of the thoughts that they provoke and the opportunities that they provide for imaginative possibility, the Gardens are ultimately more than the sum of these quotational parts. Shakespeare, of course, says it best--

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Traffic in the Delaware Water Gap

Late Friday evening, LRC and I boarded an Ithaca-bound bus on W 44th St. Despite campus to campus service, the bus inevitably encountered Memorial Day weekend traffic and we didn't reach Ithaca until midnight. Last week was remarkably hectic, and as a result I slept for the first two hours of the ride; when I awoke, the sun had already set behind what appeared to be a massive rock shelf, but the sky was still light, and I realized that the shelf was in fact the Kittatinny mountains--we were passing through the Delaware Water Gap.

Well, "sitting" in the Delaware Water Gap would be a more accurate description; motionless traffic stretched as far as I could see on I-80 West. I didn't really mind, however, as few other places on the NYC-Ithaca drive can rival the Gap in terms of beauty, and furthermore, as strange as it sounds, I like sitting on I-80 West. I know that this sentiment is illogical, but I feel as though I'm going back to California whenever I head west on that freeway, even if California is still 2800 miles away and I almost always turn north on 380, which means that I barely put a dent in that vast mileage. But the knowledge that I-80 stretches directly from New York City, my current home, to San Francisco, my hometown, is immensely comforting--as though the interstate is a ragged concrete lifeline that somehow manages to carry millions of cars and trucks year after year from coast to coast, in spite of snow and mountains and desert and plains and vehicle-eating potholes.

My experiences on I-80 are haphazard; when I drove from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco with AFD seven years ago, we relied mostly on I-70, and during my years on the East Coast I've spent much more time on I-88, I-91, and I-90. As a result, I've only driven on I-80 from Cheyenne to the Bay Area, on a stretch near State College in Central Pennsylvania, and from New Jersey to the 380 turn-off in Northeastern PA. Yet despite their disparate nature, my experiences on I-80 are vivid; they conjure the Bonneville Flats and Sierra foothills, the potent greenery of a Pennsylvania spring and the steady meandering of the Delaware River, as well as all the images' attendant memories.

March 2005 marked my first drive through the Delaware Water Gap--JFL, LV, MH and I were headed to Rutgers for the ECCC season opener, and what would be my first bike race. We drove through the deep cut in the Kittatinnies in the same evening light that revealed it last Friday, and I remember being struck by the way that the ridged rock cliffs, lush riverbanks, and the slow river itself could be so different than the geology out West while simultaneously reminding me of those Pacific cliffs and creeks. In the following springs I would drive through the Gap at least once, and my drives past the Susquehanna and the Chenango on I-88 and the Connecticut on I-91 engendered the same evocative feeling. For lack of a better name, my East Coast driving life--I spent a great deal of time in my car--was shaped by rivers in the same way that mountains, specifically the coastal range and Sierra Nevada, shaped my younger West Coast driving life. In a sense, these phenomena best reflect those periods of my life as well; the rivers mirror the steady, contemplative thinking of my mid-twenties, and the mountains underscore the paradoxical narrow and boundless perspective that accompanied my college years.

Friday's trip offered a taste of both the contemplative and free-wheeling; the journey to Ithaca was equal parts memorial and celebration, commencement and conclusion. After the ceremonies on Saturday, LRC and I hiked down to the Commons on the trail that I used to walk every day from campus to my home in Fall Creek. Over the course of three years I hiked that trail in snow boots and flip-flops, past icicles and spring's trillium, with good friends and by myself. My most frequent companion was my mother, who I used to call while navigating the overgrown sections of the trail head; in the winter she would have to wait to begin our conversation until I'd wriggled my fingers back into my giant mittens. It felt right that LRC was my trail buddy this time.

Routine has always helped me through transitions, and this weekend was no exception. After years of driving throughout the Northeast, my car now lives a rust-free life in California, and my bike spends most of its time hanging on my wall on the Upper West Side. Maybe that's why having a foot injury has been so difficult these past couple months; the one unflagging routine that survived Palo Alto and Oxford, Ithaca and until recently, New York City, was a daily, long walk home, either alone or in conversation with someone important to me. Not being able to depend on one's feet evokes a sense of being unmoored in both the physical and visceral senses, like not being able to find one's way home.

For a few minutes however, I was on my trail, the one that carried me home every day for three years, just as I-80 carries all modes of transportion and travelers from my new home 2800 miles to my old one. The trail head was heavily overgrown but it was still there, and when I had opened my eyes in the Kittatinnies, unable at first to identify what lay before me, it was with a sense of happy recognition that I realized that it was the Gap, and that it was still the same. As elemental as it sounds, the realization that things still exist even though I'm not able to see them is a lesson I re-learn every year, and my hope is that when I start running again, I'll recognize that the runner in me still exists as well.

And what did I find when we reached the trail's end, where Cascadilla Creek empties into my old neighborhood? A lilac bush in full flower, the very thing for which I'd been looking since Spring arrived, and which I'd given up hope of finding once the bodegas sold their last bouquets last week. As Walt Whitman wrote, "With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love, / With every leaf a miracle".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Iris Season

Every year I'm reminded of the ephemeral nature of spring's flowers; they always seem to vanish faster than the blossoms of other seasons, and their quick decline foreshadows the oppressively hot days of July and August. Lilacs, one of my favorites, can be maddeningly capricious even by spring flower standards--some years, for a variety of factors, they might not bloom at all. I have yet to encounter any lilac bushes in New York City (although I do love the lilac bouquets currently displayed by all the local florists), but I could take a cue from my mother, who a few years ago bought several flowering lilac branches for me for my birthday, and placed them in a ceramic vase that my brother had made in the likeness of a tree trunk. As a result, for that week I was at least able to pretend to have a full-fledged lilac bush of my own.

Even though summer has its own floral highlights I tend to prefer those of spring, and here in New York, for a few weeks in April and May, the magnolia trees in Central Park burst with white and pink petals, the median strips of Park Avenue bear rows of straight, proud tulips, and the window boxes of my neighboring brownstones embrace pansies and hydrangeas, violas and snapdragons. When I returned from California last week, I noticed that another spring flower had decided to reveal itself in the gardens of the Upper West Side: the iris. Irises always remind me of my California grandmother, who used to grow them in her Marin County garden, and who had a print of Monet's "Le Jardin de Monet, les iris" over her kitchen sink. My mother and I had lunch with my grandparents and aunt in Point Reyes last Friday, and after I essentially inhaled a pound of Tomales Bay mussels, we walked over to the Point Reyes community garden. Right by the fence, a deep, rich, purple bearded iris waved to us from its long, slender stalk. A few others were scattered about the garden's perimeter, and my grandmother and I were both beside ourselves at how beautiful they were (the family kept us moving along, however; Cowgirl Creamery and its triple cream Mt. Tam cheese waits for no man).

As a result, my return to the Upper West Side felt all the more seamless with the appearance of these perennials, and on my walks home from work I try to spot as many as I can before they disappear until next year. Since garden real estate is, of course, limited in Manhattan, intrepid UWS gardeners have planted their irises in sidewalk planters and doorway pots, or along the borders of their building entrance ways. They make do with the space available to them, for which I'm grateful, as it is often small, unexpected surprises like these--an iris peeking its head around an iron fence in New York, or waving hello from a terracotta pot in Marin County--that can spark the day's most unfettered smile or moment of true lightheartedness. And I'm as grateful as ever to the gardeners of the Theodore Roosevelt Park for tending to, among many other things, the gorgeous irises in the Margaret Mead garden, and for thus ensuring that I have a smile on my face every morning as I head to work.
Le Tour de les Upper West Side Iris

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Title 9, I salute you.

Because you make me want to paddleboard while wearing an aloha print tankini, and because you make me look forward to opening my mailbox. Because your stores are full of light and birchwood accents, and because you evoke the landmark Act that made it easier for girls like me to be athletes. Because through you I can buy both workout swimwear and lifestyle t-shirts. Because your catalogue models are moms and lawyers and surfers and business owners and skiers and teachers and swimmers and scientists and runners and gardeners and capoiera dancers. Because you make me want to move to a stylish yurt in the San Juan Islands and teach botanical Latin and mindful kayaking to schoolchildren, or to a beachfront bungalow in Northern California to run an eco-friendly oyster farming conglomerate and lead weekend bike handling clinics. Because you make me believe that I can change the world just by being me. Title 9, I salute you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An Interview with Sara Suman

I'm back in New York now, and to mark my return I decided to interview my beloved friend and fellow California transplant, Ms. Sara Suman. Over the years, Sara and I have picnicked in botanical gardens and navigated major metropolitan subway systems, eaten pupusas in San Francisco and sheet cake in Guatemala City, and spent many, many hours searching for parking in the Mission District. We met as fourteen year-olds in a Spanish class at our Jesuit high school, and I'm very happy that she's in New York with me (even if she does live all the way in Brooklyn).

Keeping it real in San Salvador, c. 1998
CGC: What do you miss most about Morningside Heights, and what's the best thing about living in Sunset Park?

SAS: I miss walking through Columbia's majestic campus and pretending that I am a graduate of any other school than the school of social work. I also miss pretending to run through Riverside Park at sunset; anyway I enjoyed the beauty more by going slower.

The best thing about living in Sunset Park is that I can pay less to live in a one-bedroom than what someone might pay to share a two bedroom in Park Slope. It's also nice to have Leonard Bernstein in the neighborhood. I'd like to visit him at Greenwood sometime this summer. You should come with me.

CGC: Rank in order from your most favorite to least favorite: Groucho, almond butter, Peet's coffee, Silver Moon bakery, Salem, OR.

SAS: 1) Peet's Coffee 2) Almond Butter 3) Silver Moon 4) Salem, OR 5) Groucho (sorry buddy)

CGC: While hiking in the Guatemalan wilderness, you discover a valley that no one else has discovered before. It is lush and beautiful, with singing quetzals flying from tree to tree and happy children playing games in the fields. After whom do you name this valley?

SAS: Wait. If no one has discovered it before, how did the children get there? Am I supposed to get my conquistador hat on to answer this question?

CGC: It's the 2009 UFC vegetarian restaurant face-off, and the employees of Moosewood's line up against the employees of Greens at the Octagon. Which restaurant wins?

SAS: I am assuming that you are referring to Greens restaurant in Ft. Mason. I've actually never been to either restaurant, though Moosewood cookbooks are the foundation of my recipe collection so I think I might have to put my money on Moosewood. Over the years I've developed a connection to the employees from all the happy pictures of them, in New Classics cookbook, licking spatulas and proudly displaying blocks of tofu and chopped produce.

CGC: Why do Jesuits bake better bread than Franciscans?

SAS: Because they have more dough.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Quotes of the Week: San Francisco Style

Quotes from this past week all occurred within the boundaries of the 7x7, sucka free, 415 (reppin'). As a result, some new characters appear in this posting. Enjoy!
CGC: The Village Market just started selling Blue Bottle coffee. Do you want to go get some with me?
CG: No.
CGC: Why not?
CG: Because no coffee will ever taste as good as the real Brazilian coffee I used to drink in Rio.
CG: Well aren't you special.

CGC: I had to pack the instruction manual for my bone stimulator so that the TSA wouldn't think I had a bomb in my suitcase.
LRC: Does it have different settings and things like that?
CGC: No. There's just an on switch and then it starts stimulating.
LRC: Can you hear what you just said?

On Amber Tamblyn dating David Cross, the actor who played Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development.
CGC: Wait a second! WHOA. I thought David Cross was the guy who played Buster, not this guy. This guys is waaay creepier.
CG: No, it's not Buster. It's that other guy, Funky, Feenky--
CGC & LRC, interrupting in unison: FYOON-KAY.

LRC: Oh, it's Cinco de Mayo.
CGC: Are you drunk?
LRC: I wish.

While reviewing our speed scrabble results.
EG: Isn't "Sioux" a proper noun?
LRC: Yeah.
CGC: "Sioux" is such a beautiful looking word.
LRC: I actually think it's ugly. It's the ugliest of the Native American tribe names.
CGC: Well what do you think the prettiest one is?
LRC: Navajo.
CGC: Lame.

While taking a walk in Golden Gate Park. Marimba is the family cat.
CGC: What do you think Marimba is doing right now?
CG: What?
CGC: What do you think Marimba is doing right now?
CG: I don't give a flying f**k what she's doing right now. It's time for her to move on.
CGC: I can't believe you just said that. I'm putting it in my next Quotes of the Week posting.
CG: Good, I hope you do. And you'd better attribute it to me.

EG: You know how in The 40 Year-Old Virgin there's that store that sells ebay stuff?
CGC: Yeah.
EG: Well this guy has a store that sells garage sale stuff. It's a garage sale store.
CGC: What?
EG: Like people bring the stuff that they would sell at their garage sales to him and he sells it as his store.
CGC: Oh. Like a consignment shop.
EG: Yeah. That's basically what it is. But he calls it a garage sale store.
CGC: Weird. Don't date him.
EG: Did you think I was going to? Thanks.

While CG looked at her book of Tauschen prints of flower photos from ZM.
CGC, muttering: White agapanthus my ass.
CG: What did you say?
CGC: You heard me.
LRC: I can't believe you just said that.
CGC: You were thinking the same thing.
ZM: Do you guys always throw each other under the bus like that?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Andy Goldsworthy's Spire

Yesterday I hiked the Presidio's Ecology Trail and decided to stop and see Andy Goldsworthy's newest Bay Area sculpture, "Spire". I first learned about Goldsworthy when I was teaching summer school in Visitation Valley several years ago; in the last week the other teachers and I did a three day hiking and camping trip with the students in the Marin Headlands. One of the instructors at the Headlands Institute spent an afternoon teaching us about Goldsworthy and his techniques, and then had the students work with eucalyptus leaves, rocks, and goldenrod blossoms to create their own ephemeral pieces of art. 

The following year I worked as a student docent at my university's art center; we each were allowed to create our own tours organized around a particular theme, and I incorporated Goldsworthy's sculpture "Stone River" into mine.  Goldsworthy created this installation out of detritus from the university buildings that collapsed during the 1906 earthquake, and over the last several years, as he intended, the earth has started to reclaim "Stone River" in the form of grass and small weeds. 

With regard to this latest sculpture, I actually read about "Spire" back in New York; the Times wrote a great article about Goldsworthy and the project last October, and the Presidio Officers' Club had a wonderful exhibit (which unfortunately just closed) depicting the process of creating the sculpture, as well as the inspiration behind it. Fittingly, "Spire" stands on a rise above Inspiration Point, in an area that's currently being reforested by the Park Service. The hundreds of acres of trees in the Presidio were mostly planted by the U.S. Army in the 1880s, when the land was still a military base, and in areas where large swathes have died--for various reasons--the Park Service is now planting new ones. As a result, tiny pine seedlings surround "Spire", which stands over them like a massive arboreal babysitter. 

"Spire" itself consists of many cypress tree trunks, and up close its height and breadth are really striking. The view from its base includes Angel Island and Alcatraz, the Oakland Hills and Berkeley, and broad stretches of sparkling blue Bay water.  As I continued on my hike down towards the Main Post, I would occasionally look southwest and see "Spire" reaching sharply and almost ominously towards the sky. 

Spring in San Francisco has arrived in full force--throughout the course of my hike I saw monarch butterflies and Anna's hummingbirds, bush lupine and deerweed in full bloom, Indian paintbrush and Blue Toadflax lining the hillsides, sandpipers and Western Grebes along the Crissy Field marsh. No coyotes however, although lots of signs have popped up warning of their presence, and no hawks either. Maybe next time.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why Hello, Mr. Long Legs!

This morning, on a quest for new goggles and a swim cap, I walked down to Sports Basement--erstwhile employer of MAR and LRC2, and the final member of the mighty triumvirate at which I buy all of my clothing, the other two being Title Nine and Patagonia--and as I passed by the Crissy Field marsh, I saw this avian gentleman preening on a sandbar:

I tip my hat to you, great blue heron
Off the top of my head, I don't think herons like this one migrate away from the Bay Area as they can find food here throughout the year. And actually, the last time I saw one was on an early morning run this past January in Palo Alto; that heron had been only a few feet away from me, and just watched as I ran by. He was clearly in no hurry to get moving, and the vainglorious one here wasn't either. Besides, if you were a Great Blue Heron, would you ever leave this marsh?

What a beautiful place to be a bird!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Labyrinth and the Lagu-Cræftig

The afternoon I spent on the Coastal Trail  yesterday was notable for reasons other than the Red-tailed hawk sighting.  The Trail itself invites reflection on its interesting origins--it's a compendium of old trail and railroad bed--as well as its mix of lush foliage, barren rock cliffs and thirty mile views up past the Point Bonita lighthouse.  I've spent time on this Trail for as long as I can remember, and it is my favorite place in San Francisco to walk (or run) and think. I even rode a bike on it once with AAH when we were thirteen, which was, to say the least, a harrowing experience that I would not recommend to anyone else. 

Yesterday I saw something that I've never witnessed in my many years on this stretch of cliffs, and which surpasses the harrowing nature of my ill-advised bike ride as well as the thrilling/scary surfing at Fort Point. Right past Eagles Point, as I headed west towards Lands End, I saw four surfers fighting the swells off the rocks at the cliffs' base. How they might have arrived at that break was as dumbfounding as why they even wanted to be surfing there; the waves didn't look that great, and one would think that the risk of death by riptide or rocky dismemberment would outweigh the desire to surf marginally decent waves.
Crazy a** surfers south of Eagles Point, with a perspective shot for context
Since I'm a surfing admirer and not a practicioner, however, I will leave the "why" to the experts and instead focus on the "how".  After some fruitless hypothesizing, I decided that the only way they could have reached that stretch of surf was by scrambling down the cliffs--such a route wasn't obvious from where I was standing, but I know that there are trails down and around Eagles Point that have been closed off in the last few years, especially as winter storms have a funny way of sweeping chunks of cliff into the Pacific without a great deal of notice. Until yesterday, I used to think that the craziest trek-for-surfing I'd encountered was the scene in The Endless Summer 2 when those surfers hike past a bunch of menacingly curious grizzly bears to surf in frigid Alaskan water; actually, I still think that might be crazier, but only from a relative standpoint (it's not as though Great Whites have never been seen just outside the Golden Gate).

I kept hiking, and about ten minutes later, as I looked back towards Baker Beach, I spotted this guy:
He was trying to swim with his board from China Beach around the point to the other surfers (you can't see them from these photos, but they're at the base of the cliff on which I was standing). So now there was another possibility for how they reached their treacherous break, but in the minutes that I watched this surfer he made no progress at all; the swells kept pushing him back towards the Beach from which he'd started. Which meant, of course, that the other surfers either swam out when the tides were out, or they took my hypothesized death-scramble down the cliffs. Or a pirate friend towed them out on his zodiac. 

Because the day was so foggy and grey, and because these surfers were engaged in something almost mythical--to me, at least--in danger, I started thinking about Anglo-Saxon words for the ocean, specifically hwælweg (whale-road), fiscesethel (fish-home), and seolbæth (seal-bath). I have a soft spot for Germanic compounds, particularly when it comes to naming things; for example, I love that the first settlers in California called sea lions "sea wolves", and that when the name changed it still maintained its compound form. So then I started thinking about other compounds, and I remembered this one from Beowulf--lagu-cræftig, which means "sea-skilled". I can't remember to whom it refers in the poem, but it certainly could refer to Beowulf, who proves his oceanic mettle in the days-long swimming contest with Breca, complete with sea monster fights and an attempt to help his friend, the lesser swimmer. TDH has a theory that Beowulf and Breca must have had something like a surfboard to stay afloat for six or seven days, and I've always liked that image--the young Geatish warrior riding the North Sea with his board.  Maybe archeologists on the Danish coast will unearth such a relic at some point.

One other aspect of yesterday's hike alluded to medieval origins--the coastal labyrinth. Now, I'm hesitant to reveal its exact location, as for most of my life its existence has been known solely to locals and lost tourists. But since Weekend Sherpa has in the past written about the labyrinth, and because I rarely find myself alone when I seek it out, I don't think it's as great of a secret as it once was. That said, I will note that the coastal pilgrim must suffer through many trials to reach the destination of potential revelation, ranging from the great cypress forest to the eucalyptus mountain, to the two-dimensional gate-keeper....

Beware, intrepid pilgrim! the stairs, which will make your buttocks burn with the tentacle-like flames of hellfire...
The eschatological stairs
...and then, after climbing the barren path, much like a coastal Glastonbury Tor....

...the coastal pilgrim reaches the Labyrinth, where all meditative questions may be asked, such as, I'm cold, how far is the nearest coffee shop?, and My a** really, really hurts, how will I climb the stairs back to civilization?

One interesting thing I've noticed about labyrinths in the past is that an inevitable, unique sort of daydreaming occurs, and sometimes funny, unbidden thoughts rise in my mind.  Maybe they're engendered by the act of walking something unfamiliar yet simple, because while a labyrinth like this one is deceptively maze-like, finding the way to the center is not difficult. In any case, as I walked the labyrinth yesterday, I thought of Denise Levertov's poem "Jacob's Ladder", which I probably last read when I lived in England. Were the stairs what sparked the remembrance of this poem, or was it other things that have been on my mind these last couple of weeks? Who knows? But in "Jacob's Ladder", Levertov writes of "a stairway of sharp angles, solidly built", and then continues as follows:

One sees that the angels must spring
down from one step to the next, giving a little
lift of the wings:

and a man climbing 
must scrape his knees, and bring
the grip of hands into play. The cut stone
consoles his groping feet. Wings brush past him.
The poem ascends.